Coronavirus-Related Eviction Bans in Florida

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 What is Eviction?

An eviction refers to a legal process in which a court can order the removal of a tenant from a rented home or apartment based on a request from their landlord. The landlord is required to have a justified and specific reason for why a tenant needs to be evicted.

There are numerous reasons why a landlord may wish or need to evict a tenant from a rental property. These may include:

  • The tenant has stopped paying rent for a certain period of time;
  • The tenant or the tenant’s guests have caused damage to the rental property;
  • The tenant has breached the terms of the lease or rental agreement, such as smoking in a non-smoking building or keeping pets despite no-pet conditions in the lease; and
  • The tenant does not move out after their lease has expired and is then considered a squatter.

Although the majority of eviction actions occur between a tenant and a landlord that are associated with a residential property location, such as a home or an apartment building, the process may be used to remove a tenant from a rented commercial building as well, such as a business office.

It is, however, important to note that the eviction process typically involves numerous steps which have strict legal requirements for both a tenant and a landlord. These requirements are governed by state laws, so they will vary depending upon the state or jurisdiction where the eviction is taking place.

Additionally, laws traditionally supported landlords when it comes to evictions. However, the more modern trend is for a court to side with a tenant. Tenants also have several defenses which they can use against a landlord’s eviction notice. These defenses may help the tenant prove that the eviction is unfair or that there is not a basis to evict the tenant.

Because an eviction action may have an effect on both parties, such as the tenant losing their home or the landlord losing revenue, it is in the best interest of both parties to hire an attorney to assist them in these matters.

What are Eviction Bans?

Eviction bans, also called moratoriums, have been enacted by the federal government, states, cities, and counties in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These bans prohibit certain actions by landlords during this time, including:

  • Evictions;
  • Shutting off utilities due to nonpayment; and
  • Late rent fees.

It is important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an Agency Order on September 1, 2020 which was entitled Temporary Halt in Residential Eviction to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19. This order, however, ended on July 31, 2020.

Does Florida Have Any Eviction Ban Laws Related to COVID-19 Issues? 

At this time, Florida does not have eviction bans in place related to COVID-19 issues. There are, however, other resources for homeowners and renters now available. 

The Florida Department of Children and Families is administering Florida’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA). This program is funded by the United States Department of the Treasury.

The ERA provides funding to assist individuals who are unable to pay their rent or utilities. The funds are provided from the federal government directly to the states. 

If a renter in Florida is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, they can contact their local State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) office for funding assistance. The SHIP program was designed to serve low and moderate income families and to create partnerships which produce and preserve affordable home ownership.

What if I’m Being Evicted Due to a Coronavirus Issue? What Protections Do I Have in Florida?

If an individual is being evicted due to a Coronavirus issue, it is important to remember that they may have some protections. The majority of the federal protections related to the pandemic have expired. 

There may be, however, some protections provided by individual states. It is important to note that a landlord can not force an individual to move out of their rental property until they have a court order.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) of the United States Department of the Treasury has made billions available across the nation to assist renters who cannot pay their rent or utilities. $1.4 billion has been allocated to help renters in Florida.

What Other Florida Tenant Protections and Resources are Related to Coronavirus? 

As previously noted, there are resources available to assist individuals with rent issues related to the Coronavirus. Since many of the federal protections have expired, individuals will have to seek the counsel of an attorney who can advise them of the most up-to-date protections available in Florida.

There are some basic protections that are provided to tenants in Florida, including:

  • A landlord cannot use self-help measures to evict the tenant;
  • In order to legally evict the tenant, the landlord is required to: 
    • send all required notices;
    • file an eviction lawsuit in court;
    • obtain a judgment authorizing the eviction; and
    • request a sheriff’s eviction if the tenant does not vacate voluntarily.

There may also be other ways for the parties to stop an eviction. These may include:

  • The tenant and landlord coming to their own agreement. This should occur either prior to the landlord sending the formal eviction notice or immediately after the tenant receives it;
  • If the tenant was previously unable to make rent payments but is now able, they should alert their landlord and make their payments current. This may prevent the eviction because the legal basis would no longer exist;
  • The parties may have a mediation session prior to going to court to attempt to settle the issue;
  • The tenant may stop the eviction if they have a valid defense. In these cases, the tenant should retain a lawyer to represent them during the proceedings.

It is important to note that just because there is a ban on evictions does not mean the tenant should stop paying their rent. Especially since the federal bans on evictions due to the pandemic have just expired.

Should I Contact a Florida Lawyer for COVID-19 Eviction Issues?

Yes, it is essential to contact a Florida real estate lawyer for any COVID-19 eviction issues you may be facing. The process of an eviction includes many complex legal requirements and procedures.

An eviction can also be a stressful and emotional experience for both parties. If you are the tenant, your attorney can help determine whether there are any defenses that are available to you for the eviction claim. 

Your attorney can also advise you regarding the laws in your area, what to expect if you do not prevail at a hearing, and assistance with an appeal. They may also be able to provide guidance regarding ways to help stop an eviction before it occurs.

If you are a landlord who is required to commence an eviction action, your attorney can ensure that you have followed the proper procedures for an eviction in your area and assist you with defending an appeal. Your attorney can also provide guidance regarding your rights as a property owner. 

It is important to remember that there may be local free resources available to you, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing available free resources and having an attorney on your side is your best chance at a successful outcome or at least a compromise which may prevent an eviction.

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