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New online tool helps Floridians respond to eviction lawsuit

As CARES Act funding comes to an end, housing experts worry of an eviction crisis
Posted at 7:44 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 19:47:53-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Floridians facing eviction can use a new online tool to create a legal response based on the state’s limited extension of a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment directly related to COVID-19.

The tool, available here, was created by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, assisted by a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, to enable Floridians who are eligible for a delay to avoid being evicted because of an inadequate answer to the eviction filing.

Estimates have Florida seeing about 749,000 eviction filings over the next four months, with 44.61 percent of renter households unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction.

“Knowing there are 749,000 Floridians at risk of eviction and that we don’t have lawyers for 749,000 Floridians, and knowing the Florida Courts DIY system structure does not contain a tenant answer at all, we began working back in March to make sure this tool would be available when the initial full moratorium ended,” said JALA President & CEO Jim Kowalski.

Under Governor Ron DeSantis’ latest issued August 31 landlords can file evictions, but “final action” on the lawsuit is suspended until Sept. 1 if, and only if, tenants can show a link to COVID-19.

“Until Sept. 1, tenants have to file a response within five days and demonstrate the inability to pay is due to COVID-19,” Kowalski said. “After Sept. 1, they still must respond within five days, but they won’t have the defense provided by the governor’s order unless that portion of the order is continued.”

The $74,000 grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy is being used to build and modify the tool as new statewide orders affecting eviction are issued, as well as for other COVID-19-related legal work JALA is doing.