TAMPA BAY, Fla. — It’s been nearly two months since the CDC’s eviction moratorium ended, but are landlords actually kicking tenants out? ABC Action News has been sorting through the numbers and found we’re not seeing the predicted mass evictions as of yet.
“The evictions are starting to go through, we've got another 200 that we're doing in the next two weeks,” said Mark Lippman, a real estate attorney with clients across Florida.
“Our corporate clients who we do residential evictions for even now are just starting to tiptoe back in, even though the moratorium expired back in August, because nobody wanted to be the first one to be the face of the eviction wave that's coming,” he explained.
In Tampa Bay, writs of possession haven’t skyrocketed in the last two months as many expected.
Hillsborough County issued nearly 70 additional writs in August at 488 and again in September at 554.
For context, the county served 669 writs in February of 2020 and 668 in October of 2021.
In Pinellas County, they served about 100 more writs in September than prior months, at a total of 349.
Pre-pandemic, the county also served 685 writs in February of 2020, and 455 in October 2021.
Therefore, it's important to note that these increases still aren't reaching highs. Keep in mind, tenants had to fill out a form and admit loss of income to legally qualify for the moratorium.
In his experience, Lippman says getting a writ signed by a judge has been entirely subjective, even after the end of the moratorium.
“For instance, we had a clerk's default which means nobody filed a response to our eviction. And then we asked the judge to sign off on a judicial default,” Lippman said, “She refused to do it. She wanted to have a hearing and her hearing calendar’s booked out.”
We’ve told you stories about tenants who have struggled to pay rent during the pandemic, but it’s also been hard on landlords, especially those individual owners who only have a handful of smaller houses.
“They were carrying their own home, some of them weren't working,” Lippman exclaimed. “One of my clients got COVID, very sick for nine months, couldn’t do anything. Couldn't upkeep his property, his tenants would call and say look, the toilets not working and a part of the lease was he was supposed to repair the toilet, he couldn't, they would say okay we’re out of here.”
In Hillsborough County, foreclosures were highest last August at 81. They’ve remained about the same the last few months, with 46 in August and September.
Lippman said he’s helped some landlords sell to avoid foreclosure.
However, he points out that the biggest loss for landlords has been squatters. One of his clients, who did not want to do an interview, had a squatter living on his property for 17 months.
“So you had people breaking into houses that were able to stay there, not pay rent to anybody, including the people that own the property, destroy the property and the judges wouldn't do anything about it because they were afraid of getting sanctioned by the government,” Lippman said.
While he predicts many more evictions are coming in the next six months, Eric Garduño, the government affairs director for the Bay Area apartments Association (BAAA), says most of their members are hanging on.
“By and large, our members have really held back and I would say because of the rental assistance programs in place, they're waiting for those programs to play out,” Garduño explained.
According to Pinellas County COVID-19 spending data, they received $20.4 million dollars from the federal emergency rental assistance program in March. Due to a lengthy approval process, they’ve only awarded $11.7 million so far, with $1.3 million in administrative costs.
A spokesperson for Hillsborough County said they received almost $40 million and have allocated all of it.
“On top of the rental assistance, our members have been very active in reaching out to their residents throughout the entire pandemic,” Garduño added, “To talk to them, ‘What's your situation, what can we do, can we do a payment plan? Is there some other… agreement we can come to get you through this, this period?’”
Another reason eviction numbers may not be as high as predicted is that leases are simply ending.
With the rising cost of living and the inflated housing market here, the answer so many point to is more affordable housing.
Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are making strides to add more affordable housing to help not only with those facing evictions, but the growth of the area.
Recently, Hillsborough County commissioners budgeted $750,000 to establish a community land trust to help build more low-cost housing.
In Pinellas, St Petersburg city council just approved its first two apartment projects to allocate Penny for Pinellas affordable housing funds to.