Note: The purpose of this article is solely to share general information about evictions. This article is not meant to provide legal advice. Please seek legal or professional advice when dealing with an eviction.
The consequences of the pandemic have hit our communities hard, not only as a matter public health, but also financially. Many people are out of work and have not been able to pay their rents. Florida’s state eviction and foreclosure moratorium expired at the end of September. Since then, the realization of a possible eviction is weighing heavy upon many Florida residents. Many people are finding themselves saying “I received an eviction notice and don’t know what to do.” We have compiled some information and resources we hope will help South Florida and especially Broward residents better understand and deal with evictions.
What is an Eviction?
Eviction is the removal of a tenant from rental property by the landlord. In some jurisdictions, it may also involve the removal of persons from the premises that were foreclosed by a mortgagee. The term eviction is the most commonly used in communications between the landlord and tenant.
Before a tenant can be evicted, depending on the jurisdiction involved, a landlord must win an eviction lawsuit. In the United States, rules for evictions and the eviction process are ruled by each state, local county, and city rules.
The Eviction Process
Most jurisdictions do not permit the landlord to evict a tenant without first taking legal action to do so. Such actions like changing locks, removing items from the premises, or terminating utility services, are generally illegal at any time during the legal process.
Residential ordinances generally prevent landlords from taking actions that may force a tenant out of their premises, such as force and threats, removing essential services, demolishing the property, or interfering with entrance locks. Generally, prior to filing a suit in court for eviction, the landlord must provide written notice to the tenant – commonly called a notice to quit or notice to vacate.
Eviction Lawsuit and Trial
If the tenant remains in possession of the property after the notice to vacate has expired, the landlord can then serve the tenant with a lawsuit. Depending on the jurisdiction, the tenant may be required to submit a written response by a specified date (5 business days in Florida), after which time another date is set for the trial. Other jurisdictions may simply require the tenant to appear in court on a specified date.
Removal from the Property
Even if the landlord is successful in court, most jurisdictions do not allow a landlord to evict a tenant without legal action being taken first. The landlord would have to obtain a writ of possession from the court and present it to the appropriate law enforcement officer. The officer then posts a notice for the tenant on the property that the officer will remove the tenant and any other people on the property (24 hours in Florida).
Often problems with miscommunication or conflicts regarding when the actual eviction date is decided upon leaves some evictees thoroughly under-prepared when law enforcement comes.
The process of eviction can happen very fast or it can take some time, like during the recent eviction moratorium. Both can leave the evictee in a heightened state of stress, which makes them more susceptible to stress illnesses. Evictees may experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and even posttraumatic stress disorder.
Evictions often lead to a cycle where the eviction process makes maintaining a job difficult, which may lead to unemployment and further financial problems. Evictees often end up moving into poorer quality or overcrowded homes and are likely to experience long-term housing problems.
8 tips when facing an eviction
If you’ve lost your job or part of your income, your instinct may be to avoid your landlord. But it’s probably better to make contact and explain what’s going on. Landlords often complain that they’ve reached out to tenants and aren’t getting a response. Some landlords may be willing to work with tenants. If you’re going to pay late, not pay in full, or pay nothing, landlords will find that out soon enough anyway. Keeping open communication with your landlord is always a good idea.
2. Consider the Landlord
The company or person taking notices to your door does not inspire much sympathy. Still, landlords have to pay utilities, taxes, maintenance, and insurance too. You alone may be the source of a significant percentage of someone else’s income. You could get a more sympathetic ear if you acknowledge this in your conversations with your landlord.
3. Don’t Just Leave
Often, tenants receive a notice from a landlord and assume that there is no way to fix the problem. They decide that they should pack up and move. Don’t confuse the first step in the process with the last step. In fact, in most areas, you don’t have to move until there has been some sort of legal finding against you and an officer of the law arrives to carry out an order of eviction. That means there may be time for you to find a solution that doesn’t require you to move. However, If you decide to move, be aware that you are still responsible for the rent until you finally remove all your belongings from the residence and return the keys to the landlord.
You’ll never know if you don’t ask. Your landlord may be willing to work out a deal with you. So talk to your landlord. There are different ways to reduce your costs: waiving rent, reducing rent, or offering to use a security deposit in lieu of your payment. Surveys point to high percentages of people not paying rent in full reporting that their landlord had made some kind of concession. Just be sure you get any agreements in writing.
5. Review the Rules
Depending on where you live and the details of the mortgage for the property you occupy, you might be protected from eviction, at least temporarily. If a landlord has put their mortgage for the property into forbearance, they cannot evict tenants while they also are skipping payments. A database of addresses that the National Low Income Housing Coalition created may help some renters figure out if their landlord must comply with the various federal rules. This is certainly an area where a lawyer can help.
6. Get Legal Help
If your landlord has filed an eviction against you contact your local Legal Aid office. Merely retaining a lawyer may make landlords more likely to negotiate. This is because it could signal that their own legal fees are about to go up. Many reports have pointed to improved outcomes for tenants who have counsel. Even if you’re not able to fend off an eviction, a lawyer may be able to negotiate a more favorable outcome including more time to find a new place.
7. Seek Outside Help
Rental assistance programs exist, although high demand has depleted some of them. Still, it’s worth seeking help if you need it. The National Low Income Housing Coalition maintains a list of programs on its website.
8. Watch for Changes
Nobody knows what will happen in Washington. Many lawmakers agree that another relief package is necessary, but what it will look like and when it will arrive is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, tenants facing eviction may try to pay as much as they can while keeping their fingers crossed in hopes that more financial help arrives.
Since Florida’s state eviction and foreclosure moratorium expired at the end of September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) order freezing evictions is now the only policy preventing many Florida renters from losing their homes.
The CDC’s September 1, 2020, order freezing evictions that meet certain criteria runs through the end of 2020. The Order states that a wave of evictions would trigger a health crisis because it would force people to move in with extended family or into homeless shelters, likely increasing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Several Florida housing lawyers have said their biggest concern is that tenants will assume that the moratorium protects them automatically — which is not true. Renters must fill out and submit a particular form to invoke the order’s protections. Here’s how it works:
Does the order cancel my rent?
No. The CDC Order makes it clear that it does not cancel rent obligations, nor does it prohibit landlords from charging late fees or interest on unpaid rent, which means landlords can require a tenant to pay back all their missed payments, plus late fees, once the moratorium expires.
How long is it in effect?
The CDC Order is in effect through December 31, 2020, though it also notes that it can be extended if the agency chooses to do so. The courts will evaluate whether or not you qualify for this protection. A hearing will be conducted by a Judge who will determine if you qualify for this protection, and for how long.
As a tenant or renter, how do I take advantage of the protections of the CDC’s Moratorium?
Each adult listed on the lease must submit a copy of a declaration form to their landlord that says, under penalty of perjury, that they fit the qualifications to be protected by the order.
These qualifications are:
- They have “used best efforts” to obtain available government assistance for rent
- They will either earn no more than $99,000 this year (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return,) or they were not required to report any income to the IRS in 2019, or they received a coronavirus stimulus check
- The tenant can’t pay full rent due to a “substantial loss of household income” including loss of wages, being laid-off, or “extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses,” which is defined as an unreimbursed expense that exceeds 7.5 percent of a person’s adjusted gross annual income
- The tenant is using “best efforts” to make on-time partial payments that are as close to the full payment as they can afford
- Eviction would likely render the tenant homeless or force them to move into close quarters in a new shared living setting
- A copy of the form can be downloaded online from Legal Aid’s website browardlegalaid.org/eviction-assistance
Note that the protections do not apply to situations where the tenant has engaged in criminal activity on the premises, damaged the property, threatened the safety of other residents, or violated building or health codes. You may still be evicted for reasons other than not paying rent or making a housing payment.
What if I don’t fit all the requirements?
The declaration form states that “any false or misleading statements or omissions may result in criminal and civil actions for fines, penalties, damages, or imprisonment.” If you are unsure, you can find resources, including references for free legal advice for low-income residents, at Floridalawhelp.org.
Where can I find help?
If you are a Broward resident facing an eviction, you can reach out to Legal Aid Service of Broward County. You may qualify for free legal assistance with your eviction. For more information visit: www.browardlegalaid.org/eviction-assistance or call (954) 736-2497.
Other Online Resources for Evictions in Florida
- HUD Section 8
- Housing Options Programs (HOP)
- Florida Housing Finance Corporation
- Heart of Florida United Way
- City of Miami Eviction Prevention Program
- FL Dept of Children and Families Homelessness resource page
- Legal Aid Programs
- Legal Aid Service of Broward County
- National Low Income Housing Coalition
- Florida Law Help