MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Last week, commissioners in Miami-Dade County passed two resolutions aimed at preventing another imperfect storm from forming.
One calls on Florida courts to adopt new rules requiring judges to automatically stay any writs of possession associated with evictions during declared states of emergency. The other urges lawmakers to adopt a moratorium on evictions during states of emergency.
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. The [eviction] process continues on,” said attorney Jeffrey Hearne, with the Tenants' Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. Hearne is also the litigation director for Legal Services of Greater Miami.
Hearne reviewed the case history and documents associated with Cazanes' 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."
Miami-Dade police officers removed Cazanes 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 (are) in the rain? It's just unconscionable," she said.
Levine Cava applauded County Mayor Carlos Giminez, who called 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."
Levine Cava supported the resolutions that were sponsored by Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz in response to Cazanes’ situation.
"Hurricanes have been hitting us, and hurricanes have been missing us,” said Diaz. “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 his office has approved a draft of a bill that would essentially freeze eviction filings, pending cases and enforcement actions whenever a federal, state or county declares a state of emergency. We’re told the legislation should be issued a bill number in the coming days.
State Rep. Michael Grieco is working to file a similar bill in the state House of Representatives.
Diaz released a statement after his resolutions passed the commission, saying, "During and after a hurricane, law enforcement needs to focus on residents' health and safety, not evicting people who may have nowhere else to go, especially at a time when homelessness is more likely to result in death from dangerous weather conditions."
The Leave it to Layron team contacted the Florida Supreme Court. A representative said the court is ware of the resolution and is "taking it under advisement."