Some Bay County tenants face eviction under moratorium

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PANAMA CITY BEACH – Despite an ongoing moratorium on some evictions, which was extended by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, some local evictions continued amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Christopher Patterson, chief justice of the 14th Judicial Circuit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put in place a moratorium in September that ended evictions of tenants who proved they could not pay rent due to the pandemic.

This, however, did not prevent all evictions for every tenant, including those who could not properly demonstrate that they were affected by the virus.

Previously:Biden urges homeowners to halt evictions as White House scrambles to find solutions to extend moratorium

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“Under CDC rules, you have to file a final statement that says you’ve been affected by COVID, (saying) that’s why you couldn’t pay rent,” Patterson said. “If you didn’t, the cases would continue. I think that’s the norm in the state of Florida and probably across the country.”

On Tuesday, however, although eviction notices were filed, there had been no huge downpour, said Ruth Corley, spokesperson for the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. Corley said eight eviction notices were filed with the court clerk between July 26 and 27, about a dozen more were filed between July 29 and July 30 and eight between August 2 and 3.

Although the CDC’s original moratorium expired on July 31, after being extended late last year and again in June, Biden declared a new moratorium on Tuesday afternoon.

The new action, in effect for 60 days, bans evictions in counties with high coronavirus transmission rates. Biden said he hopes it will cover nearly 90% of U.S. renters.

Patterson noted that Biden’s initiative came after he urged Congress to further extend the previous moratorium. Congress couldn’t come to an agreement, so Biden ordered the CDC to release another, which also includes criminal penalties for rebel owners.

“This, frankly, is unheard of because the only body (of government) that can create criminal sanctions is a legislative body, so it has to come from Congress,” said Patterson, who added that he anticipated that the President’s decision would soon be challenged. “One of the issues I think (who will face) whoever disputes this is that the Supreme Court doesn’t come back in session until October, so it could tip over here for the next couple of months.”

Emerald Bay Apartments in Panama City Beach

The Emerald Bay Apartments in Panama City Beach, pictured Thursday.

Ahead of the announcement of the extended moratorium, Tammy Norris, property manager at Emerald Bay Apartments, said that while times are tough for many people, she was happy the eviction ban was lifted.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful because (it lets tenants know that they) can’t sit on (their) butt and not pay rent,” Norris said Tuesday morning. “Before, apartment managers and owners had no choice. They couldn’t do anything.

Located on Arnold Road in Panama City Beach, Emerald Bay Apartments offers 34 studio apartments, which tenants can rent for $ 975 per month or $ 290 per week.

Norris, who said all of his apartments were occupied, noted that three of his more than 30 tenants were behind on rent, totaling nearly $ 20,000 in unrecorded payments.

The Emerald Bay Apartments in Panama City Beach, pictured Thursday.

While describing herself as someone who works with tenants who are behind, she said apartment complexes are businesses that need money to survive. Because of this, she was prepared to evict some tenants once the ban ended.

This will now be delayed.

“It is what it is and there’s nothing nobody can do about it,” Norris said Wednesday morning. “I fully believe that if he (Biden) extends the rentals, (he should) at least give everyone another stimulus (check) to possibly help them catch up.”

How Evictions Work in Bay County

Corley said the eviction process is quite complicated and involves several stages.

Landlords are required to give tenants in arrears with a three-day eviction notice first. If a landlord is still not compensated at the end of the period, they must file another notice with the Bay County Court Clerk that informs the tenant that they will be sued if they do not pay the rent owed within. five days.

Corley and Patterson said local evictions could increase once the moratorium ends and tenants will no longer be protected.

“It may increase… to some extent, but at the moment we don’t anticipate any major issues, (but) that could change,” she said. “We’re keeping an eye on it for sure. It’s something we’ve definitely been aware of and have been aware of for a year and a half.”

Patterson said the local justice system remains supported after many cases were delayed during the pandemic.

This could be perpetuated by a possible wave of evictions once the moratorium is lifted.

“Because many of these tenants may not have paid rent in the past 18 months, these lawsuits may already be filed and simply haven’t been dealt with,” Patterson said. “It’s hard to predict whether there will be a rush to file more evictions or not. I think there are a lot of them already in the pipeline.”


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