Gov. Ron DeSantis’ moratorium on evictions and foreclosures is set to expire Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., unless he extends it again. An administrative order from the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, which instructs clerks of court not to issue the final paperwork for eviction cases, is also expiring simultaneously.
Last time, when DeSantis’ order was set to lapse on June 2, he didn’t announce the extension until about 7:45 p.m the evening before. On Tuesday, yet again, many renters, housing lawyers and advocates checked with each other for updates as Florida was once again up against the deadline — at a time when the state’s coronavirus cases are spiking and some businesses are once again shutting their doors.
“I think people are tense and anxious and not really sure what is going to happen next,” said Tom DiFiore, team leader of the housing unit at Bay Area Legal Services, which defends low-income tenants against eviction in court.
DeSantis has not hinted publicly to what his decision will be. Although a reporter asked about the moratorium following a news conference in Juno Beach on Tuesday, the governor did not answer and took a different question instead. His office did not respond to an email asking where he stands.
If it does expire, Florida renters would be thrust into a new and complex legal landscape, where some eviction cases will still be halted under the federal CARES Act until late July, and then would still require 30 days’ notice so that tenants could not be forced out until August 24.
However, for a case to qualify under Congress’ moratorium, the property must have a federally backed mortgage or receive government subsidies — factors that are not always easy for tenants or even some landlords to check. There are online lookup tools for people to check whether Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac own their building’s mortgage (those are here and here), as well as search tools created by the nonprofit news site ProPublica and Florida housing advocates. But none are comprehensive, because they all exclude rental properties with fewer than five units that have federally backed mortgages.
Hillsborough county also has its own local order preventing evictions, so in order for the expiration’s effects to be felt there, that would have to be pulled back. But Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta has indicated that he may follow the governor’s lead, saying the county would “look to follow any direction that Tallahassee will give us.”
If that happens, roughly 180 eviction cases would immediately begin moving forward, according to the courts, because those were already at their final stage right when the orders took effect in March. Sheriff's deputies would begin posting eviction notices on those properties.
State law requires tenants get at least 24 hours to vacate after the notice, but Hillsborough and Pinellas both give 48. After that time, law enforcement would forcibly remove any renters refusing to leave.
Hundreds more cases would be close behind.
There are more than 250 pending eviction cases in Pinellas, according to Gulfcoast Legal Services, which provides free legal help to low-income residents and seniors. In Hillsborough, it’s at least 420, court records show. Housing lawyers have also said they expect a surge in new filings once the moratorium expires, from landlords who may have been holding off when they knew their cases would be frozen.
Some of these cases likely fall under CARES Act protections, though it’s unclear how many. The Urban Institute has estimated that about one in four renters live in a property with a federally backed mortgage, though that doesn’t include federal subsidies that would also qualify under the new law.
Some circuits, including in Miami-Dade, have created a new requirement that landlords filing eviction cases must sign an affadavit declaring that their property does not fall under the CARES Act. But no such protections have been implemented around Tampa Bay, likely leaving the onus on tenants to prove they are exempt.
“There’s going to be a lot of novel legal issues,” DiFiore said.
Times staff writer Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.