Renters still in limbo with CDC’s new eviction ban

ORLANDO, Fla. — As mom Stacy Dettorre waits for news about her pending eviction case, it’s not herself she worries about most.

“If it were just me and my husband, worst-case scenario, we sleep in the car,” Dettorre said. “I can deal with those kinds of things. But when you have kids involved, it’s a whole other ballgame.”

What You Need To Know

  • Some renters’ situations murky, despite new eviction moratorium
  • That ban is scheduled to expire Oct. 3
  • Housing advocates fear a federal court could strike it down before then
  • Renters going through housing issues recommend research, backup plan

When Dettorre first received an eviction summons in the mail, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s previous eviction moratorium was still in effect. 

The new one announced last week stops certain evictions from moving forward in counties experiencing “substantial or high levels of community transmission of COVID19.” As of Aug. 9, that includes almost 90% of U.S. counties, according to the CDC’s county-level dataset

The CDC’s new eviction ban is slated to expire Oct. 3, but housing advocates and attorneys fear it could be struck down before then in federal court. 

And as the eviction ban stands on uncertain ground, programs are lagging to distribute billions of dollars in federal emergency rental assistance (ERA). Several Spectrum News 13 viewers have reported issues they’ve experienced with programs like the City of Orlando’s, as well as Our Florida, the state-run program. Some applicants report waiting months after submitting their applications; some complain of lengthy, burdensome documentation requirements. 

Dettorre said she was trying to hold off on applying to the City of Orlando’s ERA program because one of the first eligibility screening questions she encountered stated she had to be at least one full month behind on rent. It wasn’t until June that the family got behind, Dettorre said, even though her husband had lost his job in February because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s now newly employed in a new position.

They used their stimulus checks to pay ahead while they still could, but by June, they’d gotten behind, Dettore said. They received their eviction summons late that month.

Before that, though, Dettorre made two partial rent payments in June, totaling just under $1,100, according to a payment ledger Dettorre got from her apartment community and provided to Spectrum News. Her eviction summons paperwork claimed she owed $1,375 — and that she had “not made any partial payments.” Attorneys representing Dettorre’s landlords declined to comment on the discrepancy or for this story, saying they “never talk with news people.” 

“It’s hard to get clear information,” Dettorre said of the eviction ban and emergency rental assistance programs. “You would think that as many people who are going through this, that there would be some sort of clear path.”

Although she previously worked for years as an accountant and in computer-oriented positions, Dettorre said the process of responding to her eviction and applying for help was extremely difficult and confusing.

“In the beginning, I was like, ‘I’ll do my research. I can’t afford a lawyer. I’ll figure this out,’ ” Dettorre said. She said she sought help from a variety of organizations, including the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association but kept running into walls or not hearing back. 

“The truth is that it’s really not a situation right now that is conducive to most people being able to handle this on their own,” Dettorre said.

In most places around the country, 90% of landlords have legal representation in eviction cases, while 90% of tenants do not. The Constitution only guarantees everyone’s right to an attorney in criminal cases — not civil — and eviction laws vary widely by state.

“In Florida, landlord-tenant laws are not set up well to benefit tenants,” said Jeffrey Hussey, director of public interest and litigation for Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. Under Florida statute, tenants facing an eviction for nonpayment of rent have just five business days to either pay the amount of back rent they allegedly owe into the court registry, or, if they disagree with the alleged amount, file a motion to determine how much they really owe.

Overwhelmed, Dettorre pleaded for help in a YouTube video she posted on Aug. 4, the day of her first scheduled hearing.  The CDC’s new moratorium had just gone into effect the day before, and Dettorre said the judge hearing her case was skeptical of it.

“She repeatedly said that the moratorium was too broad,” Dettorre said in the YouTube video. “She said that since it was so broad, and it didn’t specifically list anybody who should fall under it, that she had to assume everybody did not.”

At that hearing, a judge ruled against Dettorre, writing that she’d be evicted if she couldn’t pay all her back rent by Aug. 11 — one day after her oldest daughter was due to start kindergarten. But less than an hour after that first ruling, the judge filed a motion for a rehearing in light of the CDC’s new order. At that rehearing, the judge ruled the Dettorres were covered under the new order.

“At this point, the judge has agreed to revisit this in a few weeks. That’s basically how she put it,” Dettorre said. “It wasn’t that I won’t be evicted or anything like that. It was, ‘We will revisit this in a few weeks.’ ”

In the meantime, Dettorre said she hopes Orlando will expedite her rental assistance payment and pay her landlord in time. After applying at the end of June, Dettorre’s application was finally approved Aug. 6, but it’s unclear how long it will take to remit payment. The case managers she has spoken with on the phone have “no idea,” Dettore said.

CLSMF staff are fielding calls from people who are still waiting for funds, up to 60 days after they’ve already been approved for emergency rental assistance, Hussey said. 

“That’s kind of a nationwide problem, is the length of time between applying and getting the money out to either the tenant or the landlord,” Hussey said. “Some landlords aren’t gonna be that patient.”

For renters who may be facing eviction, Hussey urged: “Do not wait until the last minute.” 

“You need to make a plan,” Hussey said. “If you’ve not applied for an emergency rental assistance program, get into one as soon as possible. That may be the only way you’re going to save your housing, if you can’t pay the amount of back rent that you owe.”

Dettorre also advised other renters to be proactive, and realistic about their options. 

“My advice would be just do your research,” Dettorre said. “But also … not to sound bad, but expect it to not necessarily go well. Have a backup plan for if it doesn’t go well, if it doesn’t go your way.”

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.

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