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Thousands of Tampa Bay area renters face eviction in the coming weeks when moratorium expires

Moratorium expires December 31
Posted at 4:41 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 02:24:50-05

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Thousands of Tampa Bay area renters are running out of money and time.

The I-team found Hillsborough County landlords have filed nearly 2,000 evictions in court between October and early December and more than 500 in Pinellas County during that same time.

A recent study by Advisor Smith ranks the sunshine state a dark second when it comes to the number of tenants at risk for eviction when the federal moratorium on evictions expires Dec. 31. They cited U.S. Census Bureau data indicating 9 million renters across the country were behind on rent in November.

Alyssa Wright and her family are among those numbers.

In November, Wright, her boyfriend and their children, 6-month-old Ava and two-year-old Zayden, were weeks away from being evicted from the mobile home they rent in Seffner. Their landlord filed an eviction lawsuit against Wright and her boyfriend in Hillsborough County Court on August 6. The only thing standing between the family and the street is the federal moratorium.

The family's financial downward spiral started in April after Wright’s boyfriend lost his construction job due to the pandemic.

“Bills piling up constant debt you can't get out of it,” she said.

Her boyfriend has since found work, but Wright says they can’t catch up in time.

“We've been behind 6 months in rent,” she said. “If we don't get caught up, we will be evicted.”

Bay Area Legal Services attorney Tom DiFiore says after a judge signs a writ of possession, deputies can order families out within 1 to 2 days.

“Generally, it is going right up to the point of a judgment for possession signed by the judge,” DiFiore said.

Legal Aid workers say there’s no legal defense to stop it. And although many families were financially devastated by COVID-19, long-time Tampa property manager Chib Anderson says it is important to remember the pandemic sucker-punched landlords as well.

"If the property goes into foreclosure everybody loses, everybody loses,” Anderson said.

And that’s one reason she's avoided going to court and hasn't filed a single eviction case since the pandemic struck.

Anderson, who manages about 70 single-family homes and condos, says it is better for both the tenant and the owner if an agreement can be worked out. Evictions cost landlords time and money.

Anderson says the landlords she represents agreed to cancel late fees and work out payment plans with tenants who are struggling financially.

“I've had some people defer the rent,” she said.

Others have told her, “I can't pay you this week don't charge me a late fee can you let me pay at the end of the month.”

Some renters in Tampa Bay may qualify for assistance.

In Hillsborough County, workers from the Affordable Housing agency have visited low-income rental communities to spread the word about its rental assistance program. The program pays landlords directly to help tenants catch up.

But in Pinellas County, the deadline for filing for a similar program has passed. The county does have legal aid available to help tenants. And in Pasco County people can contact the Coalition for the Homeless.

As of yet, Congress hasn't approved more payouts to the unemployed and a tidal wave of evictions threatens to rain more misery on people already struggling to stay in their homes.

In Alyssa Wright’s case, we connected the family with Hillsborough County’s Affordable Housing office. The agency assisted with some back rent so they can catch up and avoid eviction.

For anyone facing eviction – try setting up a payment plan with your landlord. If that doesn’t work, call 2-1-1 for a referral to social service agencies and legal assistance. And if you have no choice but to move out, make sure to make arrangements for storing your belongings.