Pinellas residents can get free legal help to avoid evictions

Posted at 5:09 AM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 19:25:52-05

The CDC's eviction moratorium is set to expire on December 31. A group of Pinellas County lawyers have been racing against the clock to make sure several families don't end up on the streets.

Back in October, the Community Law Program started the Pinellas Eviction Diversion Program. They bulked up their team to handle the influx of evictions that were starting to pile up. In November, CLP lawyers helped 99 families avoid evictions.

"It has been extremely satisfying," Atty. Mercy Roberg said. " I go home every day from this job exhausted, but there are three to four wins a day and in these times, it just makes you feel so great."

Pinellas residents who are behind on rent due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19 can call or fill out a form online. An intake specialist will get back to you and conduct a 20-minute interview to make sure you qualify.

"At the end of the day, if you’re behind on your rent and you take 20 minutes to call in and our program provides you with $2,500, that was 20 minutes well worth your time," Atty. Roberg said.

If all goes well, attorneys contact the appropriate parties to start mediation. From start to finish, it can take about three weeks, which is much shorter than the eviction process.

"I get to play a little bit of Santa Clause when I call someone and say you’ve qualified," Atty. Roberg said. "The clients are crying, the landlords are crying, I tell them, 'Cry all you want, they’re tears of happiness.'"

CLP lawyers have worked with private landlords and large rental companies. After mediation, landlords are paid directly.

"Everybody involved is so nice. They were very understanding, very helpful. It was a smooth process, so we started referring them to other tenants that were in trouble," Stephan Koenig said.

Koenig owns multiple properties housing about 70 families. Unfortunately, when many mortgage companies offered customers forbearance, his did not.

He said a quarter of his tenants needed some sort of help and 50% of them couldn't pay on time. Normally, Koenig suggests tenants ask churches or non-profits for help, but many are stretched thin since they're helping more families than usual.

Koenig heard about the program from a tenant when he was asked to go through mediation.

"Despite the fact that we see [this] as a business, we’re all people. And we all know the people on the other side of the phone call or the other side of the email," Koenig said. "So when they’re working with us, when they’re talking to us, we’re always willing to find a solution."

If you need help paying your rent you can call the Community Law Program at (727)-582-7475 or go to their website and fill out the form. Tenants and landlords can ask for help to start mediation.