Evictions in 2023 on track to meet or exceed 10-year record high
Eviction cases for 2023 were on track to either match or beat last year’s numbers — which broke a 10-year record-high in Orange County — according to Clerk of Courts public records.
As of Monday, the county has so far seen 15,191 eviction filings for the year, records showed. For 2022, the county closed out with 15,969, the highest in a decade.
According to local legal aid experts, the reason for 2022’s high number of cases was caused in part by the end of the COVID-19 eviction moratoriums.
Attorney Jorge Acosta Palmer, with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, a nonprofit that provides free legal resources to qualifying clients, said the reason numbers are high again this year is likely because some landlords learned that evictions can secure them a continuous cash flow.
“I think the reason we see evictions filed at such high rates is because it is a really effective process to get tenants out,” he said. “Landlords (...) they know how effective it can be if they're aggressive with it.”
Acosta Palmer, who handles landlord-tenant cases at CLSMF, said the eviction process is not necessarily easy for landlords — they have to pay filing fees and follow through with the legal process — yet eviction cases are one of the busiest areas of law for the organization.
In Florida, he said, the state’s “Residential Act,” Chapter 83, Part II, tends to be more protective of landlords than tenants. Therefore, there are not many legal defenses for tenants in the case of eviction filings. For tenants, once the eviction has been filed, Acosta Palmer said it becomes a “pay to play” situation.
“Even if the landlord makes a lot of mistakes with these notices — they could have the amounts wrong, they could make a lot of mistakes — at the end of the day, the law provides that if the tenant doesn't pay the undisputed rent into the court registry, then they can get defaulted. Which means they pretty much lose automatically,” he said. “You can have the best attorney ever, and you're pointing to all these problems and defects in the notice, but it's really hard to overcome pay-to-play. And if there's no money put into the court registry, with ongoing rent as it becomes due, those tenants lose out.”
In the space of legal resources for tenants, Acosta Palmer said the best way to beat an eviction case is to avoid one. Some of the best ways to do this include applying for rental and financial assistance programs to avoid falling behind on rent and bill payments, talking directly with the landlord and negotiating, or even breaking the lease.
“When I get calls from tenants saying, ‘Hey, I'm being evicted, and I've already filed an answer,’ or ‘There's a final judgment already. What can I do?’ Legally, there's not much relief that we can seek at that point,” Acosta Palmer said. “The eviction process can move really fast and it can be devastating for tenants. We’ve seen them go from the first day of missed rent to a final judgment in about three weeks.”
When it comes to an eviction final judgment, Acosta Palmer said tenants should try to avoid that stage of the process at any cost. An eviction final judgment will go on the tenant’s record and will make it extremely difficult for that person to ever rent again.
“It has a devastating effect for tenants,” he said. “They're seeking housing, and nobody wants them as tenants; the few lenders that do accept them are either asking for somebody else to co-sign or the property doesn't have the best conditions; a lot of times, they can't get a one-year lease. So, it just creates more problems.”
He said tenants behind on rent or facing eviction can reach out to organizations like his for free legal resources and advice.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.