Have you been relying on the protections of the CDC moratorium? Here are some things to consider, looking ahead

A woman moves boxes. (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.)

In the beginning and through the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many people who lost their jobs or fell on hard times and could not pay rent. Some continue to struggle.

However, many of those benefited from the eviction moratorium, which allowed them to postpone paying rent without facing eviction or a loss of housing.

On Saturday, the nationwide moratorium expired, leaving millions at risk of losing their home.

While some judges allowed eviction cases to move forward in court, the moratorium kept tenants from being physically removed from the house.

Some landlords are already prepared to remove tenants as soon as possible, now that the moratorium has expired.

Michael Koch, a staff attorney who works in housing at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, offered a few pieces of advice for those who could possibly be facing eviction.

1. Look into available state programs that can provide help.

Koch said there are plenty of state programs to help those who may be facing eviction.

“There’s a lot of money floating around right now that will pay for rent and back rent,” Koch said. “The government says they’re trying to streamline the process.”

Do your homework, but if you need a few places to start investigating, check out Our Florida, Florida Housing or Need Help Paying Bills.

In addition, there are some resources tied to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

2. Keep open the lines of communication with your landlord.

If you’ve looked into getting some assistance, tell your landlord you’ve applied for these things.

Suppose you’re renting through a smaller operation, a mom-and-pop team that owns a handful of properties. These landlords are typically much more approachable, Koch said -- especially if they live in the same community as their tenants.

“Go to (the) landlord, ask if you can work together and pay what you can,” Koch said. “If my tenant were paying something rather than nothing, I’d be a lot more considerate.”

If the tenants are causing problems or they’re not paying rent, this is an issue, Koch said, because owners of apartment complexes do so as a means to make money. It’s safe to assume all landlords expect to be paid for their units.

It’s still a business for them.

So, perhaps you’re more likely to work out a property issue with the smaller landlord, and they might be more likely to listen to the other side or work to resolve things.

“Eviction often comes down to a business decision,” Koch said. “It can seem very personal, much like car repossession, (but it’s about the money).”

3. Seek the opinion of an attorney, if possible.

It’s going to be a chaotic musical chairs situation with the expiration of the eviction moratorium, Koch said.

“Clients who have money can’t find a place because there is a low supply of affordable housing,” he said.

When it comes to your lease, there might not be a “saving” clause in there, but it’s worth a look. Attorneys are often better at skimming legal documents and knowing the nuances of something like a rental agreement or a lease.

Legal Aids provide pro bono assistance, meaning they do not charge for their legal services. For example, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF), Koch’s employer, provides no-cost legal help to those who qualify for their services.

Legal aid societies and lawyers sometimes do pro bono work, meaning they volunteer their time for free. For example, ), Koch’s employer, doesn’t charge the people it works with. The group’s funding comes from other sources, so it’s not dependent on hourly fees or anything billed to the clients.

That said, the organization and many like it are in high demand. CLSMF receives about 8,000 calls a month, Koch said.

If you need help, you can dial in and often speak with an attorney within about 45 minutes to an hour. The person on the other end of the phone might help with defenses, or could refer you to another unit, like the housing unit or family law.

Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida is available at 800-405-1417, or start the process online by clicking or tapping here.