The change of wording in Governor DeSantis’s recent renewal of Executive Order 20-94, which barred the issuance of foreclosures and evictions, has left homeowners and tenants uneasy.
Executive Order 20-180 amends the initial order from March by adding a clarification that only individuals who have been adversely affected through “loss of employment, diminished wages or business income, or other monetary loss” are exempt from evictions. This additional specification, though logical, actually protects fewer families.
Those who are no longer covered by the moratorium include tenants who have overstayed their lease or caused property damage, and those who are struggling to pay rent due to outstanding issues unrelated to COVID-19.
DeSantis noted that the updated eviction moratorium “covers the core group of people that we’re looking to protect,” but tenants still feel concerned.
Admittedly, it is difficult to discern the right action for Gov. DeSantis when renewing Executive Order 20-94. Further delays of evictions only temporarily stop the inevitable wave of evictions when the ban is eventually lifted. DeSantis is attempting damage control, but he may end up confining some Floridians to a complex and stressful situation in the process.
Nonetheless, DeSantis is trying to avoid people taking advantage of the eviction ban. Miami attorney Bruce Jacobs revealed that during the crisis of 2008, “people didn’t pay their mortgage, and at some point the bank filed for foreclosure.” Deferring payments now is counterintuitive because it only leads to a substantial looming expense, but that is a separate issue.
Beyond the obvious intentions of DeSantis’s change of wording in the eviction moratorium, Floridians are left to speculate over the other less obvious implications. Without an explanation from DeSantis, the cryptic change of wording has quickly revealed itself as a menace to those the order claims to protect.
The initial Executive Order 20-94 discouraged banks and landlords from filing eviction cases at all; the revision now only halts the “final decision” in court. This terminology has no clear legal definition.
This shift allows for revisiting of pending eviction cases and new cases to be filed. The catch for tenants who meet DeSantis’s requirements for being adversely affected by COVID-19 is that to provide proof in court, they must first pay the entirety of their unpaid rent to the court within five days of their eviction notice.
If individuals are unable to pay their rent because they have been adversely affected by COVID-19, most tenants will by default be disallowed from providing proof in court since in order to prove such effects they first must be able to repay their rent. It is a paradox where the seemingly logical revision to DeSantis’s eviction protection becomes ineffective.
State Senator Jeff Brandes, R-FL, notes that DeSantis’s action prevents the continuous accumulation of a backlog of eviction cases and abuse of government help. As for the obstruction for tenants providing evidence in court, he believes courts are responsible for acknowledging the extraordinary circumstances provided by COVID-19 and responding accordingly.
In other words, DeSantis relayed responsibility to the courts to discern the parameters of the amended eviction ban. Ryan Torrens, a Tampa foreclosure defense lawyer, worries this will lead to “inconsistent application of the law.”
When discussing the effects of a dry executive order, it is easy to forget that thousands if not millions of people’s homes are at stake. The haphazard revisions to the law have left landlords, tenants, courts and lawyers with no option but to prepare for further distress and confusion.
There is no option but to wait and see how DeSantis’ earnest attempt to remedy an ailing economy plays out in the courts, which is a particularly nerve-wracking waiting game.
Featured image: A foreclosed house. (Unmodified photo by Casey Serin used under a Creative Commons License https://bit.ly/31MmHOj)