The eviction ban ended last weekend, but S. Fla. courts saw less movement on Monday than they expected. Lawyers think some landlords might be holding off to make sure there isn’t another extension, and federal stimulus payments and rent aid have helped some at-risk families.

MIAMI – Local courts and law enforcement geared up Monday for an onslaught of new eviction cases, but an expected initial wave failed to materialize as many landlords held their fire.

Lawyers speculated that some property owners were likely assessing whether the U.S. government would again extend a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention freeze against ousting tenants who fell months behind on their rents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New eviction cases in Broward and Palm Beach counties are down sharply compared to 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. In July, landlords in Broward County filed 827 new cases, down from 1,473 in July 2019. Of the cases filed last month. 136 have already been disposed of, leaving 691 awaiting resolution.

In Palm Beach County, landlords filed 429 cases last month, compared with 835 in July 2019.

And there’s been no rush to file new cases in either county since the moratorium was lifted on Saturday. As of 5 p.m. Monday, just 23 cases were filed in Broward County during the first two days of August. Six cases were filed in Palm Beach County during that time.

Possible reasons for the decline include landlords deciding not to file while the federal eviction moratorium remained in place. In addition, federal stimulus payments and rental assistance have likely helped many households that in other years would have defaulted.

Broward County judges face a backlog of cases because of the eviction moratorium. More than 2,500 cases dating back to 2020 are in pending or reopened status, according to data provided by Chief Judge Jack Tuter.

Totals of backlogged cases for Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties from 2020 were not available.

August surge possible

Still, many housing advocates expect a wave of evictions will gradually build during August and in later months as the courts and law enforcement agencies start the painful process of removing people from apartments and single-family homes, said Zillow, the national online home search company.

Nationally, more than 7.4 million U.S. households are behind on their rent, according to Census Household Pulse Survey. That’s about 326,000 more than was reported in June.

About 3 million of those are at risk of eviction, although not everyone will end up getting evicted, according to Zillow. The company last week estimated there would be about 481,630 eviction filings after the moratorium’s expiration this past Saturday, with a projected 261,945 people likely to be evicted.

Courts are preparing

Broward County’s top circuit judge said his court is ready.

“In Broward County Court, we are prepared for any eventuality,” Chief Judge Tuter said. “We have 20 judges assigned to handle a pro rata share of any filed evictions, in addition to the judge’s other cases.” He said tenant responses are being forwarded to each judge immediately, either by a clerk’s hand delivery or by emailing the judge assigned to the case.

The courts will continue to use a mediation system set in place during the moratorium, a step that allows landlords and tenants to reach a resolution without families tossed onto the streets, Tuter said. The system “worked well during the moratorium to resolve many cases,” he said.

“What is coming to be filed in the next few weeks, we are unsure,” the judge said.

He said one law firm advised the court that it has no backlog, while another has a “cabinet full.”

Bankruptcy an option

Fort Lauderdale bankruptcy attorney Chad Van Horn said he had moved his firm to a seven-day work week to cope with expected traffic. He said Monday that phone traffic has picked up from people who received three-day notices from their landlords.

One client, he said, is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy because her husband is hospitalized with COVID “and the landlord is still moving forward with the eviction.”

People behind on their rent can seek a bankruptcy court’s help to forestall an eviction, he said, “so long as you file before the writ of possession,” a court order that gives the tenant 24 hours to leave before sheriff’s deputies evict them.

Broward Sheriff’s Office spokesman Carey Codd said Monday that the agency has not seen an increase in writs of possession because the federal moratorium was just lifted over the weekend.

Heads of households who signed affidavits asserting that they were protected under the CDC’s moratorium could not be evicted until the moratorium ended Saturday night.

But thus far, expected waves of eviction notices have yet to come, Van Horn asserted, because many landlords believed the moratorium would be extended as it was before. Many didn’t want to spend the money hiring attorneys only to have little or nothing for them to do.

“They weren’t gearing up this time,” he said.

© 2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Author: kerrys