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Jacksonville legal aid group creates online tool to help Floridians respond to eviction lawsuits

FloridaEvictionHelp.org was created to enable Floridians who are eligible for a delay to avoid being evicted because of an inadequate answer to the eviction filing.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A new online tool was created to help Floridians respond to eviction lawsuits by the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid group (JALA). The group was able to create the tool with assistance by a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

The tool, which can be found at FloridaEvictionHelp.org, was created to enable Floridians who are eligible for a delay to avoid being evicted because of an inadequate answer to the eviction filing. It will create a legal response based on the state’s limited extension of a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment directly related to COVID-19. 

Under Florida Gov. DeSantis’ latest order, issued July 29, landlords can file evictions, but “final action” on the lawsuit is suspended until September 1 if, and only if, tenants can show a link to COVID-19. 

“Until Sept. 1, tenants have to file a response within five days and demonstrate the inability to pay is due to COVID-19,” Kowalski said. “After Sept. 1, they still must respond within five days, but they won’t have the defense provided by the governor’s order unless that portion of the order is continued.”

According to global advisory firm Stout, Florida will see about 749,000 eviction filings over the next four months, with 44.61% of renter households unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction.

“Knowing there are 749,000 Floridians at risk of eviction and that we don’t have lawyers for 749,000 Floridians, and knowing the Florida Courts DIY system structure does not contain a tenant answer at all, we began working back in March to make sure this tool would be available when the initial full moratorium ended,” said JALA President & CEO Jim Kowalski.

The $74,000 grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy is being used to build and modify the tool as new statewide orders affecting eviction are issued, as well as for other COVID-19-related legal work JALA is doing.