DeSantis signed an executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures for 45 days on April 2 after appeals by Democrats and tenants’ rights groups. Landlords say it puts them in a financial bind.
Paul Vota said he did not buy rental property in Riviera Beach so that his tenants could live in his duplex rent free.
As Vota sees it, that’s exactly what the state is forcing him to do every time Gov. Ron DeSantis extends the state’s eviction moratorium another month.
“I am not a financier for the state’s welfare programs,” said Vota, whose tenants have not paid rent since the eviction freeze went into effect in March. Vota said his tenants now owe him nearly $20,000 in back rent and he expects that number could go higher if the governor extends the freeze beyond Sept. 1.
“Why am I being persecuted because I own real estate?,” asked Vota.
DeSantis signed an executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures for 45 days on April 2 after appeals by Democrats and tenants’ rights groups. The order standardized how evictions and foreclosures would be handled statewide during the pandemic.
Since then, DeSantis has extended the order every month — waiting until just hours before it is set to expire before signing off on another 30 days.
Before the governor’s directive, an order issued by Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady on March 24 allowed clerks of court in Florida’s 67 counties to suspend issuing eviction orders that allow law enforcement to remove residents delinquent on their payments.
While clerks in some counties suspended the orders, others did not.
Vota said the nail-biting DeSantis puts landlords through on the last day of the month — waiting to see if he will extend the order again — is awful.
“He holds it to the last second and he’s unreachable,” Vota said. “It’s terrible.”
The eviction freeze does not give tenants permission to stop paying rent. Indeed, tenants will still be responsible for paying back rent when the freeze is lifted.
What the order does do is prevent clerks of court from issuing a writ of possession, a legal document needed to force tenants to vacate the property. Even if a judge has signed off on an eviction, without a writ of possession the landlord cannot force a tenant to leave.
“You can’t go to a Hilton and stay an extra night for free,” Vota said. “They will put you out with a police escort.”
Vota said he and other landlords have no recourse. While the eviction freeze does not bar landlords from filing eviction cases now, there will be a long wait for the backlog of eviction cases to be heard when the freeze is finally lifted.
After DeSantis’ extension on June 30, Palm Beach County Clerk of Court Sharon Bock said dealing with all the cases will be a “nightmare,” adding that she has been working with court officials to establish procedures for handling all the cases.
“For us, it is a complete nightmare,” said Bock, “I am in the worst position I have ever been in. Nothing has come close to this.”
Since mid-March, 1,001 evictions have been filed, according to the Palm Beach Beach County Clerk of Court. In addition to those cases, there are the cases that had already been heard and evictions ordered but were merely waiting for the writ of possession to be signed. Countless more cases will likely be filed, especially now that the federal government’s $600 weekly unemployment stipend has ended.
Vota said he can’t understand why so little attention and aid has been given to landlords — especially small landlords like himself who rely on the monthly rent to pay their own bills.
Vota, 26, said he relies on the $2,300 monthly rent he collects to supplement his part-time job as a property manager. Because his hours were not cut and he was not laid off, his is not eligible for unemployment. While his duplex is registered and licensed as a rental property, he is not a business with employees. That means he is not eligible for a Paycheck Protection Protection Payment loan.
Vota said he did apply for landlord assistance as part of the CARES Act money the county set aside landlords whose finances took a hit when DeSantis imposed the eviction freeze. But he has heard nothing.
“In my opinion, we have been overlooked or forgotten by all forms of government and media,” Vota said. “