On April 1, 2020, Florida’s governor issued a statewide stay at home order that only allows Florida citizens to leave their homes to obtain, conduct, or provide “essential” services and activities through April 30, 2020. The order effectively closed all businesses in the state of Florida not providing essential services. As a result of the coronavirus-related shutdowns, many Floridians are finding themselves unemployed, underemployed, laid off, out of business, and unable to pay their rent.
Many state and local governments are enacting emergency bans on foreclosures and other tenant protections. On April 2, 2020, Florida’s governor ordered a 45-day suspension of all evictions (and foreclosures) due to non-payment of rent related to the COVID-19 emergency. The governor has ordered that evictions remain suspended until July 1, 2020. The governor’s order doesn’t waive a tenant’s obligation to pay rent—it merely blocks a landlord’s ability to evict a tenant for the next 45 days. Landlords will be free to initiate eviction proceedings after the 45 days have elapsed. In light of this, renters are well advised to pay their rent if they can or to reach an agreement with the landlord to make up any missed rent payments if they can’t.
In addition to the statewide eviction ban, Florida tenants might be able to take advantage of other resources and assistance programs.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (the coronavirus stimulus bill) recently passed by the federal government places a 120-day moratorium on evictions of tenants who reside in federally subsidized housing or properties containing federally backed mortgage loans. According to the National Housing Law Project, nearly 70 percent of the mortgages held on single-family homes throughout the U.S. are federally backed.
Even though tenants in Florida who are unable to pay their rent might not have to worry about getting evicted in the next few weeks, they will still owe rent and, if they can’t work things out with their landlords, might face eviction as soon as restrictions are lifted.
Fortunately, there are some resources tenants can turn to for rent assistance. A number of local governments have rental assistance programs. For example, Orange County, Florida devoted $1.8 million to a program intended to provide one-time rental assistance to 1,500 families. The county stopped accepting applications, however, on April 1, 2020, because of the overwhelming demand. Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and the City of Miramar also have rental assistance programs. RentalAssistance.us also maintains a comprehensive list of rental assistance programs throughout the state of Florida.
Renters might be able to qualify for help from charitable organizations that have rent assistance programs such as the Salvation Army and United Way. Nolo is also regularly updating a list of resources for renters and landlords on its blog.
While eviction bans are helpful to tenants during the pandemic, such measures might put landlords who depend upon the rental income and have mortgages to pay in a bind. Fortunately, resources and protections also exist for some landlords during this crisis. Specifically, the CARES Act imposes a 120-day moratorium on foreclosure of federally backed mortgages and prohibits the imposition of penalties, interest, and late fees during that time period.
The CARES Act also provides landlords (property owners) with federally backed mortgage loans who are adversely affected by the pandemic with mortgage payment relief. Specifically, if they make a request to their mortgage servicer for payment assistance and affirm that they’re experiencing a financial hardship caused, directly or indirectly, by the pandemic, the mortgage servicer is required under the law to offer them a mortgage payment forbearance of up to 180 days (meaning that monthly payments can be reduced or deferred for up to six months). The landlord can also get an extension of the forbearance period for up to an additional 180 days during the pandemic upon request. Mortgage servicers are prohibited from charging fees, penalties, or interest charges beyond what the landlord already owed during the forbearance period.
This relief is not automatic. Landlords (property owners) are required to request assistance from their mortgage servicers and find out what options are available to them. Also, these forbearance measures don’t waive or forgive a landlord’s obligation to make up the delayed mortgage payments, so landlords will have to work with their mortgage servicers to bring their mortgages current once the forbearance ends.
Although the mortgage relief provided by the CARES Act only applies to federally backed mortgages, there are a number of other mortgage servicers providing relief to property owners affected by the COVID-19 crisis. All landlords affected by the pandemic should check with their mortgage servicer to see what relief might be available to them.
Moreover, if the landlord is self-employed or owns a small business or otherwise qualifies, he or she could take advantage of the loans, grants and other financial assistance made available in the CARES Act to make up for lost rental income. Florida landlords should check out the Florida SBDC Network's COVID-19 Business Disaster Recovery Assistance page.
As a renter, consider trying to come to an arrangement with your landlord that allows you to remain in your rental and allows your landlord to keep paying the bills. For example, you might work out a temporary rent payment plan, partial payment, or other arrangement that keeps you both from facing serious consequences.