CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Joe Chung has a lot of admiration for the man who rents the other side of his duplex south of Sarasota. William Schleman, 80, served in the Air Force in the 60s in a medical unit. Chung described him as a “hero.”
When the pandemic cut into both of their incomes, they worked together to apply for Florida’s emergency rental assistance program in hopes it would keep Chung in the black and Schleman in his home of nine years. Chung borrowed money from a friend to pay the mortgage on the promise that government relief checks would be arriving soon.
They’ve waited for weeks, but the money never came. On Friday, Chung was preparing to evict Schleman.
“We put our faith in the ability of the state to help in times of need, especially during a pandemic,” Schleman said. “If you’re able to comply with (the requirements), they should come through for you.”
Chung said he’s tried everything he can think of to protect his tenant.
“Now the bank is basically saying if the eviction doesn’t happen, they can foreclose on the house,” he said.
It’s unclear if the troubles Chung and Schleman are experiencing are widespread. The state began accepting applications for OUR Florida in mid-May, months after other local governments. DCF spokeswoman Mallory McManus did not respond to an email requesting comment on Schleman’s case, but previously said most applications that haven’t been approved “are awaiting action by the tenant to provide additional information or documentation.” She also said “complete applications that match registered landlords can be processed and verified in as little as 18 days.”
State Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, sent a letter to the department Thursday, citing a Tampa Bay Times report on the pace of the disbursement and asking for a meeting with Secretary Shevaun Harris. Diamond is running for the Pinellas Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Charlie Crist.
He also mentioned hearing from constituents about “onerous documentation requirements needed to receive relief” as part of the OUR Florida program. Diamond said in an interview that he hasn’t heard of people’s documents getting lost, rather that tenants are having trouble providing enough records to show they were financially affected by the pandemic.
Diamond said he knows running a program of this magnitude “is not an easy task,” but Florida’s pace of distribution is “totally unacceptable.”
“This is not some sort of academic discussion,” Diamond said. “There are real people in our community that are days away from getting kicked out of where they’re living.”
Despite the new order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspending evictions in places like Florida with higher coronavirus transmission, Schleman would not meet the qualifications to be protected. He’s on a month-to-month lease, which means that the eviction filing would be for a termination of his tenancy — in other words, not explicitly related to nonpayment of rent. That loophole has contributed to hundreds of Floridians being evicted throughout the pandemic, even in cases when they tried to invoke the moratorium in court.
Chung said he’s trying to negotiate with his property management company and his bank on the eviction filing, but both institutions are pushing him to go through the courts to create records of his losses and to add more than $2,000 in late fees.