Tampa Bay area residents evicted in delayed extension of moratorium

Evictions occur as tenants, landlords wait for rental assistance
Posted at 5:52 AM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 09:27:33-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The CDC’s eviction moratorium expired at the end of July and was not renewed until August 3. In those three days, ABC Action News found people were evicted in Tampa Bay, but attorneys say it wasn’t enough time for the proper eviction process to take place.

What happened is, it's expired, but nothing was done and nobody said anything but it's not going to be expanded,” Tampa Bay attorney Valentina Wheeler explained. “It was quiet, so that put people like, ‘Hm, what's going to happen?’ even though the expiration date is already gone, and you don’t know if they're going to make a new one that would put it in retract in a couple days.”

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“In the three days between the old moratorium ending and the new one starting, we have seen more writs than we have seen probably in the last six months,” said attorney Mercy Roberg attorney, Director of Operations with the Pinellas County Community Law Program.

“Definitely, landlords that were waiting for this to pass... following the federal law, following the eviction order moratorium, they were waiting and as soon as they were able, they sent that paperwork through the court system. So we have had more calls this week,” she added.

ABC Action News pulled writs of possession for Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

In Hillsborough, authorities only issued four writs of possession from August 1 to August 4.

In Pinellas County, the sheriff’s office served a total of 87 writs of possession in just the first 10 days of the month.

The Community Law Program has been at the forefront of the fight for these families with free legal assistance. Roberg said the moratorium’s extension is to create time for financial aid.

Biden and the CDC director really stressed the importance of getting all that federal aid out across the nation so not just here in Pinellas County, but across the nation states and cities have struggled with dispersing the funds,” she explained.

In December 2020 and March 2021, the government created emergency rental assistance (ERA) programs with billions of dollars to help people stay in their homes.

“ERA1 provides up to $25 billion under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which was enacted on December 27, 2020, and ERA2 provides up to $21.55 billion under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” the government’s treasury site explains.

But the paperwork verification process is arduous and that money is just now starting to make its way into communities.

This morning I talked to a client who just got approved for almost $10,000 in rent, and that was back rent and future rent,” Roberg said. “She was at work... she's a client that's back working, had all her paperwork, did everything, but it took a good amount of time. She’s got two little kids and she's just you know so excited that the process worked for her.”

This new extension also protects tenants in counties with “substantial” or “high” COVID-19 transmission rates. Right now, that’s all of Florida, according to the CDC tracker website.

But Wheeler said despite the moratorium, we will see more and more people evicted in the coming months as their leases end.

The problem is this moratorium started a long time ago... It's been a year since March and everybody has been a tenant,” Wheeler explained. “So for up to date, they're pretty much running out of their leases… most of them are just getting the termination of the lease. You still owe the money, they’re still going to get a money judgment against you, but you're gonna have to leave.”

The weight is heavy on landlords, but attorneys say that once a tenant is evicted, landlords may never get their back-pay rent. They’re better off waiting for tenants to receive the government’s financial assistance.

According to the Pinellas County COVID-19 spending web page, the county was was awarded $20.4 million dollars from the government. As of August 6, they approved 1,019 applications and awarded $7.2 million dollars. This funding is separate from the city of St. Petersburg which has its own funds to distribute.

ABC Action New’s also inquired with the Department of Children and Families who oversees one of the payment programs in Florida. The agency said that they received “$871 million as part of the ERA program to administer statewide.”

As of August 10, they had paid out less than 4% at $31 million dollars to 7,000 households, according to I-Team Investigator Jackie Callaway.

If you need help with rental assistance, contact your local city or county government. If you’re in Pinellas County, the Community Law Program has resources for you. If you are in the Tampa Bay area, you can contact Bay Area Legal Services.