By Anna Bahney, CNN Business
The federal eviction moratorium has expired, and landlords in many parts of the country can officially begin removing people from their homes. Even though more than 3 million people said they were likely to be evicted “within the next two months,” according to a Census survey from early July, and nearly 5 million renters said they won’t be able to pay August rent, that doesn’t mean they will be evicted immediately.
After a last-ditch effort by House Democrats to extend the federal protection fell apart on Friday, some states and cities are taking matters into their own hands. What happens to struggling renters next will depend largely on where they live.
States like California and New York have extended their state eviction moratoriums. Other states like Minnesota and Nevada have put in place laws that keep renters protected from eviction while they are in the process of applying for emergency rental assistance.
Other localities have taken additional actions. For example, in the Atlanta area, DeKalb County Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson filed an emergency order on Friday that would establish a ban on evictions in the county for 60 additional days after the federal ban ended.
In Florida, which has some of the hardest hit residents and some of the least local tenant protections in the country, cases have been moving through the court the entire time the eviction moratorium was in place. The eviction process was allowed to proceed all the way up to the point the court issues a writ of possession to the landlord.
“That’s where the eviction moratorium stopped the process in Florida,” said Jeffrey Hussey, director of public interest and litigation at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, an organization that covers a 12-county area in central Florida around Orlando. “Even if a writ of possession had been issued, it stopped the sheriff from giving the tenant 24 hours to leave.”
Now that the ban has expired, Hussey said, the difference between some people having a roof over their heads or not is the pace at which judges and sheriffs act.
What happens in an eviction
Eviction is usually thought of as the physical act of a renter being expelled from their home. But that comes after an involved legal process that can take weeks or months. In some states like Florida, that process was allowed to continue up to the final step of removing a tenant, while other jurisdictions halted the eviction proceeding earlier in the process.
Different jurisdictions have varying regulations around eviction proceedings, but generally the process to evict a tenant for non payment of rent begins when the landlord issues a “pay or quit” notice to the tenant. This informs the renter they’re in violation of the lease. It gives instructions for how much they need to pay and how long they have to pay it before an eviction is filed in court.
If they don’t pay in the specified amount of time — usually three to five days — the landlord can file an eviction complaint with a court that starts the eviction case. The tenant is notified about the eviction case.
In Florida, tenants’ cases are not heard in court until they put the amount of back rent they owe into the court registry, said Hussey, unless they dispute the amount owed or there is a procedural problem with the paperwork.
“Nine out of ten people don’t have the money to deposit. A final judgment is issued and basically the landlord wins.”
After that, he said, the judge issues a court order that allows the landlord to take possession of the property by forcing the renters out and triggers the final step of the eviction. Local law enforcement serves the order to the tenant.
In Florida, once served, the tenant has 24 hours to leave. After 24 hours, the sheriff or landlord can forcibly evict the tenant and padlock the door. This can be done with or without the tenant’s belongings inside.
“If you stay past 24 hours, you could potentially be arrested for trespassing, then you have a new set of problems,” said Hussey.
For tenants in Florida who have eviction cases that have already moved through the courts up to the point the moratorium stopped them, he speculated the earliest a tenant would need to be out would be Wednesday.
What happens without an eviction moratorium
Without an eviction moratorium in place, there is more focus on how judges and law enforcement handle cases.
“How quickly the judges are going to move, we can’t control,” Hussey said. “Judges may not want to move quickly on evictions realizing the potential problem it will create, but ultimately they have to comply.”
The best case scenario, Hussey said, is that judges take into consideration that tenants have pending emergency rent relief applications. However, there is nothing in the law that requires a judge to delay or postpone the eviction.
He said the first thing he asks tenants is whether they have applied for emergency rent relief.
“If they haven’t applied for rent relief, that is priority number one,” he said. “It gives us an argument in court. We can say ‘This person is in the process of getting funds through an emergency rental assistance program.’ If they are accepted, the landlord will be made whole. The judge isn’t obligated to take that into consideration, but it is something we can throw at the wall.”
If there is nothing else to slow the proceeding, he said, there is legally not much more he can do for tenants and he becomes a defacto counselor.
“People get panicked,” once legal options have been exhausted, he said. “We try to help them prepare. They need to think about getting their stuff together. Think about who they know who has a truck. Does someone have a storage facility you can borrow or a garage? Can you find somewhere to put a roof over your heads?”
He said he and his colleagues can make an effort to get that eviction record sealed, because in Florida once you get an eviction on your record it is a “Scarlet Letter for future landlords.”
“We’ve been very grateful for the eviction moratorium, but it’s nothing but a Band-Aid,” said Hussey. “We’ve been preparing for the end of the moratorium for months now. We know now that the Band-Aid is gone so many other systemic problems are going to reveal themselves: lack of affordable housing, lack of access to legal representation for tenants, lack of a roof over people’s heads after eviction.”
If you are looking for emergency rental assistance, there is a searchable list of available programs at the US Treasury and also lists managed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Housing Conference.
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