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Florida Lawmakers Propose Legislation To Ease Eviction Struggles During Pandemic

Eviction notice stock
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Research shows housing instability threatens to undermine the U.S. public health response to COVID-19.

Studies show at least 14 million people nationally are at risk of eviction during the pandemic — including 1 million in Florida.

State lawmakers Monday proposed two bills to help renters in danger of being evicted during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as protect them post-eviction.

The first bill (SB 412 and HB 481) would add an additional step of mediation between landlords and tenants at risk of eviction. It would take into account past rental history, among other factors.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat and a co-sponsor of the bill, said housing insecurity is not a new issue, but one that's been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Studies have shown that the availability of adequate housing has a direct impact on a person's health,” Rouson said. “The more we can do to secure housing, the healthier this community will be."

Tim Dutton with the group, Unite Pinellas, said 180 families a day are evicted in Florida. Another 1 million are at risk.

"About 10% of tenants are represented (by a lawyer) in a hearing (while) about 80 to 90% of landlords are represented," Dutton said.

“This kind of this ends up with outcomes that are not attractive. This mediation approach that's being proposed really sort of levels that playing field in a very big way."

A second bill filed by Rouson (SB 926) would seal eviction records.

“(It's) a bill that will seal the virtues of those who lost their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa.

“Even with a moratorium in place, many people were not spared from the process of losing their homes, many due to the loss of jobs, or the loss of hours, which was not enough to make full rent payments, even though these circumstances were not in anyone's control,” Hart said.

“Once you have an eviction on your record, it is exceedingly difficult to find another landlord willing to give you an opportunity to rent.”

According to the Office of the State Courts Administrator, there were 47,484 evictions filed between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020.

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Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.