Loss of statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium leaves delinquent renters seeking federal help
When a statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium expired Thursday, it meant the only legal protection left for delinquent renters devastated by COVID-19 is from the federal government — but only for another three months.
And that’s only for nonpaying tenants who can prove in court their inability to pay rent is directly related to the coronavirus pandemic that caused massive layoffs beginning in March.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled he would not continue a moratorium he extended three times since April that has stopped landlords from removing tenants unable to pay because of financial hardships brought on by the pandemic.
It’s helped people who couldn’t pay housing costs stay in their homes.
The CDC moratorium was enacted Sept. 4 to assist individuals suffering the economic fallout from the pandemic absent an agreement with Congress on a more far reaching package that would have the force of law.
To stop evictions, federal health officials are relying on the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which gives the Trump administration broad quarantine powers, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The moratorium, which will run through Dec. 31, applies to individuals earning less than $99,000 a year and who are unable to make rent or housing payments.
In St. Lucie County, court clerks will be accepting and processing eviction actions as they are filed but before a final order is issued, a judge will review each case for any COVID-19 variables that may qualify for the CDC relief, spokesman Joseph Abreu said.
Judges across the Treasure Coast presiding over eviction actions are expected to proceed in a similar fashion, court officials said.
To legally evict a tenant, a judge must grant a writ of possession, which gives property owners the right to take back their property after a 24-hour notice. But that can’t happen to renters before January who successfully prove they meet the CDC eviction relief criteria.
Martin County Clerk of the Circuit Court Carolyn Timmann said with the state eliminating automatic protections for delinquent renters, each tenant must take the action required to prove they meet the criteria required under the CDC ban.
“It’s incumbent upon the individuals to assert those qualifying events,” she said.
Court officials, she said, are still working out how eviction cases will be evaluated in cases in which a COVID-19 hardship is claimed.
The CDC order stated that “housing stability helps protect public health because homelessness increases the likelihood of individuals moving into congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, which then puts individuals at higher risk to COVID-19.”
Eligible tenants must sign a declaration stating that they meet the criteria that would protect them from eviction actions until the end of the year. The declaration must be given to their landlord.
Those who do not meet the income or other criteria can find themselves evicted if they fail to pay rent.
Tenants must state, under the threat of perjury, that:
- They cannot pay their full rent due to a “substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.”
- They have used best efforts to obtain all available government rent assistance.
- They expect to earn no more than $99,000 this year or $198,000 if they file a joint income tax return.
- They are “using best efforts” to make partial rent payments.
- They would likely become homeless, move into a shelter or “into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters” if they were evicted.
Timmann said her staff is working with Florida Rural Legal Services to help landlords and tenants navigating the eviction process.
“We’ve had some initial conversations and we’re trying to firm that up,” she said.
They’re also collaborating with the legal group to provide guidance to people representing themselves in court without a lawyer, or pro se.
“The issue is how to do that in a safe environment,” Timmann said. “So we’re looking to do that with a web-based format.”