Eviction Spike Predicted After Pandemic Moratorium Ends
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped landlords from removing tenants from their property, but that could change by early June.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended mortgage foreclosures and evictions on April 3 for 45 days because of COVID-19 financial hardship. On Thursday, he signed a new order extending the moratorium until June 2.
Even after the moratorium ends, landlords seeking to legally evict tenants must wait until a judge grants a writ of possession, which gives property owners the right to take back their property after a 24-hour notice. The Florida Supreme Court, which has issued several emergency orders curbing all but essential court proceedings, suspended the requirement for clerks to issue writs of possession until May 29. That includes evictions filed before the pandemic began.
A 19th Judicial Circuit administrative order also cancelled in-person non-essential functions through May 29 for Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.
The state Supreme Court has signaled it’s possible that deadline may be extended past May 29.
Some Treasure Coast real estate experts suspect there will be an immediate influx of eviction filings once courts begin granting writs of possession and possibly a bigger fallout in the months ahead.
“My guess is we will see a high number when evictions are allowed again to make up for missing ones in March, April and May, plus folks that couldn’t pay their rent due to job loss,” said Jeffrey Miller, an executive property manager with Management Specialists in Port St. Lucie. Miller, a broker and vice president of the St. Lucie County Landlord Association, said clients they represent – both residential and commercial property owners – reacted with fear when DeSantis ordered the eviction moratorium.
“They are scared all the way around; they’re scared about their own jobs,” Miller said. “They have their own mortgages to pay, and of course, there’s not going to be any bailout for landlords for residential or commercial; they’re really on their own.”
A few local landlords are getting a head start on the legal process, records show, by filing paperwork to initiate evictions cases. Clerks are processing complaints into the court system to track the filings and avoid a potential rush on filings once the moratorium ends.
“We have accepted the filings, but no actions have been made on the cases yet,” said Joseph Abreu, spokesman for St. Lucie County Clerk of the Circuit Court Joe Smith.
Vero Beach landlord Ken Skuba, owner of Skuba Southeast Property, said so far only one of his nearly 50 commercial tenants in Indian River and St. Lucie counties has been unable to pay rent. The owner of a Sebastian hair salon paid April’s rent, he said, but the business was closed just days later. “The hair salon, they were completely out of business, so I forgave that rent because this is no fault of their own,” Skuba said. “It isn’t like they stayed home and didn’t come to work.”
The salon has reopened and Skuba said he’s fortunate he could help the business during a tough time. “You can’t get blood out of a rock,” he said. “If they can’t go to work, they can’t pay the rent. And if I’m in a position where I can let them slide, I let them slide.”
On Treasure Coast, eviction records show the number of filings dropped significantly in April compared to the previous five months. St. Lucie County averaged about 153 eviction filings during that period but recorded 18 last month. At the same time, Martin and Indian River counties averaged about 30 to 35 evictions per month, but recorded less than 10 in April.
For tenants facing eviction who can’t afford to consult an attorney, the Florida Bar has temporarily expanded its Florida Free Legal Answers, an online legal clinic that helps match low-income Floridians with attorneys who can answer basic legal questions about landlord/tenant matters, foreclosure, unemployment and bankruptcy.
Stuart attorney Ron Rowars, who’s fielded calls from the Bar’s free online program, said he hasn’t gotten inquiries from tenants or landlords fretting about evictions. But he’s spoken to local landlords who are working with renters to avoid eviction.
“They are trying to work with tenants to not waive rent, but at least get them to pay partial rent, pay their utilities and in exchange, they will extend their lease and let them make it up on the back end,” Rowars said. “On the other side, which is as important to landlords, is talking to the banks … to work with them. Because in this day and age, a lot of landlords run very tight margins. It’s not extremely profitable and you have to be able to pay that mortgage, your insurances and property taxes.”
Vero Beach attorney Jordan Lulich, who often represents landlords in tenant disputes, said property owners are calling and seeking to remove non-paying tenants.
“They’re trying to work it out with their tenants directly, but I presume that once this moratorium is lifted, we will see an influx of cases,” Lulich said. “People have been reluctant to even start the eviction process with everything that’s going on.”
He advises landlords to work with tenants first before turning to the courts.
Still, Lulich said there will always be circumstances “where people don’t pay, don’t respond and really take advantage of the situation,” forcing landlords to evict and take back their property.
Tenants struggling to pay rent should take action early, Lulich said, despite the moratorium.
Nothing in state or court orders provides rent forgiveness during the pandemic – payment is still due someday, and landlords can move to evict once the clock restarts.
Miller, too, stressed tenants should seek leniency as soon as they see trouble. Because with the current strong rental market, he said landlords won’t have trouble finding new tenants.
Communication is vital, Miller said. “So maybe the current tenants are having issues or work in an industry that got shut down, but there’s a lot of demand right now for single-family rentals,” he said.
He predicted initially, commercial businesses may face eviction in greater numbers than residents because of the prolonged shut-down, but that could change in the coming months.
“We are concerned about this summer and the fall, as stimulus checks wear off, unemployment runs out – if you even got it – most of our tenants are still waiting for a check,” Miller said. “A lot of people built up savings but they’re burning through it.”
Miller’s tips for landlords:
- Be educated about eviction laws and tenant rights; don’t assume anything
- Consult a real estate attorney in the county where you own property and listen to the advice
- Be creative with your tenants and be open to ideas
- If an eviction must be filed, consider seeking help from a lawyer or property manager
- Be thoughtful and understanding
Tips for tenants:
- Understand your rental obligation and try to stay current
- Contact your landlord and pay what you can
- For residents of St. Lucie County, Port St. Lucie and the city of Fort Pierce, seek out housing relief grants being offered to qualified households
- If you must move out, strive to rebuild
© 2020 Journal Media Group
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