Eviction-minded landlords may head for the courthouse with moratorium ending

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Some South Florida landlords are likely to move quickly to oust tenants behind on their rents after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal moratorium against evictions, lawyers said Friday.

By a 6-3 vote, justices late Thursday struck down a Biden administration eviction ban designed to shield tenants whose financial health had been severely impaired by the COVID-19 pandemic. The court said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority when it declared a new eviction ban earlier this month after a previous moratorium expired.

Now, millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of Floridians who are still behind on their rent, are no longer protected and are at risk of being evicted.

“It’s very clear that if there’s going to be another moratorium it has to be Congress that acts,” said Fort Lauderdale bankruptcy lawyer Chad Van Horn. “I think we’re going to start getting phone calls [from tenants] this weekend once this news gets out there.”

Only four new cases were filed Friday after the high court’s ruling, said Broward Circuit Court Chief Judge Jack Tuter.

Still, the Broward Sheriff’s Office had been serving between 400 and 600 notices a month, a spokeswoman said. Most went to residential tenants whose cases were deemed by judges as “not governed by the moratorium.”

There are currently 2,460 pending eviction cases in Broward, according to Tuter, who cited data from the clerk of the court. There were 612 foreclosure cases filed this year, well below the 1,362 in 2020, and 3,689 in 2019.

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, some tenants could find themselves in a race with their landlords to quickly obtain public or some other rental assistance before a building owner files eviction papers at the courthouse.

Earlier this year, the Broward court established an incentive to enter mediation for renters facing evictions — and the landlords who want their past-due rent — if they agreed to settle their differences. The prize was some of the money approved by the federal government to keep renters in their homes.

U.S. Supreme Court justices voted 6-3 to reject a national moratorium on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, saying it exceeded its authority.

U.S. Supreme Court justices voted 6-3 to reject a national moratorium on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, saying it exceeded its authority. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/TNS)

The financial distress facing residential tenants was probably most sharply portrayed last month when Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit health and social policy group in Washington, concluded in a survey that 6.2 million families faced evictions nationally between June 23 and July 5, owing back rent of $23 billion or an average of $3,700.

Regionally, more than 135,000 households in South Florida were found to be late with their rent. In Broward County, 42,367 households owed an average of $5,008. In Palm Beach County, 23,201 households owed $4,658, and in Miami-Dade, 72,123 owed an average of $4,800.

Lawyers pointed out that the eviction process is designed to move quickly and that some landlords who haven’t seen a rent check in months may well move to oust longtime, non-paying tenants as quickly as possible. After a landlord gives a tenant three days’ notice, the property owner can file a complaint with a court. Once served by a sheriff’s office, the tenant has five days to respond.

“If landlords are trying to take advantage of this current moment, I think they’re going to do it and they’re going to do it fast,” said Jason Vanslette of the Kelley Kronenberg law firm. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Big landlords note that they’ve been patient and are willing to continue to do so if tenants work with them. But they have creditors, too, such as lenders who expect mortgage payments to be made on time.

“The Supreme Court made the right ruling, and the entire multifamily industry is breathing a sigh of relief,” said Marcie Williams, president of RKW Residential, which manages more than 25,000 apartments in South Florida and elsewhere in the South. “The moratorium has been a long-term burden on apartment community owners, with some renters not paying any rent for an entire year.

“We have emphasized flexibility and compassion throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so to help our residents,” she said.

Alan Kipnis, partner with the Government Law Group in Fort Lauderdale, said his landlord clients had success making payment arrangements with tenants.

“Most of the landlords have been pretty lucky throughout the pandemic,” he said. “They’ve been able to work with their tenants for the most part. They offered ideas to the tenants about giving them some money and offering payment plans.”

Kipnis suggested that despite the high court ruling, a tenant’s trip out the door might not be as speedy as some think.

He said courts are presided over by judges “who are sympathetic, and so are the landlords, by the way. There are options. ‘Okay, let’s try to keep you here, but what can you do so I can get some revenue from you?’”

Vanslette, who represents commercial landlords including those who own apartment buildings, thinks “negotiating with the tenant is the best bet,” largely because of the slow delivery of aid from Washington.

“Out of the $46 billion available, I think actually 10% has actually gone out to landlords and tenants,” he said.

Van Horn, the consumer side lawyer, said agreements can be reached between landlords and tenants who have fallen behind because they’ve lost their jobs but are “now back on their feet.”

“I’ve had landlords who have been very receptive, and I’ve had landlords who have hung up,” he said.

By phone Friday, Judge Tuter suggested it’s too early to forecast a run of landlord filings on the courthouse. “We do not expect any kind of an avalanche.” he said.

Moreover, the court is prepared to handle any volume it receives.

“There are plenty of judges,” he said. “They handle them all day, every day including the satellites. We don’t expect anything extraordinary in terms of the filings”

Right now, he said, the situation is a case of “wait and see.”

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