TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis late Monday issued an executive order that extended until Oct. 1 a measure to prevent foreclosures and evictions involving residents “adversely” affected by COVID-19.
But the order makes clear that foreclosures and evictions can move forward in circumstances unrelated to the pandemic, such as for non-payment of rent.
“For purposes of this section, adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency means loss of employment, diminished wages or business income, or other monetary loss realized during the Florida state of emergency directly impacting the ability of a single-family mortgagor to make mortgage payments,” the order said in a section dealing with foreclosures. “Nothing in this executive order shall be construed to suspend or otherwise affect foreclosure proceedings unrelated to non-payment of mortgage.”
The order includes a similar section related to evictions. The evictions part of the order also applies only to residential renters, not to commercial tenants.
An earlier version of the order had been scheduled to expire Tuesday.
Mary DeVries, with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, explained that the initial order issued by the governor months ago changed slightly last month.
“In the previous versions of the executive order, all evictions for non-payment were stayed. But starting in August, the order was changed. The new order was different. It only applies to those who were unable to pay their rent directly related to COVID-19,” she said.
Once the governor limited the protections, the Florida Apartment Association reported, more tenants were willing to work out their past due rents.
“Which means housing providers likely prevent over 40,000 eviction filings statewide,” said Amanda Gill with the Florida Apartment Association.
DeVries, who is the division chief of Legal Aid’s Housing Unit, said 800 eviction summons were issued last month in Duval County.
She said tenants may not realize they can fight an eviction but have to prove to the court that their inability to pay their rent is directly related to the pandemic. If the court agrees, then a judge can block a final action eviction from their landlord, but it is up to the tenant to argue his or her case.
“If a tenant receives a summons from the court that a lawsuit has been filed, the tenant needs to read the summons, follow the instructions and know that in Florida you have only five days to respond to an eviction lawsuit. So when the tenant makes that response, they need to tell the court why it is if they’ve been unable to pay rent,” explained DeVries.
If it’s due to COVID-19, then it is illegal to evict that person under the current order.
“The landlord is not doing anything wrong by actually filing the lawsuit. It’s up to the tenant to raise up to the court the non-payment due to COVID-19 in the proceedings,” DeVries explained.
Legal Aid can help a tenant draft the response for the court to an eviction. It offers free eviction defense clinics where a tenant can meet with a lawyer at no charge. The number to call to reach the Duval County office is 904-356-8371. For St. Johns County residents, the number to call is 904-827-9921. There is also an office in Clay County.
If you need help with rental assistance, you can call the United Way at 211. If you live in Jacksonville, you can also call the Emergency Assistance Program at 904-255-2469.
The Florida Apartment Association also recommends checking to see whether some of the $250 million set aside from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES Act) for rent assistance is still available from your local government.