JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time since April — when businesses were forced to close down — Floridians will be without statewide protections against evictions and foreclosures.
Despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to allow the eviction moratorium to expire, Florida families who can’t pay rent after losing their jobs due to COVID-19 still have protections under a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order. The federal order is set to expire on Dec. 31.
“There is really still a crisis,” said Mary DeVries with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. "Despite there being a pandemic, despite people still not being back to work, we’ve returned back to those high levels that we experienced pre-pandemic.
In the month of September, 875 evictions were filed in the Duval County Clerk of Courts. DeVries said that during the early stages of the pandemic, between 40 and 50 evictions were being filed.
“Keep in mind that even with the CDC order, the order does not prevent the landlord from charging late fees. If you don’t invoke the protections of order, landlords are free to move forward with the eviction process. It’s up to the tenant to determine whether the protections apply to them and then invoke them by providing the declaration,” DeVries said.
Under the CDC order issued in September, landlords are prohibited from evicting a person who has tried to get government assistance for rent, earns less than $99,000 a year, and is unable to pay full rent or make a full housing payment because of loss of household income, loss of compensable hours, a lay off or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
The federal order is also facing legal challenges. Two federal lawsuits claim the CDC’s eviction moratorium is “unconstitutional” and burdening landlords.
The National Apartment Association joined one of the lawsuits. In a statement, the association’s CEO Bob Pinnegar said, “Owners face a financial crisis of their own by not being able to maintain properties and pay their mortgages or property taxes.”
“This action risks creating a cascade that will further harm the economy, amplify the housing affordability crisis and destroy the rental housing community,” Pinnegar said.
DeVries said that while Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has seen some tenants facing eviction return to work and begin to make some partial payments on their sizable debt, others are facing crippling debt due to the pandemic.
“We’re also seeing families who have debts of $5,000, $6,000, $7,000. One was $13,000. Those are families who lost their job and have not found a new job,” said Devries. “But they’re really in a situation where it would be hard to think of a circumstance short of an agency that was willing to assist them, really, you’re in a circumstance where there might not be any light at the end of the tunnel.”
The protections of the CDC order, unless amended or extended, stand to expire at the end of the year. Once those protections lapse, landlords are free to file lawsuits against tenants, even if they have not been able to catch up.
“There’s not enough financial assistance out there to deal with the level of debt. I think we are, you know, posed to see a lot of evictions happening in January if there are no other measures taken or if families aren’t able to catch up with the delinquencies,” said DeVries.