Gina Johnson had until 3 p.m. Wednesday to leave the home she shares with her four children in Middleburg. The day before, officers put a 24 hours’ notice to vacate on her door. It was signed by a judge.
Johnson said she lost her job working at Waffle House at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March. She had savings, but around May, what little she saved had run out. She was $600 short on rent in May and hasn’t been able to pay her landlord since June.
In June, her landlord gave her 30 days' notice to leave, instead of renewing her lease. Johnson said she couldn’t afford to leave, and at the time, there was a statewide moratorium halting eviction.
But the wording of the Florida governor’s executive order has since changed. Now, tenants must show proof to a judge, within five days, that they can’t pay rent specifically because of the pandemic.
Johnson’s landlord filed papers to evict in July on the grounds that her lease wasn’t renewed, and when she didn’t respond with why she couldn’t leave within the five-day window, the judge ruled in her landlord’s favor.
“Just what am I going to do now?” asked Johnson.
According to court officials, in Jacksonville, 355 evictions were filed in the last two and a half weeks. That’s more evictions filed in two weeks than the last four months of the pandemic. According to Brian Corrigan with the Duval County Clerk of Courts, 211 were filed from April to the end of July.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said that since Aug. 1, its officers have evicted 125 families or individuals. That means serving tenants the papers and following up to make sure they’ve left.
At least 102 planned evictions have been canceled by officers for varying reasons since Aug. 1, according to JSO.
Clay County law enforcement officers have evicted five families and individuals since Sept. 1, according to Public Information Officer Andrew Ford. Thirteen evictions were filed in Clay County court since Aug. 24.
Suzanne Garrow works for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. Garrow said tenants out of work and unable to pay rent because a business is forced to downsize, cut back or close during the pandemic have protections under federal and state law, but the burden is on the tenant to respond to the judge with proof to put a stop to the eviction process.
“Those cases are going through court now and they can take final action of the court process,” Garrow said. “So if somebody didn’t get their notice, they defaulted, they didn’t appear for some reason those cases are going to end without the tenant even knowing what is happening or presenting their defenses that they may well have.”
Garrow said it’s important tenants provide proof to the court that the lack of payment is because of the coronavirus pandemic, such as an email explaining the reason they were furloughed or laid off. It’s also important, according to Garrow, to respond to the court within five days of being served a complaint.
“The earlier these defenses can be raised, the better it is,” said Garrow.
Jacksonville Legal Aid has created a form for tenants to create their response to the court regarding their evictions summons.
In Duval County, tenants who are being evicted because they have been unable to make payments can contact the county court judge and request the execution of the eviction to be halted. Click here for resources explaining how to do that.
For Johnson and her family, she fears it’s too late.
“I don’t know. I have a plan that my oldest three go with my brother and my youngest comes with me to a hotel close to my fiancé's job," she said.