Across the country, state and local governments have been taking steps to help citizens struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One such measure, a freeze on evictions, has been issued in many states, including Florida. It is intended to provide housing security to people who rent their homes. Governor DeSantis’ original executive order that created the eviction freeze has been extended multiple times. The current extension is set to expire at 12:00 AM on August 1, 2020.
The freeze on evictions does not excuse rent, so payments are still owed. This means when the eviction freeze expires, landlords can begin removing tenants who have failed to pay rent (or otherwise failed to follow the terms of a lease agreement). Contrary to popular belief, there is a multi-step process that landlords must follow to legally evict tenants.
Florida law requires that landlords first give the tenant a notice to vacate, or leave, the property. Some situations require that the landlord give the tenant an opportunity to correct whatever the issue is. But, each case is different and depends on the facts. The notice must comply with Florida Law. The next step, after giving notice, is for the landlord to file a complaint with the court. The complaint asks for a judgment allowing the landlord to evict the tenant from the property. Once the court issues that judgment, the tenant will be ordered to vacate the property. If the tenant doesn’t leave, the Sherriff can come and remove them.
Florida does not allow for “self-help” or constructive evictions, which means that landlords are not allowed to simply change locks, disconnect utility services, or forcibly remove tenants from the property. If a landlord does any of those things or does not follow all of the steps required for an eviction, they are in violation of the law. When this happens, tenants are entitled to certain remedies, including damages and a court order stopping the landlord from the illegal activity.
Currently, courts are unable to issue final orders on cases relating to evictions (known as “writs of possession”), but that does not mean the eviction process as a whole is on hold. At this time, landlords are still able to give tenants notice to vacate and file complaints with the court. When the eviction freeze expires, courts will be able to issue judgments allowing landlords to remove tenants from the property. If you are a tenant who is behind on rent and at risk of being evicted, come to an agreement with the landlord to avoid being evicted. If you are a landlord with a tenant who is behind, talk to a lawyer to start the eviction process sooner rather than later.
To stay up to date on the status of the eviction freeze and the Florida Governor’s Executive Orders, visit https://www.flgov.com/2020-executive-orders/.