In addition to creating a series of legal concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic has left many landlords in a compromising position. While you want to show compassion for tenants during this unsettling time, you also have your own financial obligations to consider. Given the situation, many landlords and property owners are looking for a clear understanding of their rights as a landlord, and answers that will provide some balance both in the immediate future, and in the long run.
What landlords and property managers should be doing during COVID-19
Current rental regulations around COVID-19 are changing by the day, especially as the number of active cases ebbs and flows. We can’t predict what will happen in the weeks and months to come, but being prepared to the best of your ability, with a plan that will easily adapt as Florida moves through the different phases of the pandemic, will no doubt benefit you. At a minimum, here’s a list of things you should be doing right now to protect your rights as a landlord:
- Communication with tenants is key :: Keep the lines of communication open with your tenants so everyone is on the same page. Share your pandemic plan, encourage questions from tenants, and ask that they be open with you if their employment status should change and they are unable to pay rent.
- Safety first during COVID :: Tighten up your safety plan, especially for properties that have multiple units / tenants in the same building. Landlords should sanitize community areas more often, or in some cases, consider closing them completely (on-site fitness centers, community rooms, and pools are examples) to discourage large gatherings.
- Be creative with rent payments :: Talk with your tenants to get a better understanding of what their needs are, and if necessary, come to a conclusion that will work for everyone involved. Temporarily reducing rent, offering a short term deferment plan, or applying the tenant’s security deposit towards their rent are a few options.
- Update eviction policies :: It’s in your best interest to update your eviction policies based on the recent rulings by federal and state governments. Mortgage relief options have been made available to both tenants and landlords. On June 25, 2020 Governor DeSantis announced $250 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding available for rental and mortgage assistance for Florida residents that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are extending assistance to homeowners and renters who are facing personal financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Handling repairs :: Avoid going into the tenants home, unless necessary. Until it is deemed safe, consider performing only emergency repairs and hold off on any non-essential repairs for the time being. Make all tenants aware of what repairs will be done, and which ones will be put on hold. What constitutes an emergency repair will vary by landlord, but some examples include leaking pipes or roofs, mold, broken furnace or air conditioners, fire or smoke damage, gas smells, backed up sewers and toilets, and broken kitchen appliances.
- Virtual tours :: Reduce on-site contact and the number of people going through your units by offering virtual tours. With video conferencing platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype it’s easier than ever to give potential renters an inside look at the unit you have available for rent. In addition, offering online services to take payments, receive applications, and screen potential tenants will help reduce face-to-face contact.
Do residential tenants have to pay rent in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Tenants are not excused from paying rent, however, in 2020 temporary Executive Orders were put in place to ease the burden and suspend evictions for non-payment of rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 2, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-94, Mortgage Foreclosure and Eviction Relief. EO 20-94 provided a statewide freeze on mortgage foreclosures and residential evictions due to tenants not paying rent. As time went on and the need remained, Governor DeSantis issued a series of extensions to EO 20-94 with the most recent, EO 20-180, signed on July 29, 2020, and extending the moratorium until September 1, 2020.
Additional regulations were put in place on a federal level through the CARES Act. As of March 27, 2020, if you are a tenant living in federally subsidized housing or the landlord has a federally backed loan (FHA, VA, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, etc.), the landlord cannot file an eviction for non-payment of rent or charge the tenant late fees through July 25, 2020. After July 25, if rent is still owed, the landlord must give a 30-day notice to pay any outstanding rent before filing an eviction. The CARES Act also prohibits a landlord from sending a notice to vacate during that 120-day period. To understand the options available for getting help, it’s important to know who owns your loan. If you’re not sure who owns the loan, there are a few different ways to find out, but the easiest is to start with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which lists all your options in one place.
Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced the issuance of an Order under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act to temporarily halt residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. This order is effective September 4, 2020 through December 31, 2020. This order only applies to nonpayment of rent, but unlike the CARES Act, it applies to all landlords, not just those with federally backed mortgages.
It’s important to understand that even if tenants are living in federally subsidized housing or the landlord has a federally backed loan, rent is still owed and will eventually have to be paid. The new law and Governor’s order gives tenants a chance to get caught up with rent, but it does not allow them the freedom to stop paying rent all together.
Can tenants be evicted for nonpayment of rent?
The CARES Act provides some protection from eviction and late fees due to nonpayment of rent for most tenants in federally subsidized and federally backed housing (covered dwellings). However, the protections under this act expired on July 24, 2020. If the landlord is getting CARES Act relief from mortgage payments on the home, tenants may also be protected from eviction beyond July 25, 2020. At the time of publishing this article, the CARES Act moratorium has not yet been extended. At this time, a landlord who would like to start an eviction for nonpayment of rent must still give the tenant the required 30 day notice to vacate, as required by the CARES Act.
CARES Act protections do not apply in the following scenarios:
- Landlord filed a lawsuit to evict the tenant before March 27, 2020 (prior to the CARES Act). In this situation, state or local jurisdictions may offer some protection
- Tenant is being evicted for some reason other than nonpayment of rent.
Even if the CARES Act eviction moratorium applies in your situation, rent payments are still due on time. All tenants should continue to pay rent to avoid a future eviction.
The Governor’s Executive Order that suspends evictions and foreclosure moratoriums expired on October 1, 2020 in favor of the CDC’s order. If you are in a situation where you anticipate moving forward with an eviction process due to the Governor’s Executive Order expiring, contact one of our Sarasota real estate lawyers today so we can begin going over your rights.
How to negotiate rent payments with tenants during COVID-19
If your tenant’s financial situation has been compromised and they feel the need to negotiate the terms of their lease, you have a few options to consider.
- Rent Deferral – Postpone rent payments, or a portion of the payments, for a certain period of time, and add to the end of the lease or extend the lease terms.
- Rent Reduction – Reduce rent payments for a portion of time.
- Loan Conversion – Past due rent payments are converted into a payable loan, however the tenant should continue to pay the current rent.
As a landlord you might also consider offering shorter leases to help ease the burden for tenants. By working with your tenants on lease extensions you can avoid the possibility of having vacant units. You might also consider offering incentives or rent reductions to existing tenants who agree to re-sign their lease for another 12 or 24 months.
What happens if a tenant can’t pay rent after the COVID protections have expired?
A landlord can send a proper 30-day notice to file an eviction lawsuit once the protections expire. If the landlord and tenant have come up with a temporary agreement that differs from the existing lease, they should make sure everything is in writing and that both parties fully understand the new terms before signing a contract. When negotiating a new payment plan / temporary lease agreement, make sure it includes the following:
- A document with all amounts currently owed
- Dates and amounts of all payments that have been made
- Whether the new payment plan includes rent that will be due during the new payment plan
- What will happen if a tenant misses a payment
- Written terms stating that when all parties agree to the new payment plan, the landlord will not take legal action against the tenant
- When to hire a landlord attorney
- Whether you are a renter who is leasing your home, or a landlord who rents out residential properties, there are a variety of reasons that you may need real estate litigation advice. A landlord attorney can analyze your situation, determine what your rights are, and make a well-informed decision about how to protect your best interests.
- Tenant rights in Florida – If you are a tenant facing eviction and have questions about your situation, our experienced team of landlord attorneys can help. In this difficult economy, the prospect of looking for a new place to live can be overwhelming. Your natural inclination may be to just do whatever your landlord tells you, but it’s important to know you have tenant rights in Florida.
- Landlord rights in Florida – If you are a landlord involved in a dispute with your tenants, it is crucial that you follow legal steps in a timely and accurate manner. If you fail to follow the appropriate steps correctly, you can expose yourself to liability. These matters are typically very technical, time-sensitive and notice-driven. It is in your best interest to work with a knowledgeable Syprett Meshad real estate attorney who understands real estate litigation and can assist you.
Common landlord/tenant legal issues include:
- Disputes related to rental rates, late or unpaid rent, security deposits, and disagreements about the condition of the rental property
- Moving forward with an eviction, or fighting one
- Rental and lease agreements that include drafting and reviewing contracts, and updating terms of the lease
- Discrimination claims, including race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, disability, etc.
- Personal injury claims
- Business succession planning and rental property asset protection in a divorce or family law matter
Our team of real estate lawyers at Syprett Meshad understand landlord and tenant rights in Florida. We are here to represent you in any mediation or real estate litigation situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney by calling 941-365-7171. We have an established team of Sarasota real estate lawyers who are serving clients throughout Sarasota, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, North Port, Venice areas and throughout the state of Florida.