Florida tenants who are unable to pay rent are safe for another month.
Mere hours before a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was slated to expire, Gov. Ron DeSantis filed an executive order — timestamped at 7:06 p.m. Monday — that extends the ban until July 1. The previous moratorium, enacted in April to protect renters during the coronavirus crisis, was set to end at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
DeSantis' last-minute decision came on the heels of mounting pressure from advocates and local leaders who feared the ban's expiration would displace scores of people and exacerbate the public-health crisis. But while the 30-day extension gives tenants a temporary sense of relief, many say it only postpones the inevitable.
"Once the moratorium is lifted, there's going to be a massive, unprecedented onslaught of evictions," says Sean Rowley, advocacy director of the tenants' rights unit at Legal Services of Greater Miami.
Floridians — hundreds of thousands of whom are still waiting for their unemployment checks — have been spared eviction for weeks under DeSantis' moratorium. The governor originally suspended evictions and foreclosures for 45 days starting on April 2 to protect people who'd lost income because of the pandemic. On May 14, he extended the moratorium by another 18 days.
More than 850 evictions have been filed in Miami-Dade since March 12, when Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19. In a letter Tuesday, local attorney David Winker urged Miami-Dade Circuit Chief Judge Bertila Soto and Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin to dismiss all evictions filed during the moratorium.
"Dismissal is the right thing to do legally, and it is the right thing to do morally," Winker wrote. "Landlords that are ignoring the law and filing these prohibited evictions should not be rewarded for 'jumping the queue' and being first in line when the courts re-open for evictions."
Although the moratorium temporarily stops landlords from evicting renters from their homes, it doesn't remove the obligation to pay rent. When the suspension is lifted, tenants will need to come up with the funds to pay for the months they missed or risk eviction.
According to an analysis by Apartment List, 62 percent of renters in the Miami metro area are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Rowley says the latest extension on the moratorium gives renters an extra month to apply for benefits and make alternative housing arrangements, while also encouraging landlords to work with tenants unable to afford rent.
But he worries that frustrated landlords might take matters into their own hands by using illegal tactics such as shutting off a tenant's utilities to force them out. Though he hasn't seen many such cases, he fears that might change during the next month.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, alongside state Rep. Anna Eskamani, Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana, state Sen. Oscar Braynon, and Coral Springs Commissioner Joshua Simmons, had been calling on DeSantis for weeks to renew the moratorium.
"It just comes from such a place of privilege to not have to be in that situation where he has any idea what these families are facing, not receiving their unemployment benefits from his failed agency, and also not taking responsibility for that," Javellana tells New Times.
Javellana credits Jones, who called the governor's office one last time Monday morning, with initiating the final push for the extension.
Jones says the extra 30 days is a small victory for tenants. But as July 1 draws nearer and renters' nerves become increasingly frayed, he hopes federal and state officials will take action and provide relief.
"I hope that leaders from across the country, and even in Florida, are paying attention," Jones says. "And I'm hoping that they'll be empathetic that although [they] might have money coming in every two weeks, that's not the scenario for a lot of Floridians."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.