As Eviction Moratorium Is Extended, What Happens to Those Caught in the 2-Day Gap?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued another ban on evictions Tuesday, but not before a small window of time elapsed in which landlords and property owners could pursue final judgments.

The latest 60-day moratorium extension applies to counties with “high or substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission. That includes Florida, where the CDC said cases are “rapidly increasing, which would likely be exacerbated by mass evictions.”

It’s a development that has generated confusion, leading attorneys such as David Winker in Coral Gables to wonder: what happens to courts that have a backlog of eviction and foreclosure cases, and what next for tenants and homeowners hit with final judgments on evictions this week?

‘So many things wrong’

For one of Winker’s clients, their eviction order will stand since nothing actually prevented the judge from issuing it at the time.

“What are my grounds for appealing it? He did issue it in the window. He’s legally correct, there’s nothing stopping him and he’s allowed to issue it,” Winker said. 

Although the judge has issued rulings in the case, the writ of possession has not yet been issued. 

“If they move for the writ, I’ll move to quash the writ as a violation of the CDC moratorium,” Winker said. 

Winker said he hopes judges decide to stay orders for those caught in similar situations, but understands the frustration that landlords and property owners face since they’re owed money. The bigger issue, according to Winker, is the limited tools lawyers have when it comes to helping clients in such a complicated legal situation. 

“We have a federal moratorium, we have state laws, we have a county and no one is working together to solve a problem. This is kind of the perfect storm,” Winker said. “Maybe the landlords should get some of that money, and my clients stay where they are. It seems like the money is not being distributed and their lives are being torn apart and landlords are not being paid. There are so many things wrong with this picture, and there are so many steps along the way where this could get solved.”

Chance for mediation?

Chad Van Horn of Fort Lauderdale bankruptcy firm Van Horn Law Group also has a client caught in the eviction moratorium gap. After filing an emergency motion to stay the eviction, the judge allowed the client to stay in their home for another 30 days.

“You see 20 to 25% of renters are behind on their rent and I think there are 3 million renters in the state of Florida, so that’s hundreds of thousands that could potentially lose their house,” Van Horn said. “And it’s at a time when people are preparing to go back to school, so you’re talking about changing school districts, potentially.”

Van Horn said he hopes to see more landlords and tenants go through a mediated process, rather than going through evictions. 

“You could be out in two weeks. You have to find a new place to move with an eviction on your record, which makes it more difficult to find a place to move,” Van Horn said. “And then there’s a monetary judgment entered that could last up to 30 years, gaining interest, and eventually that can come back to haunt you because it can garnish your wages and bank accounts. It’s really a perfect storm, especially now that COVID is back in full force.”

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in South Florida, Van Horn is concerned the homeless population, which he believes was reducing, will now increase.

“I thought we were making progress, especially in Fort Lauderdale. I see that making a comeback, unfortunately,” Van Horn said. “I also see people just leaving because they can’t afford to live in South Florida anymore because the rent is so high.”

The eviction moratorium could be extended again after 60 days, according to Van Horn, who noted Congress will make that decision based on COVID-19 infections. The buildup of the moratorium and the effects of the pandemic will both have a ripple effect on affordable housing, according to Van Horn. 

“The wages that I’m seeing are not supporting the housing costs. Now I’m seeing some clients who have four, five, or six people living in a one or two-bedroom apartment just to make it affordable for them, which, especially during a pandemic, isn’t ideal,” Van Horn said.  

Clients ‘can’t afford big retainers’

For attorneys with clients in similar situations, Van Horn suggests making the extra effort to work out a solution for all parties involved.

“The problem we’re going to run into is many of the clients coming in really can’t afford big retainers, so a lot of this is going to, unfortunately, fall on legal aid and pro bono representation, or what we call low bono, where we work out payment plans,” Van Horn said. “But especially making a phone call. For all my free consultations, I’m happy to at least make a phone call and make a quick deal. I have a template that I would actually share with anybody. It’s basically a mutual release. It lays out the responsibilities of the landlord or tenant. It has a blank space for how long they’d give the tenant to move out.”

Courts in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties declined to comment on the extension. But Broward Circuit Court pointed to a recent statement from Broward County Court Judge Robert Lee, who said there are about 100 backlogged cases for the entire county and stressed the court was prepared for any eventuality.

“We have 20 judges assigned to handle a pro rata share of any filed evictions, in addition to the judge’s other cases. Tenant responses are forwarded to each judge immediately, either by clerk’s hand delivery or scanning/emailing to the judge. We will also continue using the mediation system we set in place during the moratorium, by which landlords and tenants are assisted in reaching a resolution of their cases, and which worked well during the moratorium to resolve many cases,” Lee said in a written statement. “What is coming to be filed in the next few weeks, we are unsure.”

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