New Florida moratorium on evictions & foreclosures will only help some

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued another last-day-of-the-month moratorium on evictions and foreclosures Monday night, but unlike the last extension in late July, it offers limited and very targeted relief.

DeSantis extended the eviction moratorium until Oct. 1, 2020, but quietly changed the wording. Housing experts told the Florida Phoenix the moratorium will help many tenants and homeowners but strand others as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Thousands of residents are also unemployed, making paying the rent or mortgage very difficult.

For another month, landlords can file eviction or foreclosure actions against delinquent tenants and homeowners, but no “final action” can be taken against people who convince a judge they lost their income because of COVID-19.

Legal Aid and Legal Services lawyers who provide free advice to low-income people told the Phoenix that records likely to prove a COVID-related hardship include documentation of layoff from employers and medical records documenting COVID illness in the household.

But they cautioned that individual judges will decide what constitutes sufficient proof to hold off eviction or foreclosure proceedings.

All delinquent tenants and homeowners are expected to pay their backlog of payments when they are no longer “adversely impacted” by the pandemic.

Unlike previous orders staying all evictions and foreclosures, the new orders allow landlords and lenders to take final action against residents who cannot or neglect to quickly provide evidence to local courts that their delinquency was caused by the COVID crisis.

Even people qualified under the moratorium will forfeit the protection if they do not respond to official notices within five days.

Florida has 2.6 million renters of which roughly 800,000 are low-income, “cost burdened renter” households, according to the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.

Those include roughly 100,000 households that depend on disability-related Social Security, SSI, and veterans’ benefits statewide, according to Shimberg’s 2019 report to the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid estimates that most of the cost-burdened renters face potential eviction, starting with those who do not immediately pursue court-approved extensions. JALA created FloridaEvictionHelp.org to point at-risk renters in the right direction.

“Knowing there are 749,000 Floridians at risk of eviction and that we don’t have lawyers for 749,000 Floridians, and knowing the Florida courts DIY system structure does not contain a tenant answer at all, we began working back in March to make sure this tool would be available when the initial full moratorium ended,” said JALA President and CEO Jim Kowalski, in a statement on the organization’s website.

The latest executive order was announced at 8:46 p.m. on the last day of August, following the governor’s pattern of waiting until a moratorium is within days or hours of expiring before saying whether he will extend it or let evictions commence.

The Eviction Lab, a data project of Princeton University, tracks eviction proceedings in a handful of American cities, including Jacksonville. Its report says 199 new eviction actions were filed In Jacksonville the week of Aug. 16-23.

By Laura Cassels, Florida Phoenix CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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