Today is the first video in a series of videos I will be doing related to the challenges we are facing as a nation as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and I want to talk about residential tenant rights in Florida.
Unemployment Rates During the COVID-19 Crisis
As of today, the official unemployment rates are at a point that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression and we can only expect them to get much worse in the coming weeks and months. But, that’s only considering the “official rates”. While these official rates are terrifying, we should also consider just how many families out there are struggling financially.
Residential Tenant Rights in Florida- KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!
We are halfway through April and that means that May’s rent payment is coming up fast, so it’s time to start thinking and planning ahead. Are you going to have the money to pay your May rent? If not, are you already in communication with your landlord to let them know that you aren’t going to be able to cover May’s rent? Are you waiting on government aid to come through so that you can make that payment?
One thing that’s important to remember during this time is that with each paycheck, you pay into the unemployment system. This means that the money you receive while on unemployment is NOT a handout, this is money that you’ve paid into and money, during a time like this, that you need. Unfortunately, here in Florida, many people are unable to access unemployment benefits despite having paid into the system throughout their working life! It’s egregious and a very worrisome commentary on the current state of the economy and the state of Florida’s treatment of its residents. A state that has paid an exorbitant amount of money for a website that crashes as more residents attempt to access their unemployment benefits and a state that is now unable to provide minimal benefits that are owed… but that’s a discussion for another time…
So, what are your rights as a tenant in Florida?
If You Don’t Pay Your Rent On Time…
There is typically a five day grace period if you are unable to pay your rent on time. If, after that grace period, you still haven’t been able to pay rent, your landlord is required to send you a three-day notice. If you get that three-day notice, be sure to hold on to it and to pay attention to its contents.
If you can pay a portion of your rent due, talk to your landlord and let them know that this is the case. Keeping open lines of communication is a definite plus in situations like this. Landlords are going to be more likely to work with you when you maintain communication not least of all because the sheer number of cases that courts are going to face will make pursuing a court case a very tedious and time-consuming process.
Now, your three-day notice requests that you pay your past-due rent or face eviction. So, assume that this three-day period has expired. Your landlord must now file an eviction lawsuit with the courts. So, what should you consider when you get served with the lawsuit? Here it’s important to keep in mind that Florida’s governor has suspended the Florida Residential Tenancy Act for the time being. Typically, a resident has just five days to respond to an eviction lawsuit from the time that you are served with it.
There are two responses to this service of a lawsuit – a statement that you paid rent or a motion to determine rent. If you do not file a motion to determine rent for your case and you have not paid rent, the suit is over, you have lost and you are out of the property. The landlord doesn’t have to do anything else.
Filing a motion to determine the amount of rent due is the only way to delay the eviction process.
Traditionally, Florida is exceptionally landlord-friendly, or I should say, renter-unfriendly. In the current situation, however, landlords are going to find it exceptionally difficult to get their rights enforced because of the sheer number of cases being processed. With the Florida court system being funded by less than 1% of the state budget, there just aren’t the additional resources to handle this crush particularly when our court system is already struggling under normal circumstances.
Working Together is the Answer…
It’s important during these times for landlords, lenders, and tenants all to work together to find a solution because it’s the only way that anyone is likely to see any results!