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Could Florida Face An Eviction Flood After Moratorium Ends?

A Tallahassee apartment complex.
A Tallahassee apartment complex.

With a few exceptions, renters in Florida still have some protections against eviction. But there are fears that the state's landlords may move quickly to evict in-arrears tenants once those protections expire.

With just a few hours before its midnight expiration on the last day of June,Governor DeSantis extended the state's eviction moratorium for another month. That will give residential renters continued rent relief until August first. But even though the eviction ban has been in place since April second, it doesn't mean that some landlords haven't tried to evict non-paying tenants, said Leslie Powell Boudreaux, executive director of Legal Services of North Florida.

"One thing that is true as much now as it was pre-COVID is that a landlord cannot simply throw someone out of a unit without a court order. That continues to be the case. We are getting some cases where landlords have attempted to change locks or turn off utilities or try to force someone to leave without a court order. And fortunately law enforcement, when they've been able to step in, have prevented that from happening in the cases we've heard about. The real challenge? Is there anyone who can go to court and actually get a court order?"

She explained that's because the virus has nearly shut down the state's civil courts, which issue eviction orders.

"What we've been telling people is, if you get court papers, find and talk to a lawyer because there may be something they can do to stop it. But it may be that's a legitimate eviction that needs to be looked at and defended and that the courts may actually open to hear."

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported about a third of Floridians who rent homes or apartments are now at least one month in arrears. You might think that's a catastrophe for landlords. But Amanda Gill, government affairs director for the Florida Apartment Association said

things really aren't too bad for the state's landlords.

"Overall, they've been pleasantly surprised industry-wide with (rent) collection rates during this time. And we think that's a testament to the additional $600 of federal stimulus funds that folks are getting on a weekly basis for unemployment. In addition we've seen a lot of local governments across the state of Florida that have established rental relief funds and we believe those are playing an important role in addressing this need as well."

But Legal Services of North Florida's Bourdreaux cautioned no program intended to help tenants will last forever.

"Many (tenants) have rental assistance support, but they don't have enough to meet the need that we're anticipating coming this way. We see ourselves as a part of that solution. If rental assistance is not available to prevent someone's eviction, is it possible to defend their eviction? How can we collectively work together to improve the results for everyone? In my mind, I look at this as homelessness prevention. How can we keep a family from becoming homeless by defending that eviction?"

And even after the current eviction moratorium expires, the Apartment Association's Amanda Gill believed landlords will continue to be reluctant to toss in-arrears tenants into the street.

"Many of them (landlords) have given us success stories that they've been able to work with residents and establish payment plans or other arrangements to make it so that residents can stay in their apartment and find a way to pay their rent in a format that works for them. So we do not anticipate that there will be a tsunami of evictions simply because housing providers have done a great job in being proactive in working with their residents throughout the crisis."

Still, no one can say for sure what might happen as the pandemic ramps up, the economic downturn deepens and both tenants and landlords find themselves coming up short every month.

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