Jeffrey Hussey, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida: "Do not hesitate. Start applying for these programs. The sooner the better."

CDC’s eviction moratorium may end next week

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By
Norine Dworkin

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Founding Editor

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Courtesy of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida

Jeffrey Hussey, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida: "Do not hesitate. Start applying for these programs. The sooner the better."

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich nixed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide moratorium on Covid-19-related evictions, which since last September has protected millions of Americans from being thrown out onto the streets. While the judge said the government agency didn’t have such authority to stem the spread of the coronavirus, she delayed enforcing her ruling until May 12 to allow the Justice Department an appeal.


The timing of the judge’s decision stunned housing advocates who thought they had until June 30 when the moratorium was scheduled to expire. They say it could jeopardize the housing situation for thousands of area residents who’ve fallen behind on rent. 


“We’ve been preparing for this, but it took us by surprise when the judge gave that order,” said Jeffrey Hussey, director of public interest and litigation at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. “I seriously doubted they were going to extend the moratorium another time. It’s been extended a couple of times. None of us were really anticipating it would go past June, but it still would have given us another 45 days to help people prepare.”


As of May 6, about 2,400 evictions have been filed with the Orange County Clerk of Court. But just how many renters in the area may find themselves suddenly evicted once the moratorium is lifted is “the million dollar question,” said Jay Mobley, senior housing and consumer attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association. The nonprofit organization brought in 40 pro-bono attorneys to handle the anticipated onslaught. “We’re bracing for the worst. Thousands are at risk immediately on the death of that protection,” he added.


That means evictions could start as early as next week. VoxPopuli talked with Jeffrey Hussey of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida about the options at-risk renters may have at this point.


VoxPopuli: Please walk us through the process. What can we expect to happen next?


Jeffrey Hussey: Many people had fallen behind, and the only thing keeping them in their houses or apartments was this CDC moratorium. Our anticipation at Community Legal Services is the floodgates are going to open. Landlords are geared up; they’re ready to pounce on this.


The sad reality is a lot of people had gotten all the way through to where they’d been sued and served with an eviction notice and a final judgement has been entered. Generally what happens is an eviction is filed, and the tenant gets served with the eviction notice. Then the tenant has a certain amount of time to respond. Unfortunately, nine out 10 people don’t respond. It falls to a final judgment then, and once that final judgment is entered, then the landlord applies for what’s called a writ of possession. Once the judge issues that, the sheriff posts that on the door, and you have 24 hours to get out.


What happened is that the evictions that were already in the pipeline were stopped at that final judgment. That writ of possession has not been entered. So if all it’s going to take is for a judge to enter a writ of possession, they can turn out hundreds of those a day. It’s just a matter of a sheriff’s serving them.


But 24 hours? If you’re a family of four in a two-bedroom apartment, can you pack everything, move everything, find a place you can store everything, and find a place to live in 24 hours? That’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at a crisis. We’ve been saying that eventually there’s going to be a tsunami of evictions because it’s dire out there right now.


There are thousands evictions that are already on hold. If all of those evictions go through, where are those people going to live? The average rent for a one-bedroom is $1,000, and that’s not affordable for most people. We’re about 25,000 units short in affordable housing in Central Florida, and we’re still getting 1,500 people a month moving here. You can only put up so many mobile homes.


VoxPopuli: What can people do to protect themselves so they don’t end up on the street? Because let’s be honest, that’s what we’re talking about, right?


Jeffrey Hussey: Yes. A lot of people never thought they would need a handout. They have almost too much pride; they don’t want to ask for help. But we don’t want to see people out on the street. Take advantage of all the different Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) money that’s doled out to the cities and the counties. Do not hesitate. Start applying for these programs. The sooner the better.

  • Orange County’s Emergency Rental Assistance uses federal CARES Act money to pay up to $10,000 to help keep people in their homes when they're behind on rent because of Covid-19.

  • The City of Orlando Rental Assistance Program, which also distributes CARES Act money, will provide rent for 12 months (up to $4000 a month) when the portal opens in mid-May.

  • The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is offering 12 months of past-due rent and utilities assistance plus three months of future rent assistance. Its portal, which is scheduled to open soon, is very easy to navigate and stocked with FAQs. If you get turned down by Orange County, apply at DCF’s OurFlorida portal.

  • When you’ve exhausted all options — no rent and no place to live — call 2-1-1. That’s United Way. They can put you in touch with Emergency Rapid Re-Housing services, like Family Promise Orlando, which may provide some financial assistance and emergency temporary shelter.


VoxPopuli: Just today the White House and the U.S. Treasury announced that rental assistance payments, which had been required to be made directly to landlords, can now be made to tenants to bypass landlords who refused to participate in these rental assistance programs. Do tenants have any other recourse if their landlord is acting in bad faith?


Jeffrey Hussey: Call the Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (800-405-1417). Or chat online with one of our lawyers. We want to help as many people as we can. We can tell you what defenses you may have, especially if you have an eviction pending and you don’t have a lawyer. The service is always free. We can have one of our lawyers pull up your case online and review it. Sometimes the best defense is the mistakes the landlord may have made in their pleading. For instance, they might have forgotten to attach a copy of the lease. That’s potential grounds to get the eviction dismissed.


The problem we’re running into, since this has been going on for so long, is let’s say you have a year-long lease. If that lease is up, they can evict you, and the CDC moratorium wouldn’t help you anyway. They’re evicting you “nonrenewable” for nonpayment, so you don’t have any protection there. Unfortunately in Florida, it’s all geared toward protecting the landlord and there are very few good valid defenses that tenants can make, especially for nonpayment. You might have some valid defenses but unless you can deposit the rent they say is due into the court registry, you don’t even get a court date.


Additional resources:

Matthew’s Hope

Coalition for the Homeless 

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