Some problems have an obvious solution and a morally clear right and wrong side. Others are less black-and-white and have no clear-cut answer. The situation that Florida’s tenants and landlords find themselves in now, where tenants can’t pay rent and landlords feel they have no other choice but to evict, is a difficult one. It requires real, consistent public policy changes that can help ease the pain for both renters and landlords rather than simply delay it.
There is no consistency between how state and local governments are handling this crisis, as well as where the federal government plays a role. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order for a stay on evictions and mortgage foreclosures, intended to protect renters and homeowners on the brink of financial collapse. But that stay expires June 2 with no indication of being extended. At the same time, local governments have issued disparate rulings on the topic. In Hillsborough County, an administrative order lets the Sheriff’s Office avoid carrying out a writ of possession in an eviction process. But the same is not true in Pinellas County. There is no reason renters in Tampa Bay should be treated differently depending upon the county where they live.
Renters who have lost their jobs or find themselves unable to pay rent during coronavirus are living in a near constant state of anxiety. Landlords can still file eviction cases in Florida courts, and hundreds already have, including more than 250 in Hillsborough. This means that renters are essentially evicted by name, so that they may be able to retain their home until the stay on evictions is lifted but know that they are close to losing it. An apartment complex in Tampa, Park Pointe filed eviction notices against five tenants in the week after DeSantis’ stay. The reason was failure to pay April rent on time, but four of those five tenants said they had lost work because of the pandemic and that’s why they were late.
The stay on evictions does not appear to be giving widespread relief to anyone. It’s important to remember that many landlords make their income from renting out properties. And their expenses have not stopped throughout the pandemic. An analysis from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found about half of all rental units in the United States are owned by individuals instead of companies, likely meaning that those owners have less of a safety net to fall back on than a company might. As a Tampa Bay landlord said: “We still have to pay mortgages. We still have to pay water bills on some of them, and taxes.”
What this requires is a policy fix that will work for both renters and landlords. The $1,200 stimulus checks were a step in the right direction, but for most, they were only enough to cover one month’s rent or not even that. One solution could be rental assistance to cover rent for those who need it in the interim. That may be the best alternative, since it would satisfy both the renters and the landlords whose income comes from their rental properties.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.