Heard On Sundial: Housing In The Time Of COVID-19

Mar 25, 2020

On this Wednesday, March 25, episode of Sundial:

WLRN depends on donors to remain South Florida’s leading nonprofit, most trusted source of news and information. Support our mission by giving monthly as a sustaining member of Friends of WLRN or make a one-time donation of your choice. Thank you. Click here to give.

Housing is one of the big unanswered questions during the coronavirus. The pandemic has placed South Florida and the world in “uncharted territory.”

Are you worried about that upcoming April rent bill or mortgage payment? It’s estimated 65% of Americans will be protected from foreclosure by the government for 60 days, but millions of others are still at risk.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida is calling for a nationwide moratorium on mortgage payments, rent and utilities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Scott has proposed a 60-day suspension for individuals making less than $75,000 a year and for businesses with fewer than 250 employees. 

"Part of the [housing] problem is that we don't have a uniform answer in Florida," says Jeffrey Hearne, the litigation director at Legal Services of Greater Miami. "What we're encouraging people to do is talk to their landlords."

On today's WLRN Sundial program, we gathered a group of housing experts to answer your questions: Alessandra Stivelman a partner at Eisinger, Brown, Lewis, Frankel & Chaiet, focused on real estate and condo association law; Carolina Sheir, a partner at the same firm, focused on community association and real estate law; and Hearne, whose office focuses on tenant rights.

These are some of the questions you’ve asked us about housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re here to answer them for you. 

If you want to ask the WLRN Sundial a question about housing, send us an email at sundial@wlrnnews.org, message us on Facebook or tweet at us

Q: What if we know someone is showing coronavirus symptoms in my building but continues to use public areas. What can I do? 

It has created a lot of debate. There are two sides: We want to respect the privacy of the tenant but also you want to protect the rights and safety of other tenants. Executive orders have been implemented and authorities can be contacted if someone who should be self-quarantine is not. 

Q: What about senior living facilities? 

We’ve been getting a lot of questions from a lot of these communities around the banning of guests and visitors. This becomes difficult when you have older residents that need people to check on them or medicine that needs to be properly administered. One advice is, all of this needs to be on a case by case basis and needs to be reasonable to determine if a guest is necessary. 

Q: In regards to routine maintenance, what are the rights of tenants to deny those routine maintenance like exterminations, checking for leaks, fixing A/C units? 

The statue says that a tenant can not unreasonably withhold consent to a landlord. If you are self-quarantined, denying these routines seems reasonable. 

Q: Can your security deposit be applied to the rent? 

Nothing in the law allows a tenant to unilaterally apply their security deposit to rent, but that is always something that is on the table to negotiate with the landlord. 

Q: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I signed rental leases for our daughter to attend University of Central Florida. The move is not til July. If the UCF is still closed are we still obligated to pay for an empty apartment?

It depends on what the lease says. Please look at your lease and talk to your landlord. 

WLRN Sundial producer Chris Remington helped in the production of this episode.