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Housing Lawyer Discusses Eviction Moratorium

Cathy L. Lucrezi is a Title III Attorney at Legal Aid Service of Collier County. Cathy handles elder law, housing law, foreclosure defense, evictions, public benefits, and other similar issues.
Cathy L. Lucrezi is a Title III Attorney at Legal Aid Service of Collier County. Cathy handles elder law, housing law, foreclosure defense, evictions, public benefits, and other similar issues.

In a historic move, the issued a nationwide halt on evictions earlier this month. WGCU’s Andrea Perdomo spoke with Cathy Lucrezi, supervising attorney for about what tenants need to do in order to prevent eviction.

Florida's eviction moratorium was set to expire Oct. 1. Governor Ron DeSantis' office announced Sept. 30 that it would not did not extend the order. More information on the CDC's eviction moratorium can be found HERE.

Here is a transcript of their conversation:

Perdomo:

Cathy, can you please start off by explaining what an eviction moratorium is and why it has become a hot button issue during the pandemic?

Lucrezi:

Certainly. An eviction moratorium, by definition of the word moratorium, just means a forbearance or a banning of completing an eviction action against a tenant. The goal of the moratoria, whether from the governor or from the CDC, the goal has been to keep people with a roof over their head.

Perdomo:

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide halt on evictions. Has the agency done something like that before?

Lucrezi:

I have never seen it before. I think it was a very radical step. It was a huge departure from what the norm is. I'm not aware of the CDC doing anything like that or any federal agency really putting that broad of a stop on evictions throughout the entire country. Both the governor and the CDC acknowledge that by making people homeless, they create a greater risk of spreading COVID-19.

Perdomo:

Does the CDC's announcement affect state-issued eviction moratoriums?

Lucrezi:

They both work together in conjunction. They're not at odds with each other. Really, they can be read consistently. The governor's moratorium prevents any final action of the eviction. The CDC order prevents the landlord from taking any action to dispossess the tenant, so the CDC order, in essence, is broader than the governor's moratorium, and so the two can be read in conjunction with each other.

Perdomo:

It's my understanding that the CDC's eviction moratorium is not a blanket order, right? Like, automatically protecting all tenants from being evicted. So what do tenants need to do to prevent eviction under the moratorium?

Lucrezi:

The tenant needs to submit a certification to the landlord that is in compliance with the CDC order. And that certificate sets forth how the tenant is adversely affected by COVID financially, so they do need to do a paper, and the paper needs to be presented to the landlord. We recommend that the tenant get the advice of a lawyer before they sign the document because the document must be signed under penalty of perjury, and we want to be sure that people understand the impact of that. The forms are out there and available. You could probably download one from the internet, but it's good to get legal advice before you sign it because it's a shoe that doesn't fit everyone.

Perdomo:

The eviction moratorium applies to tenants who cannot pay their rent, but can tenants still be evicted for other reasons under the CDC's order?

Lucrezi:

It's important to note that the CDC order does not protect all tenants from eviction if the tenant is being evicted for something other than non-payment of rent. For example, if the tenant is being evicted because they broke a rule or they had a pet that they weren't supposed to have or they caused damage to the property, the CDC order does not protect them. Neither does the governor's moratorium.

Perdomo:

And does the CDC's eviction moratorium mean rent will be forgiven or canceled?

Lucrezi:

No, the tenant remains liable for paying rent and late fees and any other charges that come due under the lease, so it's not a forgiveness of the rent. It's just a protection from being made homeless because of non-payment of rent.

Perdomo:

And the accumulated rent is due to the landlord at the end of the moratorium, right?

Lucrezi:

Under the CDC order, that is correct. Under the governor's moratorium, the rent becomes due when the tenant is no longer adversely affected by the COVID-19 circumstances. The obligation to pay rent is still there. So even though the tenant may be protected from being evicted, the tenant is still liable for rent, late fees, penalties, whatever else is under the lease. What will happen under the CDC orders when December 31st rolls around, the landlord will be able to demand all the rent that has come due during that time, and that will be a problem, one would think, but the tenant's obligation to pay rent is still there.

Perdomo:

How does the moratorium affect landlords?

Lucrezi:

Landlords are suffering. For many, they've not received any rent since March or April. And now with the prohibition extending until December 31st, that's most of the year that they've been without rent. Although it's great for the landlord to say, "Okay, it's December 31st. You owe me nine months' worth of rent," the practicality or the reality of collecting that is a whole other story. I just don't think that's going to happen. So there's a huge loss being suffered by landlords, and it's not my place to advocate for the landlord. I represent tenants only, but I recognize that this is a great burden on the landlords, and I fear that it will affect the ability of those landlords to make housing available in the future.

Perdomo:

Are there any resources currently available for landlords at this time?

Lucrezi:

Not that I know of.

Perdomo:

Have you seen or heard of landlords and tenants creating personalized agreements?

Lucrezi:

Yes. There are landlords who have been very proactive in working out a repayment agreement. Most tenants want to pay the rent and want to enter into some kind of an agreement because they know what's coming, and they want to stay where they're at, so there is a great motivation for both landlord and tenant to reach some form of agreement. The biggest barrier to that happening is just the feasibility. The tenant, who maybe has lost their job, has lost a partner, is otherwise adversely affected, may not have the means to do a repayment agreement, but there are situations where that is happening, and that's really to be commended. Those are people that are making the best of a bad situation.

Perdomo:

Where can people go to find out more about the CDC's eviction moratorium?

Lucrezi:

They can go to the website for Legal Aid Service of Collier County. We have materials there. We have a flyer available in English, Spanish, and Creole regarding the CDC order, encouraging people to contact us, to get legal advice on how to get that form done and where it should be presented and all of that good stuff.

Perdomo:

And what should people do if they feel that they are being evicted illegally during this time?

Lucrezi:

They should contact an attorney. We are happy to talk to those people and see if we can help them in that sort of crisis.

Perdomo:

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Lucrezi:

In terms of like what might happen next, the governor always waits until the last day when he's done these extensions, so it'll be curious to see what might come out of the governor's office [Wednesday], whether he extends his moratorium. Although, quite frankly, I think if he does not extend it, I'm not sure it makes too much difference for most of my clients, as we get the benefit of that CDC order.

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