NewsIn-Depth

Actions

Eviction case filings increase in Tampa Bay as landlords try to wait for government assistance

PALOMAR PROPERTIES.jpg
Posted at 6:13 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 08:29:16-04

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s been three months since the eviction moratorium ended and while much of the Tampa Bay area saw a slight uptick in evictions in August and September, October saw a decline. Landlords tell ABC Action News they are doing everything they can to keep people in their homes while waiting on government funding.

"The last thing we wanted to do was displace families, especially during a crisis because this is their home,” said Cassi Harbuck, the regional director for Palomar Properties in Pinellas County.

The company has 10 apartment complexes with more than 1,800 households, yet three months after the moratorium ended, they only issued two evictions.

"Was it easy? No,” Harbuck explained. “The loss of rent, finding creative ways to keep things going wasn't easy. But when you have good ownership behind you that cares, that invests not only in you but our properties... It gives you that empowerment to go, ‘Okay, listen, I can handle this.’”

Palomar Properties has been able to stay afloat by pulling rent from funds like security deposits and putting off capital expenditures. They also took a proactive approach to getting residents federal rent assistance.

"As soon as we knew there were programs available, we immediately got it on all the doors,” Harbuck said. “And if they couldn't fill out the paperwork or know what to do, we had their back, ‘Hey, come to us. My team will help you.’”

CASSI.jpg

Unfortunately, the federal emergency rental assistance program (ERAP) process is lengthy and is still seeing major delays in getting funds out.

While Palomar Properties is starting to see some funding come in, not all landlords can keep waiting.

"I consistently speak to private landlords on a daily basis and they say, ‘I can't wait for the money any longer,’” said Mercy Roberg with the Community Law Program, a nonprofit providing legal assistance for low-income residents in Pinellas County.

HARBOUR CAY APT.jpg

Looking at both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, writs of possession were slowly rising until October when they saw a decline.

But, if we look at the actual eviction paperwork filed in court, that saw a significant spike in the last month, meaning more landlords are filing now.

Roberg said they are doing everything they can to slow the writ of possession hitting homes, giving tenants 48 hours to leave.

We have that conversation every day with landlords, right?” Roberg explained. “A tenant calls in and we call the landlord and we say hey, the county has shared this with us, we know exactly where you are in the process of getting paid, and as soon as I have a check disbursement date the landlord knows.”

It’s a nationwide issue.

As of the end of September, the U.S. Department of Treasury awarded nearly $25 billion in assistance to state and local governments. Of that, 42% has actually been paid out to communities and 25% has been approved, but not sent out yet.

The Treasury Department said in a press release governments are working to streamline operations and reduce application backlogs.

"Just letting the landlord know where you are in the process, sending them screenshots of where you are if it's been approved, things like that. That's what tenants can do,” Roberg advised.

She adds if these tenants move out of the county to cheaper places they can afford, they may no longer qualify and lose the funding to backpay rent. In addition, Roberg said once eviction paperwork is filed, the tenant will have an eviction on their record, even if the funding comes through.

As of Oct. 21, Pinellas County had given out $12.4 million of the total $20.4 million they received.

Hillsborough County tells us they’ve received $39 million in ERAP funds and have allocated all of it to more than 9,000 households. However, not all checks have gone out yet.

"As long as that money is available, we'll continue to try to help our residents get that money,” Harbuck exclaimed. “And for those that didn't, or didn't qualify, we did promise to pay like if they could pay 500 here and then here, or if they were waiting on a larger amount of money, we walked with them through that because what did we want to do have them leave their home? No. Home was everything and it still is.”

We also reached out to OUR Florida for their latest ERAP stats, we are still waiting on a response.