North Florida's 2nd Judicial Circuit Orders Stop To Evictions, Foreclosures

Mar 21, 2020

An overhead shot of a neighborhood filled with houses.
Credit Photo by Breno Assis / Unsplash

Florida's Second Judicial Circuit, which covers Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Wakulla and Liberty Counties in the panhandle, has ordered a stop to evictions and other civil actions as the state's economy slows to a trickle amid business shutdowns and rising unemployment. Several Florida counties are taking similar actions. 

The Second Judicial Ciruit in North Florida became the latest Friday, to order a stop to all evictions. That follows similar moves in Miami Dade, Hillsboro and Orange County. 

Leon Sheriff Walt McNeil said he'd requested law enforcement stop all, writs of possession, ex-parte orders, injuntions, child pickup orders, garnishments, summons, mental health orders," among other actions.

The Second Judicial Circuit granted parts of that request, stopping driver's license suspensions in traffic cases, evictions and foreclosures.

"That doesn't mean cases can't still be filed," said Gwen Marshall, Leon County Clerk of Court. "It doesn't stop late fees, or penalties [from accruing]." 

“I hope they do a rent freeze because if I don’t make $800 like, you know, during the next two weeks - that’s just base rent. That’s not electric and phone bill and water and your other household essentials," said Naddeah Clinton, a waitress in Panama City Beach and one of more than 200,000 servers in Florida.

The U.S. Centers For Disease Control is recommending people gather in groups no larger than 10, stay at least six feet apart, and optimally, stay at home for the time being. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently issued an executive order closing bars and cutting restaurant capacity in half. Many people can no longer go to work, and for those without paid sick leave, vacation and other benefits, those orders also mean no paychecks. 

“If we’re telling someone, if you’re sick, don’t go into work and they stay home, or something happens with their business… and they can’t make the rent payment—those are extraordinary circumstances, I would be supportive of figuring out what I can do. We are going to look," DeSantis said recently when asked about postponing evictions statewide.

The business shutdowns have prompted Florida Legal Services and some 20 other aid groups, to ask the Florida Supreme Court for a statewide order. Legal Services of North Florida Executive Director Leslie Powell-Boudreaux says if the courts don’t stop evictions, it could worsen the public health crisis.

“If time limits aren’t tolled and tenants are served an eviction action…they’ll have to do all these things that are counter to the restrictions most of us re follow. And if someone is evicted, it puts them on the street and homeless…and adds to the public health crises that many of us are trying to avoid.”    

There’s been no response yet from the state’s high court. For now, Powell Boudreaux is telling people with eviction notices to consult with an attorney if they can.

“If someone is served with an eviction action they should consult with an attorney, see if there are some limitations the court put on since these actions are being taken by the Supreme Court and local courts. And they can certainly reach out to us. We’re glad to help anyone we can," she said.

The issue has also reached Washington D.C. President Donald Trump recently announced the federal government wouldn’t enforce eviction or foreclosure notices in programs it backs, like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD.