New federal guidelines released late Friday alter the eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention that open the door for landlords to initiate eviction proceedings in some cases.

What You Need To Know

  • New federal guidelines can put burden of proof on renters

  • CDC ban on evictions has helped some Floridians stay in homes

  • Renters advised to prepare as much supporting documentation as possible

  • Some landlords say some renters are taking advantage of moratorium

The new guidelines clarify that landlords can initiate proceedings for nonpayment of rent cases, so long as the actual eviction itself does not occur while the CDC’s order is in effect.

Additionally, landlords can challenge the truthfulness of a tenant’s declaration of protection in any state or municipal court, according to the guidelines. In order to be protected under the CDC’s order, tenants must submit to their landlords a declaration form, swearing under penalty of perjury that they are entitled to protection.

The federal eviction moratorium is the only protection currently available to Florida renters since the state’s eviction freeze expired October 1.

The amended guidelines released last week are harmful to renters, says Diane Yentel, the CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“It puts a new burden of proof on renters to show that they meet all of the requirements in the declarative statement, and it allows for landlords to start the eviction process,” Yentel said.

In Florida and across the country, landlords and renters alike have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. Tenants who lost income because of COVID-19 — often battling Florida’s fractured unemployment system — have failed to keep up with monthly rent payments.  And small-time landlords who depend on those rent payments have grown frustrated by moratoriums that they say strip them of their ability to control their properties.  

Winter Springs, Florida real-estate agent Michele Hickey rents out a property in Daytona Beach, where she says a former tenant stopped paying rent for months earlier this year despite not being financially impacted by the pandemic himself.

“The tenant told me he was working but that he wouldn’t be paying. And he knew that I couldn't evict him,” Hickey said. 

Moratoriums implemented during the pandemic have been one-sided against landlords, she said.

“It’s very sad. I know a lot of instances where (landlords) are supplementing their incomes, they’re supplementing their retirement,” Hickey said. “Now they have no money coming in, and they can't sell their properties, so you’re kind of in a lose-lose situation until somebody moves out.”

Hickey estimates losing $4,000-$5,000 as a result of her former tenant’s refusal to pay rent while Florida’s eviction moratorium was still in place.

Since the CDC’s moratorium took effect last month, several landlord groups have filed federal lawsuits against the order. Plaintiffs in a Columbus, Ohio case agreed to drop their case last week after the Department of Justice indicated it would not stand in the way of landlords who initiate eviction proceedings during the moratorium.

Shortly thereafter, the new federal guidelines were published.

The federal moratorium has already helped some Central Floridians remain in their homes. But as the new guidelines clarify, landlords aren’t required to make their tenants aware of the order. And if tenants do not fill out and submit the CDC’s declaration form, they aren’t protected.

“Unfortunately, it just creates more confusion where there was already confusion, and it asks more questions rather than providing any clarity or answers,” the low-income housing coalition's Yentel said.

Given the new guidelines, renters seeking protection under the order should prepare as much documentation as they can to prove financial impact from the coronavirus, in case their landlord challenges their declaration in court, Yentel said.

Yentel and Hickey agree that direct financial assistance from the government would help. 

“All of the confusion that’s been created by the patchwork of federal, state, and local eviction moratoriums over these last seven months is because we haven’t had clear action from the federal government, and that’s what we most need now,” Yentel said.

If financial aid were to be granted, landlords should also be required to prove they’ve been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Hickey said.

“Both of the sides need to be protected, and there needs to be a way to join those two … so that everybody comes out halfway whole,” Hickey said.

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.