Orange County landlords, tenants frustrated over emergency rental assistance requirements

Local leaders suggest changes to federal government

ORLANDO, Fla. – As emergency rental assistance applications are processed, some Central Florida landlords claim the process is too complicated for some renters who need the funds the most.

“I have no help. I have adult children,” said one tenant, who did not want to use her name because she needed to find a new place to live.

The mother of two said she arrived home after securing a post-pandemic job to a notice on her door.

It told her she was being evicted, and she had to be out of her apartment in 24 hours.

“We’re just out here trying to survive,” she said. “I can’t get help from a shelter. They’re full. I’m trying to call Red Cross, but I can’t even get through to get help.”

“I lost a lot of money,” said Fabian Douglas, the woman’s landlord.

He said her condo was one of three of his properties that he had deputies serve eviction papers on in one day.

He said stimulus money for landlords has been slow in coming, if at all.

“We’re suffering because we own condos. We have to pay our dues every month,” he said. “They don’t care what the situation is – if your tenant pays or not. We still got to pay, or they take us to court. They take the property, and that’s not fair to us.”

“This idea that your landlord is rich, living in the Bahamas, or living in, you know, the French Riviera is not accurate. It’s absolutely not accurate,” Matt Zaccarino said.

Zaccarino owns properties in the same complex.

He said five of his tenants have applied for Orange County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program but seven months later, they are still waiting for approval.

“They’re asking a lot of people for a lot of documents on-demand, and if you don’t have them, they just deny your application, and then you have to reapply,” he said. “It’s not so much frustration for me, it’s frustration for my tenants, and it’s frustration for all the other landlords that I know that are struggling even more than me.”

Orange County’s income-based Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched in March.

So far, county leaders said they have received 9,430 applications, some of which are duplicates.

As of Monday, leaders said 1,950 applications had been approved to get their share of $33.4 million in federal rental assistance funding.

According to county leaders, $10.8 million has been dispersed, so far, with approximately one year left to disperse the remaining funds.

Orange County leaders later investigated the applications made by Zaccarino and his tenants.

“Two of Mr. Zaccarino’s tenants did apply for assistance. The staff requested documents and information from them, and they did not provide it. They were eventually denied for being non-responsive. One of the tenant’s phone numbers was disconnected and did not respond to emails.

“For Mr. Zaccarino, COVID impact and income documentation was requested.  Both of those items were requested multiple times from each of the tenants. In addition, one of the applicants submitted multiple applications, so the documents were requested by more than one case reviewer as we were not able to immediately identify the duplicates. Once we confirmed the duplicates, we sent an email letting (the) applicant know that we were denying the duplicate applications and would continue to work on one active application.

“Mr. Zaccarino did not think we should be requesting income documentation based on his previous experience with the Eviction Diversion program. I explained to Mr. Zaccarino that the Eviction Diversion Program was funded differently and did not have an income requirement for the program therefore we were not required to collect the same level of income information/documentation for that program.:

News 6 contacted the eight Central Florida government agencies that qualified to receive the federal rental assistance money.

Many said they were warning people of delays in obtaining the funding.

According to Brevard County officials: “A significantly increased number of applications are being delayed and then denied due to noncompliance from the applicant, (such as) not returning calls/contact seeking clarification/documents.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings told News 6 the documents required during the application process are required by the federal government.

But Demings admitted there may need to be some changes.

“We are in conversations, almost daily, with the White House and Intergovernmental Affairs Office, as well as the CDC, and others about what we think may need to be some modifications made in the guidelines,” he said.

That news was not good enough for Douglas.

He said after 10 years of managing properties, he plans to get out of the landlord business.

“I got the realtor coming over now to look at a couple units,” he said. “I’m done. This broke me.”

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.