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Frustrated Landlord Tenant Lawyers Find Reprieve in Commercial Eviction Uptick

After a year of moratoriums on many residential evictions, South Florida landlord-tenant attorneys look to commercial real estate for business.

By Dan Roe | March 30, 2021 at 08:53 AM | The original version of this story was published on Daily Business Review

For the past year, Brian Pariser, a Miami community association and eviction attorney, fielded calls from residential landlords seeking to start eviction proceedings against a tenant.

“I kept telling them my hands are tied,” Pariser said in an interview. “I can file the complaint but the sheriff isn’t going to execute on the writ [of possession].”

Due to a combination of tenant laws and the pandemic, attorneys who advise landlords in residential evictions in Florida are still seeing a hit to their practice business a year after the COVID-19 crisis started. That has led some attorneys to focus more on commercial properties and evictions, where lawyers say there’s been more practice activity in 2021, while landlord attorneys are also finding other means of helping clients amid the shifting rules.

Residential evictions in the Sunshine State have slowed in the past year because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ eviction and foreclosure moratorium, which expired in October, and a federal ban on evictions for nonpayment from from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latter has been extended to June 30.

And in Miami-Dade County, former mayor Carlos Gimenez instructed the Sheriff’s Office to only execute writs of possession for evictions that began pre-pandemic. The ban also applied to commercial real estate, but those kinds of evictions were allowed to go forward as of March 5.

Pariser estimates the landlord tenant side of his business was down 50% in the past 12 months. “Let’s put it this way: For some attorneys who have 80% of their practice being landlord tenant, they must have taken a big hit,” he said.

The moratoriums have frustrated attorneys in the residential eviction practice, causing some to look to commercial real estate.

Kevin Fabrikant of South Florida-based Eviction Law Firm said his three-attorney firm is doing an increasing amount of work with the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), a CARES Act-funded initiative that covers back rent in pending residential eviction cases.

Still, his firm is seeing slightly more demand than it saw pre-pandemic — in part from helping commercial landlords navigate their options.

“There will be some middleman work, letting the bank know they do have a lawyer,” he said about commercial landlord cases. “As far as evictions themselves, I think that’ll continue. Not an avalanche, but slowly growing. Leases are expiring and some leases renewed last year are coming up — if there’s no lease, we can proceed with an eviction.”

Fabrikant is also helping commercial landlords pursue their financing options. ”There haven’t been any good programs for commercial landlords. Some banks are coming out with incentives to help them, but in large part, the commercial landlords are have been left in the dark to figure a lot of things out for themselves,” said Fabrikant, referring to financing and government assistance.

But the commercial landlords that are feeling the squeeze from their lenders may be losing patience as deferments expire, said Hollywood, Florida eviction lawyer Jay Fabrikant, who is not related to Kevin Fabrikant.

“Most of my time now is taken up with commercial evictions,” he said. “Unless the landlord is going to go out of business, I don’t see why they would allow a tenant to stay there rent free at the landlord’s expense. They would rather get them out even if they can’t re-rent the property— it’s better than having a tenant not willing to work with them at all.”

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