With COVID-19, there has been a blanketed feeling of stress brought about by financial strife. Many individuals and businesses are struggling to make their normal payments. This has caused all eyes to stay locked on the monthly moratorium that keeps getting extended every month. This acted as a barrier for many, but also increased the unknown moment of when we would begin to see the ripple effects brought about by a fractured market. We may be at the beginning of the tidal wave of evictions.
What makes the latest Moratorium different?
In the latest extension, which brings the new date to September 1st, new language seems to allow eviction filings to resume. It may even allow for some residents to be removed from their living conditions. The statewide moratorium that was put into place before encompassed more protection for renters, suspending, “any statute providing for an eviction cause of action.” Even though the interpretation of that statement was thought to prohibit landlords from filing, many began the process anyway. A staggering statistic: about 400 commercial and residential evictions have been filed in Orange County as of this time. In terms of what exactly the newest extension suspends, it only halts the “final action at the conclusion of an eviction proceeding” and only for tenants who have been “adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency.”
It seems that language may open the floodgates, and we may begin to see the onslaught of evictions begin to move forward. A standard amount for Orange County is 1,000 evictions filed every month. With the amount that has built up, we could see at least 5,000 cases filed.
Why is Central Florida vulnerable?
Central Florida is particularly a vulnerable location, being that it relies heavily on the tourism industry. Homelessness, industries on the brink of shutting down, and a wave of restaurants closing permanently are all a part of the predictions being placed at this time. With the language of the new moratorium, landlords will see much more success with their filings. Not only this, but the fact that so many tenants, who are accustomed to the moratorium being unaltered, will not realize the differences and when they are summoned to court may chose to ignore it. If so, this could result in them having five days to reply. If they do not, they could lose their case and automatically be kicked out.
Many have faulted the fact that this extension has been put forward without more clarity on how it differs from the ones that have come before it. Not only was this placed days before the prior moratorium was set to expire, it also came without comment or clarity from the governor. It was not until later that he stated that the order would only effect those who have not been financially impacted by the pandemic.
Caught between difficult dilemmas, the change was implemented to help give landlords and property management companies assistance when their tenants refuse to pay. Sifting through those who have been affected by the pandemic and those who have not may be a tough task. In June alone, 1.02 million Florida residents were still without work. This is a frightening figure, and one that indicates that Florida will be heavily impacted economically for some time.
A Truly Difficult Dilemma to Solve
Even still, the waters are made murky by those who would take advantage on the pause in evictions. For the month of June, property management executives as well as mom-and-pop landlords wrote the Orange County Commission stating that some tenants are using the situation as an excuse to not pay. Chip Tatum, CEO of the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando, mentioned that 65% of its members have been in negotiation to pay, while about 27% have been unresponsive or unwilling to work towards a plan.
For the eviction process, normally a three-day notice is taped on the tenant’s front door. If the tenant does not comply within that time, the landlord may file a complaint with the court, in which case the tenant will be served a summons. To get a hearing, the tenant would normally have five days to deposit the owed rent into the court registry. One of the defenses that tenants may utilize revolves around paying this court registry. If a tenant was adversely affected by the pandemic, they may not have to pay this fee. If a tenant can illustrate loss of employment, diminished wages, business income or other monetary loss, then this could work in favor for the tenant. Saving emails from your supervisor, pay stubs or any evidence of collecting unemployment compensation may be helpful, even though unemployment compensation may indicate a tenant’s ability to pay rent.
The lasting Repercussions
Even if the tenant’s case is dismissed, they will still have an eviction filing on their record, which could make funding for housing in the future very difficult. Orange County is working hard to create a diversion program to stave off the tidal wave of evictions, and Mayor Jerry Demings said that a plan is set to be presented to commissioners on Tuesday, August 11th. No details on how the plan will work were given, but in the meantime, landlords and tenants will have to survive in a situation that excludes easy answers. Our recommendation is that you have a plan, and paperwork to provide legal foundation for your plan. When hardship arises and you feel you have been treated unfairly, our lawyers will be there to help.