ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Anas Aldarraji didn’t know what to do back in August after she received a five-day eviction summons from the Orange County Court. She lost her income tutoring children, and her two children lost their jobs at the Orlando International Airport, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Aldarraji said.

What You Need To Know

But for now, Aldarraji and her children are safe thanks to the federal eviction moratorium implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I still am scared,” Aldarraji said.

The CDC’s order, which requires renters to submit a declaration form to landlords to be protected, is in effect until the end of the year, at least for now. The National Apartment Association recently joined the New Civil Liberties Alliance in a federal lawsuit against the CDC’s order, claiming the moratorium does not fall under the agency’s purview.

And the jury is out on whether or not that lawsuit will prevail.

“This is something that the CDC’s never done before,” said Jamos Mobley, Senior Housing and Consumer Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association. “So we are just kind of in the dark as to whether or not it’s going to be upheld or overturned.”

One thing is certain, though: Protection under the CDC’s order is not automatic. Renters must seek protection under the order by signing the provided declaration form and turning it in to their property manager or landlord. 

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In submitting the form, renters are swearing several things under penalty of perjury, including that they have been negatively affected by the coronavirus, have exhausted all available government assistance and would become homeless or have to live in a crowded residence if evicted.

Mobley said renters can submit the form at any time, even if an eviction case has already begun.

“It won’t help you, though, if the sheriff is already at your door with a writ of possession,” Mobley said. “So you need to claim it before the judge rules on the case.”

Residents whose eviction cases were held up in court due to Florida’s state eviction moratorium, which expired Thursday, should act especially quickly to seek protection under the federal order now that the state’s protection is no longer in effect.

For other renters who are struggling, Aldarraji has one piece of advice.

“From my experience now, they should fight,” Aldarraji said. “They should follow the rules.”

Pro-bono legal help is available for renters at the Legal Aid Society (407-841-8310) and Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (800) 405-1417).

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.