Dem lawmakers increasingly frustrated with Gov. DeSantis’ timing on foreclosure/eviction moratorium

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith's response to the governor's action, recycled from the nail-biter last month. Credit: Twitter screenshot

This time, Gov. Ron DeSantis waited until four hours before the deadline to extend his COVID-19 moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and rental evictions — and one Democratic state House member called it “torture” to keep desperate Floridians in suspense.

DeSantis signed an executive order extending the moratorium until Aug.1 at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, according to the time stamp on that document — mere hours before the existing moratorium was to expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

It was the third extension for the moratorium, first authorized on April 2. Legally, the order suspends enforcement of statutes governing evictions and foreclosures in light of the economic dislocation attendant to the COVID outbreak.

He’d last extended the moratorium with five hours to spare. The Orlando Sentinel reported on June 25 that landlords had sought 2,600 evictions since April.

Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith, both of Orlando, had been hectoring the governor for days to go ahead and extend the thing. Eskamani expressed special frustration earlier Tuesday, after the governor, during a news conference, didn’t answer a reporter’s question about his plans.

“Horrifying to ignore such an important question,” she wrote.

“Our Governor prefers to torture people to the last minute then deal with crisis right in front of him,” Eskamani also tweeted.

Asked about the timing during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, DeSantis had this to say:

“We got a lot going on, man. I mean, you know, we’re working 24/7 on a lot of different things.”

As for Smith, he tweeted this: “@GovRonDeSantis will you or won’t you extend the eviction moratorium that expires at MIDNIGHT? YES or NO? It’s a simple question. Just tell us and stop with the wishy-washy nonsense. Floridians are desperate. Tell us!”

Later, Smith recycled the written statement he’d issued in reply to the last late-breaking extension, but with the dates updated in red handwriting (see above).

After hearing of the extension, Eskamani wrote: “Organizing works y’all!!! These moratoriums are NOT enough, but at least Floridians have one more month to demand rent & mortgage relief. In awe of the tenants & homeowners who came together to demand action — and so grateful for our elected champions who stand with them.”

She added: “This is only a band-aid, and we gotta get all Floridians their unemployment benefits ASAP, and extend the work search requirement waiver too.”

Democrats in the Senate weren’t happy, either.

“The last few times the governor has chosen to do this at the 11th hour, keeping tenants and small landlords on edge until literally the last moment. I mean, he’s done it repeatedly,” Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami-Dade County said during a Zoom conference organized by the caucus.

“It seems to indicate that there really isn’t a plan. They’re kind of flying by the seat of their pants. It is worrisome that these really monumental orders are extended with hours to go repeatedly,” he said. “No one has been able to discern why they wait until the last humanly possible minute to make a decision.”

“As long as we’re going to continue with this absolutely dysfunctional, broken unemployment system, it is not fair that tenant be evicted,” Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County said during the conference.

Farmer agreed that “landlords need some relief with regard to any mortgages they may have, or loans they may have, because they have to make payments, perhaps, as well.”

He added that banks “ended up making out extremely well” following the 2008 financial crash and in processing the federal COVID loan program.

“I now think its time that the banks got to join in with everybody else in the suffering a little bit and we give some relief to those landlords who have loan obligations so that they’re not the ones taking on the chin completely.”

Note: This story has been updated with material from the Senate Democratic Zoom conference and the governor’s news conference.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.