With so many businesses closing their doors, unfortunately, many tenants are finding themselves either underemployed or even completely unemployed. The obvious result is that many tenants are struggling to pay their obligations, including their rental payments.
However, the good news is that tenants have COVID 19 rights. Unfortunately, at this time, such rights are limited to time extensions only. While tenants should be relieved, they should start working on their future plans as it relates to their housing.
Right now, tenants can look to see if they have protection under (1) the Florida Eviction Moratorium, (2) the Federal Housing Eviction Moratorium, and (3) Local Courts and Local Government Moratoriums.
The Florida Eviction Moratorium:
On April 2, 2020, Governor Ron Desantis, issued an executive order (“EO”) suspending and tolling any statute that provides for an eviction cause of action under Florida law for 45 days. That finally settles the issue in the state of Florida: tenants cannot be evicted until at least after May 17, 2020. However, this does not mean that the obligation to pay rent is forgiven. The Governor makes that very clear in the EO:
“Nothing in this Executive Order shall be construed as relieving an individual from their obligation to make mortgage payments or rent payments.”
Therefore, be prepared to deal with the outstanding rent obligations after the expiration of this moratorium.
The Federal Housing Eviction Moratorium:
Additionally, tenants have been provided protection from the Federal government. If a tenant rents a property that has a federally backed mortgage on it (i.e,. Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac guarantees the mortgage); a FHA mortgage; or if the tenant lives in federally subsidized housing, they received a 60-day eviction moratorium.
What does this mean?
With regard to these particular tenants, a landlord will not be able to start the eviction process until about July 25, 2020. What's more? Under these circumstances, the landlord will be required to give the tenant 30 days to come up with all of the back owed rent.
Local Courts and Local Government Moratoriums
Florida courts and individual counties will also impact when and how quickly evictions resume. For example, right now, Florida courts are operating at a greatly reduced capacity. If a case is not essential (dealing with the constitutional rights within the criminal justice system, or dealing with health and safety of children or the mentally ill), it may be on hold. Also, landlords who have to physically go to the courthouse to file an eviction may have trouble accessing the courthouse.
Additionally, the Florida Supreme Court gave the clerks of court the power to refuse to issue the final eviction papers to the sheriff. This means that the sheriff will be unable to physically remove tenants from the rental premises. Therefore, tenants should be on the lookout to see if their local clerk of court has decided to issue their own moratoriums and when public access to their local court will be fully available.
Additionally, some county governments such as, Orange County, Brevard County, Broward County, Hillsborough County, Miami-Dade County, County Osceola, and Seminole County, have banned evictions up until at least April 15, 2020. Therefore, be on the lookout to see if such counties extend their own local moratoriums.
What EXACTLY Does This Mean for Tenants?
Right now, tenants can breathe a sigh of relief. A tenant receiving a three-day notice can be comforted that an eviction process cannot likely proceed until after at least May 17, 2020. However, depending on the tenant's particular circumstances, a tenant may have additional relief. To get more details on individual rights, tenants should consult their tenant defense attorney.
Despite that, none of these measures, currently, forgives a tenant's obligation to pay rent. Therefore, any sigh of relief should be temporary.
Therefore, the most savvy tenants will likely reach out to their landlords and let their landlords know that their inability to pay any rent is based on COVID 19. This is important since the EO seems to limit the moratoriums on the basis of COVID 19. Additionally, there may be credit protections in place for those consumers who are suffering financially as a result of COVID 19. Therefore, the tenants who put their COVID 19 difficulties in writing, will likely be in the best legal position.
Also, if possible, tenants should consider making an offer to pay a good faith payment (or a series of good faith payments) to their landlords. Why? Because when the moratoriums are over, tenants will likely owe all of the back rent to the landlord. This may be a very difficult reality for many tenants. Therefore, tenants will want a good working relationship with their landlord when the moratoriums expire.
If this good-will gesture is offered, landlords may feel more compelled to work with tenants, rather than file an eviction against financially struggling tenants.
My passion is fighting for Tenant's rights. Therefore, helping Tenants understand their rights is important to me. That said, it is my absolute pleasure to be at the forefront and to provide you with accurate general information. However, if you need to discuss your specific or particular circumstances, please feel free to reach out to my team to arrange for an appointment with a tenant attorney.