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The CDC Moratorium And Month-To-Month Leases: Evictions In South Florida Are Still Happening

Demonstrators hold up signs as they gather at Brooklyn Housing court during a 'No Evictions, No Police' national day of action in New York City.
Demonstrators hold up signs as they gather at Brooklyn Housing court during a 'No Evictions, No Police' national day of action in New York City.

Despite the federal moratorium on evictions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention some people are still getting kicked out of their homes in South Florida. And evictions are still being filed, even if they can't move forward.

Florida landlords are able to use a loophole of sorts when it comes to month-to-month leases.

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Itzhak Miller's landlord went to Broward County court to evict him at the end of July 2020. Miller and wife and six kids have been renting a house in Hallandale Beach.

The pandemic hit them hard. Economically and physically: Miller is positive for the virus and says his entire family is right now as well.

"This virus — I cannot just get up on my feet, go to work, earn money and bring it home and just live like a normal person, I mean, it's unbearable," Miller said. "How can I pay rent money if I cannot even move?"

Evictions are often complicated situations. Miller says, among the circumstances that led up to his case, he had a fight with his landlord over money and damages after the house flooded.

Yet, what is keeping Miller from being protected by the CDC order is his landlord is simply not renewing his month-to-month lease. A judge ruled he doesn't have a lease, and doesn't fall under the federal order.

"Month-to-month tenancies are the ones that are unfortunately ripe for abuse under the CDC moratorium," Berbeth Foster said. She is a senior staff attorney at the Community Justice Project, and helped Miller in court after he turned to the nonprofit a few weeks ago.

"Because it allows landlords to then say, 'Well, I'm not terminating for nonpayment. I'm going to terminate this as I'm not renewing the lease for next month,'" she continued.

Living somewhere without a written contract on a month-to-month basis — is pretty common in South Florida. And even if you once had a formal signed lease agreement, if you continue to stay and pay rent after it expires, it becomes a month-to-month tenancy.

Sean Rowley, advocacy director of the tenants rights unit for Legal Services of Greater Miami, said he is seeing these situations as well. He believes it violates the spirit of the moratorium which is intended to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Anytime you're displacing tenants, you know that kind of goes against what essentially was the intended purpose of the moratorium," Rowley said.

"This virus — I cannot just get up on my feet, go to work, earn money and bring it home and just live like a normal person, I mean, it's unbearable."
Itzhak Miller

A spokesperson for the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County wrote in an email to WLRN the cases in which evictions are still moving through the court:

"The 17th Circuit is moving forward with all residential evictions until a tenant claims the CDC protection by signing the required federal Declaration.

At that point, the case may not proceed to final eviction unless the Declaration is not truthful, or unless the court determines that the particular reason for eviction is not protected by the CDC order. However, the case may be diverted to residential eviction mediation at no cost to see if the parties can work something out.

If it is determined that the CDC Declaration is not truthful, the case will move forward to final eviction in due course."

Foster wishes judges would hold hearings to ensure landlords aren't using the loophole and put the burden on them to prove they are not evicting people for nonpayment.

Meanwhile, in Miami-Dade County landlords now need to give 30 days notice to month-to-month tenants before evicting, instead of 15. That gives renters an two extra weeks to make other arrangements.

As for Miller, in Hallandale Beach, Foster helped him get a final extension by the court because he has COVID-19, and was positive when the Broward Sheriff's Office came to evict him late last month. He now has until Feb. 16 to find a new place for him and his family to live.

He says he has a lead from his synagogue on a two-bedroom house, but he has started a GoFundMe to raise money to help him be able to afford to move there.

The federal moratorium on evictions, already extended once by President Joe Biden, is set to end March 31.