Since Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed Florida’s state eviction and foreclosure moratorium to expire at the end of September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order freezing evictions is now the only policy preventing many Florida renters from losing their homes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the order on Sept. 1 that evictions that meet certain criteria nationwide for the rest of the year. It stated that a wave of evictions would trigger a health crisis because it would force people to move in with loved ones or into homeless shelters, allowing for increased spread of the coronavirus.
Its protections are the most sweeping federal action against evictions during the pandemic so far.
Several Florida housing lawyers have said their biggest concern is that tenants will assume that the moratorium protects them automatically — which isn’t true. Renters must fill out and submit a particular form in order to invoke the order’s protections.
Here’s how it works:
Does it cancel rent?
No. The order makes 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 once the moratorium expires.
How long is it in effect?
The order is in effect through December 31, 2020, though it also notes that it can be extended if the agency chooses to do so.
However, this order is being challenged in federal court by a Virginia landlord who argues that the order was a government overreach that stripped him of his rights to access the courts. Since it was first filed, several other landlords and the National Apartment Association have also joined as plaintiffs.
If that lawsuit is successful, it’s possible the order would lose effect earlier than the end of the year.
I’m a renter who’s fallen behind on payments. What do I have to do to take advantage of its protections?
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 weren’t required to report any income to the IRS in 2019 or they received a coronavirus stimulus check
- The renter 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 renter 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 person 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 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
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.
Tom DiFiore, team leader of the housing unit at Bay Area Legal Services, which offers free legal services to low-income tenants, said during a Facebook live event with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor that the order does apply in cases where renters' leases expire, including month-to-month tenants whose landlords try to evict them at the end of the month.
What if I don’t have access to a printer?
Tenants may also fill out the declaration form electronically and email it to their landlords. One online tool that may help with that is HomerenterDeclaration.org, a site created by the nonprofit Kentucky Equal Justice Center. That website also has a translation of the form into Spanish.
Do I have to submit this specific declaration form, or can I use a different one?
In its order, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that a “similar” declaration form is also allowed. However, because this is new legal territory, Natalie Maxwell, director of advocacy and litigation at Three Rivers Legal Services, which also provides free legal help to North Floridians, said it’s safest to use the official form provided by the federal government.
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.
What happens if a landlord evicts someone after they deliver this form to them?
Anyone who violates this order is subject to criminal fines ranging up to $500,000 depending on the specifics of the case.
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