‘We want to keep folks housed’: Proposal aims to curb Florida’s eviction crisis

ORLANDO, Fla. — A proposal in Tallahassee could help curb Florida’s eviction crisis and level the playing field for those behind on rent.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray learned it could also help landlords get paid through mediation.

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We were there as Donald Harper packed up a pod with everything his family owned in the days leading up to his eviction from an Orange County rental home in January.

“It’s an experience that I don’t wish on my enemy, if I had any enemies,” Harper said.

READ: Thousands of Central Floridians evicted since Florida eviction moratorium expired

Harper is now living with family, and back to working full-time hours, after being furloughed and eventually laid off in 2020. But his eviction will stay on his record long after the pandemic ends.

“It’s a lot to pull it off, and then it hitting your credit, that’s the other part people don’t understand,” Harper said.

Several pieces of legislation are being introduced in Tallahassee, aimed at preventing more people from going through this process. That includes House Bill 481, which would require courts to send evictions through mediation where a mediation program already exists, and maybe more importantly, removing the requirement of a tenant to provide past-due rent to a registry of the court before they can be considered for mediation.

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“Evictions have a pay-for-play system where tenants have to pay what they owe before they can go to mediation, and that process automatically locks tenants out of the ability to have an eviction through mediation,” State Rep. Anna Eskamani said.

Eskamani is a co-sponsor of the bill.

She said the goal of mediation is to help both tenants and landlords take advantage of all available public funding to help keep people in their rentals and out of court.

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“Evictions are really difficult for tenants and landlords, so it gives both sides a way to know their options, and it gives landlords find a way to get paid,” Eskamani said. “At the end of the day, we want to keep folks housed, and landlords can pay their bills on time, as well.”

The legislation would only apply to circuits that already have a mediation program in place, which includes most of Central Florida’s counties, but not every county statewide.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.