Gov. DeSantis’s Fake Moratorium
By Emily L. Mahoney and Christopher O'Donnell
Published Aug. 5
Updated Aug. 5
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision last week to extend the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium until Sept. 1 appeared to be a welcome cushion for tenants who have fallen behind on their ...To continue reading, subscribe to The Tampa Bay Times.
The extension also included changes that lawyers who represent tenants say put more people at risk of losing their homes, exposing some who have been protected since April under the order’s previous version. In the least, they caution the changes could create more confusion in the courts about who is protected.
Under the new order, only renters and single-family homeowners who have been “adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency” are protected. When that no longer applies, their unpaid bills become due, the order says, though it’s unclear if that means immediately upon a person getting re-hired.
And the order now makes it clearer that renters can be evicted for reasons other than losing their job, like overstaying their lease or causing property damage.
Previously, the executive orders suspended the state laws that allowed for evictions and mortgage foreclosures, which likely discouraged landlords and banks from filing any eviction cases. Now, it only halts the “final action” in court — a term that has no legal definition, but which housing lawyers have interpreted as meaning that new cases will be allowed to proceed up until the final judgment.
Ryan Torrens, a Tampa foreclosure defense lawyer who ran in 2018 as a Democrat for attorney general, sent out a newsletter over the weekend under the heading: “Gov. DeSantis’s Fake Moratorium.” He said he wanted to get people’s attention after seeing a rush of headlines proclaiming the freeze had been extended without mentioning its safeguards had been tapered.
“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not a real moratorium,’” he said.
Already, he’s seen a client’s 2018 foreclosure filing, which was frozen in April, start to move again.
That person’s foreclosure wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but he worries about people whose already perilous financial situations were worsened by the shutdowns being left uncovered by the new wording. In the end, it’ll be left up to judges to decide.
“Interpreting the amended executive order is going to be left to the courts, which means there’s risk of inconsistent application of the law,” Torrens said.