Evictions: What You Need To Know Before The Moratorium Ends
A statewide moratorium on evictions due to the pandemic ended in September, and now a federal prohibition is set to expire in January.
Florida renters are at risk of becoming homeless soon.
A report released by AdvisorSmith in early December said more than 20% of all rental households in Florida are behind on their rent payments. And of those, 77.5% are at risk of eviction within the next couple months — that's worse than the national figure of 49.1%.
James Kushner, with Gulf Coast Legal Services, has been a housing lawyer for about a decade. He says he has never seen anything like this.
"The scope of the number of people who are being evicted, as far as I can tell, is unprecedented, certainly within my practice," he said.
With the federal moratorium ending, Kushner said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may want to consider enacting another statewide order.
Kushner answers our questions about how evictions work, what renters can do, and what resources are available.
Legally, how do evictions work?
What happens before you get to court is that the tenancy has to terminate, and generally the landlord delivering notice, and the tenant not responding, as the notice demands is what terminates the tenancy. The landlord gives a notice that says, essentially, you owe me this amount of dollars in rent, you have three business days to get back to me, or to simply vacate premises. And if you haven’t done either of those within the three business days, then the tenancy is terminated.
Once the tenancy is terminated, if the tenant is still present, that's when the landlord gets to take them to court. So, there's two levels of notice: there's the notice of termination of tenancy, and there's the summons and complaint that goes along with any court case. A tenant has the right to withhold, or the ability, I should say, to withhold rent if the landlord has failed to maintain the property in ways that are required by the Florida statutes But by a similar token, the tenant has to provide notice in a certain form to the landlord, in order to avail him or herself of that right.
What can renters do to protect themselves if they're facing eviction?
The most important thing they could do to protect themselves is to communicate with their landlord. The landlords don't, as a rule, they don't like to evict tenants because, although it is less time consuming in Florida than it is in many other states, it is still a legal process that they have to work through and have to pay for.
The law allows the landlord to recover the costs of the eviction from the tenant, but in practice, the landlord rarely can. And so if the landlord has some sort of assurance on what the tenant is attempting to do, then they might be able to work out a partial payment agreement, or an agreement on how on how much on how to pay back the arrears that have accrued if a tenant has fallen behind. Communication with the landlord before the landlord takes anyone to court is probably the best thing that a tenant can do to protect him or herself.
What resources are available to tenants?
Currently, many counties, actually, I think all counties are giving some sort of rental assistance to tenants through funds that were provided to the counties through the CARES Act. Those funds have to be expended December 30, so for many counties, the application deadline for assistance on that has already passed, but that's pandemic-specific. Possibly all counties have already closed their deadline for application under that particular program.
That said, most financial assistance for tenants who are behind on their rent is at the county and local level. Some counties have assistance programs that they run. For others there are also charitable or nonprofit organizations that have that may have rental assistance available.