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Miami-Dade commissioners seek to stop eviction proceedings during emergencies

Maria Cazanes, 75, kicked out of apartment as Dorian threatened to hit Florida

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – With tears in her eyes, Maria Cazanes told reporters she did not know what she was going to do.  

Just about everything the 75-year-old Miami Beach woman owned had been removed from her Euclid Avenue apartment.

The eviction order against Cazanes was carried out as Hurricane Dorian churned in the Atlantic.

"Under current law, there is no exception for bad weather, a hurricane, a storm, or anything like that," said attorney Jeffrey Hearne, with the Tenants' Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

Hearne is also litigation director with Legal Services of Greater Miami.

"The (eviction) process continues on," he said.  

Hearne reviewed the case history and documents associated with Cazanes's eviction.

"When the tenant doesn't respond, the landlord can move for default, (meaning) they win their case automatically," Hearne said. "The landlord moved for default, obtained a final judgment for possession, got a writ of possession and it was executed."

In Cazanes's case, it was Miami-Dade police officers who removed her from her apartment.

"For our law enforcement to participate in (an) eviction on the eve of a storm is unacceptable," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

Levine Cava is a former legal services attorney who has represented tenants in eviction proceedings. 

"Here, we have people in the midst of storm preparation. The whole community is on high alert, stressed, and now this woman is out in the street, and all her belongings in the rain? It's just unconscionable," she said. 

Levine Cava applauded Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez calling for these types of evictions to stop.

"It's not enough to have it come just at the direction of the mayor to the police department," Levine Cava said. "We need to enshrinement for the future." 

She's now looking forward to supporting resolutions being drafted by fellow Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz which would do just that. The proposal is currently under legal review.

"Hurricanes have been hitting us, and hurricanes have been missing us," Diaz said. "Unfortunately, we learn from situations, and we saw a very negative situation, and we wanted to make sure we don't see it again. Reactive? Yes. Necessary? Yes."

But will it stick? Levine Cava said the county and its laws are often preempted by state law.

"I think it would be very shameful if our state legislature tries to preempt us from this kind of local authority," she said.

State Sen. Jason Pizzo told the "Leave it to Layron" team he is also working on drafting legislation that would, essentially, freeze eviction filings, pending cases and enforcement actions whenever a federal, state or county state of emergency is in place. A similar bill is being drafted in the state House of Representatives.

"Law enforcement should be focused on preparing to save lives, not landlord/tenant law, during storm events," Pizzo said in a statement.

Miami-Dade commissioners could take up the matter as early as next month.


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