Miami avoided a direct hit by Hurricane Dorian, but hundreds of residents were still threatened with the loss of their homes and businesses before the storm.
A total of 470 residential and commercial eviction notices were filed in Miami-Dade County while Florida was in a state of emergency for Hurricane Dorian, according to data acquired by the Community Justice Project, a Miami-based nonprofit that provides legal services for low-income communities. An additional 421 evictions were filed up to five days prior to the emergency declaration, meaning residents would have had to pause their hurricane preparations in order to go to court. In Florida, tenants have only five days to respond to an eviction notice and make a deposit with the courts for all of the rent money allegedly owed.
In the leadup to Hurricane Irma two years ago, 2,208 eviction notices were filed in Miami-Dade, an average of 63 evictions per day during the state of emergency. Irma was the costliest hurricane in state history, causing an estimated $50 billion in damage and leaving 6.7 million Floridians without power. Some residents were forced out of their homes before the lights came back on.
One of the highest-profile evictions in the leadup to Hurricane Dorian involved longtime Miami Beach resident Maria Cazañes, who was thrown out of her home by Miami-Dade Police days before the hurricane made landfall. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez later said the eviction was a mistake.
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Regardless, the case prompted two state lawmakers — Rep. Michael Grieco and Sen. Jason Pizzo — to file companion legislation to pause all eviction proceedings during emergencies such as a hurricane. Alana Greer, cofounder and codirector of the Community Justice Project, says those protections are vital.
"An eviction during a hurricane is really a due-process issue," she says. "It's really an important next step for the Legislature to act to protect tenants, especially in times like a hurricane."
Last week, Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously passed two resolutions urging state lawmakers to approve the legislation.
"During and after a hurricane, law enforcement needs to focus on residents' health and safety, not evicting people who may have nowhere else to go, especially at a time when homelessness is more likely to result in death from dangerous weather conditions and downed wires," Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, the legislation's sponsor, said in a press statement.