How COVID Moratoriums Do Not Protect Against All Eviction Actions
The COVID-19 pandemic created a lot of legal issues for residential landlords and tenants alike. In July 2020, the governor of Florida issued an executive order that suspended all eviction proceedings arising from “non-payment of rent” by a tenant “adversely affected” by the ongoing emergency. That order expired on October 1, 2020. Separately, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued it own nationwide moratorium that also suspended evictions based on nonpayment of rent.
The moratoriums, however, did not relieve tenants of their obligation to pay rent. Nor did they apply to any eviction proceedings based on grounds other than non-payment of rent. Florida law further requires that when a tenant contests a lawsuit on any grounds other than payment of rent, they must deposit any accrued rent with the court before proceeding with litigation. Failure to do so results in a default judgment of eviction for the landlord.
Florida Court: Tenant Still Required to Pay Back Rent to Avoid Default Eviction
A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, 1560-1568 Drexel Avenue, LLC v. Dalton, provides an illustration. In this case, a residential landlord filed an eviction proceeding against a tenant. The parties had a written lease requiring the tenant to pay $1,500 a month in rent. The lease term ended in December 2019, at which time it automatically converted into a month-to-month tenancy, as provided by Florida law.
In May 2020, the landlord said the tenant stopped paying rent. The landlord’s initial eviction lawsuit, filed in May 2020, alleged non-payment of rent, causing damage to the property, and failure to vacate after the landlord terminated the month-to-month tenancy. The landlord later dropped the rent claim, but proceeded with the property damage and termination claims.
The tenant moved to dismiss the eviction proceeding, alleging it violated the governor’ executive order. Notably, the tenant did not say that he had paid the rent he allegedly owed the landlord. Nor did the tenant deposit the back rent with the court as required by law. Instead, the tenant argued that this requirement was suspended as a consequence of the governor’s order.
The trial court decided not to issue a default judgment of eviction for the tenant’s non-compliance. On appeal, the Third District reversed and ordered the lower court to enter judgment for the landlord. The appellate court acknowledged the “difficult task” faced by the trial court in dealing with the “complement of evolving state and federally imposed moratorium on evictions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.” But as a matter of law, the governor’s executive order expired on October 1, 2020, and the trial court determined the CDC moratorium did not apply to the facts of this case. As such, the law requiring the tenant to pay rent into the court registry was still in effect.
More to the point, the payment requirement “is not discretionary; it compels a defendant against an eviction” to comply. The only exception is if the defendant alleges they did pay all back rent. But that was not the case here.
Contact a Florida Landlord-Tenant Attorney Today
Even without considering the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, landlords and tenants alike must keep current on their legal obligations to one another. An experienced Sarasota landlord-tenant lawyer can help. Contact Moran, Sanchy & Associates today to schedule a confidential case evaluation.