ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Despite the CDC’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium, some renters across the Tampa Bay area could soon face homelessness.
"I've never felt this horrible,” said Rachael Trombley of St. Petersburg. "I was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease...so I've just been going through the process of doing dialysis and trying to get on a transplant list at Tampa General Hospital."
This left her partner to care for their three-year-old son.
"I lost my job as a result of that because I had to choose,” said Robert Malec.
The loss of income put them behind on rent. Knowing the CDC eviction protection was available, they filed for help, but faced trouble when their landlord challenged the claim in court.
"We never received notice of the hearing,” said Malec.
When Malec and Trombley did not make the hearing, the judge made a default judgment and issued a writ of possession, allowing the eviction process to move forward. Malec filed for an emergency stay of the order, but the judge denied the motion.
"We think the landlord did not even prove that we don't qualify, we simply didn't get notice of the hearing,” said Malec.
Trombley and Malec both said they feel the CDC’s order failed them during some of the most uncertain times our nation has faced.
Experts say these types of stories are disheartening but add if renters are facing eviction and qualify for CDC protection, the burden is on tenants to prove it.
"If the landlord does decide to challenge your ability to claim this exemption, you as a tenant do need to present your reasons and your evidence to justify that, because it's not an automatic exemption,” said William Pena Wells, staff attorney with Gulfcoast Legal Services.
Despite the moratorium, evictions are on the rise. In Pinellas County--more than 860 eviction and unlawful detainer cases have been filed this year. In Hillsborough, that number jumps to more than 1,300. Pena Wells said he expects numbers to rise as more landlords file for eviction when moratoriums are lifted.
There are resources available to those in need of help. Starting in March, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program will disburse $25 billion to assist those who need help catching up on rent or past-due bills. Pinellas County received $21.4 million and plans to work with local community-based agencies to disburse the funds. Hillsborough County has been allocated more than $32 million.
For more information about these programs, click here.
Gulfcoast Legal Services also has funding to assist renters through its eviction mitigation project. Applications are available online.
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