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Commercial Renters In Hillsborough Protected From Eviction

Closed, but not evicted
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Governor Ron DeSantis last week put a hold on evictions for apartment renters, but what about commercial businesses forced to close because of COVID-19?

In Hillsborough County, at least, they'll be protected as well - temporarily.

Chief Judge Ron Ficarotta said he reviewed the governor's order and concluded it didn't address commercial mortgage evictions for not paying their rent. So he ordered Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister not to issue eviction notices until further notice.

Chronister told members of the county's Emergency Policy Group Thursday out of 181 eviction notices that have been put on hold, only one is a pending commercial eviction.

"The impact so far hasn't been on any commercial and small businesses," he said, "and I know that the intent of this group was to make sure that our small businesses weren't being hurt even more as they aren't able to be open, they return to business and find their belongings or the contents of their business sitting on the curb somewhere."

Ficarotta said his administrative order will be issued on Tuesday and will last indefinitely.

The group also was briefed that the holiest days on the Christian calendar are taking place. County officials are trying to make sure this Holy Week and Easter season won't also be remembered for transmission of the coronavirus.

County Commission Chair Les Miller said the governor's statewide order last week deems houses of worship as essential services, so they are allowed to remain open. County officials are working to educate pastors and priests.

"Stay safe, wear their mask if they're going to be anywhere near your church, social distancing, and we would ask you to continue to do that," Miller said.

Miller said most churches they've reached are doing their best to protect their parishioners. Many plan to conduct online services. Some of the larger churches are planning drive-up services in their parking lots, with either big screens set up or radio transmissions, like in a drive-in movie.

And with county officials reminding people to wear masks when they're outside their home, shopping or meeting with others - at least 6 feet away - Dr. Douglas Holt, who heads the state Department of Health in Hillsborough, stressed it's up to everyone to continue to take personal responsibility.

"We're going to see masks increasingly common, but handshakes and hugs not so," Holt told the Emergency Policy Group. "Eventually, these stringent rules will have to be relaxed, but in the short term, we must continue behaviors that will protect us from this virus. So if I may borrow some terms from Sheriff Chronister and (Tampa) Mayor (Jane) Castor, we may let you out of jail, but you're still on probation."

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.