WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — An executive ordered aimed at preventing evictions hasn't stopped landlords from filing cases in South Florida courts, according to a review by Contact 5.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a 45-day moratorium on all evictions and home mortgage foreclosures. The moratorium was supposed to expire Sunday, but DeSantis extended the executive order Thursday.
Contact 5 found dozens of evictions cases filed in local courts by landlords since April 3, the day after DeSantis issued the executive order.
"There could be an argument that you can't even file the action right now because of the moratorium," said attorney Dane Leitner, a partner at the West Palm Beach law firm Ward Damon.
"We've been getting calls from both sides, landlords and tenants, right now," noted Leitner.
The moratorium was aimed at alleviating financial burdens for renters and homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Karin Smith was one of millions who felt the financial squeeze as the coronavirus spread.
"It felt like everything hit really fast with the pandemic," Smith said in an interview with Contact 5.
"Things were closing. School was done," Smith said. "It was like, wow, [then] my job was done."
That was on March 14. Smith and her 13-year-old son, Daniel, learned to live in this new normal as bills piled up, and May approached with the rent due.
"We're going to be homeless," Smith thought at the time.
Smith reached out for help everywhere she could.
"I was emailing everybody -- state, federal, local," she told Contact 5. "At that point, it was gloves off. What do I have to lose?"
Fortunately for Smith, Palm Beach County's Community Service Department stepped up to help out. After filling out some paperwork and providing proof that her unemployment was pending, Smith said the department paid $1,500 toward her May rent.
James Green, the director of Palm Beach County's Community Services Department, told Contact 5 in an interview they "continue to see a demand for rental assistance and eviction prevention services."
"We know there's going to be an issue," Green said. "We know these provisions that have been put in place by the governor, by the courts, are only temporary and that people are going to need help."
Leitner said communication between landlords and tenants is key in these uncertain times. He told Contact 5 the first thing tenants should do "is to reach out to the landlord and express the situation that they're in and then try to come up with a payment plan to payback the back due rent."
Contact 5 spoke to several landlords who filed evictions in South Florida courts after the moratorium went into effect. One landlord told Contact 5 it was a business decision and said his tenants were taking advantage of the current situation. Another said her tenants just decided not to pay the rent anymore.
For Smith, the lifeline that the Community Service Department extended was a game-changer.
"Please continue to do this," Smith said. "What they did for me was to give me my life back."
For more information on the financial assistance available for local residents from Palm Beach County's Community Service Department, click here.