Florida Tenants and Coronavirus
By: Attorney Nir Meshulam
I would like to begin by indicating that these present times are without precedent and as such, it is not clear how courts will handle any disputes involving landlord tenant matters at this early juncture. However, I will try to share as much information to help navigate through these challenging times. Please keep in mind that this blog is intended for general information only and if you have any specific legal issues that require the assistance of an attorney, please make sure you call our office or your attorney for specific legal advice.
The Coronavirus has touched all of us and has caused a financial strain for most. This has resulted in tenants not being able to pay rent. Moreover, this has a ripple effect on the landlords as many landlords rely on the rent as their only source of income. This is becoming a huge problem for both tenants and landlords and will continue well into the month of April and possibly May. Therefore, the best advice at this time is to have an open communication between both parties and to attempt to find a mutually beneficial solution which will require flexibility, patience and creativity.
We are entering the month of April and the rent is due. What can I do if I cannot afford to pay my rent? What can I do if my tenant will not pay rent? These questions will continue to surface over and over again and during these uncertain times, we at Glantzlaw are going to try to help our members navigate through this unprecedented period as best as we can.
The laws have not changed. You must follow the terms of the contractual agreement that you signed. This means that if you have a residential lease that states that you must pay the rent by a certain date, such must be paid. The fact remains that our legal system has never faced such a phenomenon as the Coronavirus, and we may see some changes to our current laws and new legislation in the future in response to the Coronavirus. However, at the present time, the laws still remain the same, the contract will govern the rights of the parties and such is the case with your residential lease agreement.
If one party fails to perform his or her contractual obligations as outlined in the lease, the remedies are listed in the lease and based on the Florida Landlord Tenant Act. Specifically, Florida Statutes 83.56 provides that if the tenant fails to pay the rent as per the terms of the lease, the landlord may serve a written notice demanding payment within 3 days or possession. This right has not been altered by the Coronavirus. However, in an effort to control the spread of the virus, both local and federal authorities ordered a moratorium on evictions and the idea is to avoid displacing tenants. This means that the courts will not entertain an eviction action and the Sherriff will not execute a Writ of Possession to remove a tenant from his or her residence. Miami Dade, Broward County and Palm Beach County all ordered to put evictions on hold. Moreover, Miami Dade Police Department as well as The Broward Sherriff’s Office and the Palm Beach Sherriff’s Office indicated that they will not serve eviction papers on tenants. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also indicated that he would like no evictions in the entire State of Florida. There is information that the Florida Supreme Court requested all clerks of court to refrain from issuing Writ of Possessions at least until April 17, 2020. On a Federal level, the President suspended all evictions in reference to properties owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development until the end of May.
This basically means that the landlord, at the present time, will not be able to have a remedy in the event the tenant fails to pay the rent. This does not mean that the tenant is not required to pay the rent. The rent will continue to be owed to the landlord and once the moratorium on evictions is lifted, the landlord will be able to exercise their rights and evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent.
You may be one of those lucky few where your landlord will agree to waive the rent for April. In such a situation, please make sure you politely ask your landlord to provide written confirmation that the rent was waived for April. This will avoid any misunderstanding at a later time. However, most will not have the luxury to have rent waived and are still legally required to pay.
Considering there is still a requirement to pay the rent and the fact that so many lost jobs or have a business that was ordered to shut down; the best options at this point is to communicate openly with your landlord. Initiate a conversation with your landlord and discuss the situation. As mentioned above, there will be some landlords who will agree to forgo rent for the current month. Of course, these landlords recognize the current economic conditions and are in a financial position to allow tenants to save monies and not force rent payment. These are the minority of landlords as many landlords rely on the rent derived from their rental units as their only source of income and those will be the landlords who will not be able to forgo the rent. This means that the next option will be to discuss payment plans.
In the event that your landlord will not waive the rent for this month, you may consider dividing the rent payment for the current month in equal installments so you pay a certain amount monthly in addition to your usual rent. You may also consider an option where you make a flexible payment plan where you begin paying less and with every month, as jobs begin to return to normal, you can increase your payments. The idea is to be creative and flexible in deriving a payment plan that keeps in mind the public importance of the stay at home order, the moratorium on evictions, and the tenant’s rights as well as the landlord’s rights. We need to make sure that the plan takes into consideration all interests and recognizes the fact that none of us were prepared to be in this predicament and we must work together to find a way out. This will help both the landlord and the tenant find a reasonable solution that will serve both parties.
Glantzlaw is here to offer legal assistance to our members regarding all legal facets that are influenced by the Coronavirus pandemic and we ask our members to contact us with all their legal needs. Stay safe and thank you for reading.