Governor lets moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions expire
Housing advocates acknowledge that landlords, many of whom depend on rent payments to make ends meet, are also victims of the health crisis.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has allowed a statewide moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions to expire, citing an unprecedented federal eviction ban that health officials imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
DeSantis first issued a moratorium April 2 and extended it five times, sometimes waiting until a few hours before the deadline. Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a nationwide eviction ban in the name of disease containment. It took effect September 4.
The CDC ban requires renters to fill out an agency supplied document and present it to their landlords. The document requires renters to affirm that they are affected by the pandemic, have attempted to get government assistance, and face homelessness or cohabitation with friends and family.
Housing advocates worried that the federal ban would not apply in Florida because a moratorium was already in place. DeSantis allowed it to expire October 1 to “avoid any confusion over whether the CDC’s evictions order should apply in a particular circumstance,” a spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel.
Unlike DeSantis’ order, the CDC ban does not cover mortgage foreclosures. Critics, including a national trade group that represents landlords, immediately challenged the ban in federal court. The cases are pending.
Doral attorney Armando Alfonso, who represents some 70 South Florida landlords, thinks the challengers have a strong argument.
“Being an administrative body, the only entity that could give the CDC that authority is Congress,” Alfonso said.
This summer, DeSantis narrowed the scope of his moratorium so that it would cover only renters and mortgage holders who were directly impacted by COVID-19. The move allowed cases to move forward, prompting a surge in filings, said Jamos “Jay” Mobley, a senior housing and consumer attorney with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association.
Although Mobley said he welcomed the extension, the narrower scope of the order marked a turning point.
“Now they’re just waiting for final action, so once this protection goes away, it’s just going to be a writ of possession issue, and without any further action from the court, they’re going to be put out really, really quickly,” Mobley said at the time.
From August 1 to August 27, eviction filings in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County reached 2,170, a significant increase from any of the previous four months. The economic fallout from the pandemic has put some 30 million Americans at risk of homelessness, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.
Housing advocates acknowledge that landlords, many of whom depend on rent payments to make ends meet, are also victims of the health crisis. According to U.S. Housing and Urban Development figures, nearly half of all rental property in the United States is owned by a sole proprietor.
Some of Alfonso’s landlord clients have been waiving late fees and working out payment plans with tenants when possible. But Alfonso says some tenants have been taking advantage of the moratorium and withholding rent illegally. Advocates say some landlords have been illegally changing locks, removing air conditioners, or shutting off power.
Alfonso said his clients welcome DeSantis’ decision not to extend the statewide moratorium. A 30-day extension would have left DeSantis facing pressure next month to extend the moratorium through the holidays, Alfonso said.
“They feel pretty good about what DeSantis did, basically, we were kind of on the ropes thinking that October would be pivotal.”
But even if the CDC ban is overturned, South Florida landlords still face hurdles, Alfonso said.
“There is nothing that is going to stop a judge from issuing a writ of possession . . . the problem is enforcing a writ of possession when there is a county ordinance stating that the police cannot execute upon a writ,” he said.