Questions & Answers: Your Guide to Civil Legal Issues During COVID-19

As we continue to watch the spread of COVID-19, our community will see many changes in our day-to-day lives. If you’re worried about a civil legal problem, or are wondering how changes in the courts, etc. may impact you, check out our Q&A below, as well as the Spanish version.*

 

Table of Contents

 

General & Misc.

 

Question: If I’m a current GLS client, what can I expect?

Answer: GLS staff assigned to your case will continue to keep you posted on how your case is progressing. While many of the courts are rescheduling certain hearings, work can still be done. Instead of conducting in person updates, your assigned staff member will call you or email you to inform you of any changes or updates.

 

Q: If I am not a current client but have a civil legal need and am seeking assistance, what are my options?

A: First start by filling out the online GLS application for assistance. A paralegal will review your information and contact you if you are eligible for services (remember that all services for clients at GLS are provided for free). If you have a disability or are unable to fill out an application electronically, please call the correct extension listed on our homepage. GLS will work with you to ensure we have all the forms we need to move forward.

 

Q: What kinds of cases are the courts seeing in-person right now?

A: Most courts are only seeing mission-critical hearings in person right now such as injunctions for protection. Other case hearings have either been postponed or are being done via phone.**

 

Q: What about deportations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? How are they responding to the pandemic?

A: ICE will be focusing its efforts on “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” For all others, ICE will exercise discretion in delaying enforcement actions until after the pandemic.

 “During the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”

 

 

Family Law/Domestic Violence

 

Q: What about my Parent Education and Family Stabilization classes? How will I take those now?

A: Effective March 23, 2020 through April 30, 2020 (and most likely will be extended through May 29th), the 12th Judicial Circuit will temporarily allow parties to attend parenting classes online or via video conferencing without court approval. A list of approved courses is here.

If you have a court-ordered parenting plan, do your very best to co-parent and coordinate schedule changes, before filing a motion and involving the Court. If you are agreeing on schedule changes, try to do it in writing i.e. email or text to make sure there’s a written record later on.

 

Q: I don’t get along with my child’s other parent. What should I do about it?

A: Courts are encouraging co-parenting more than ever before. If you have a pending case, the courts are working hard to maintain normalcy for you and your family while moving cases forward. They emphasize cooperation and collaboration between you and your co-parent as much as you’re able.

If you currently have a court-ordered parenting plan that includes timesharing, it is necessary to continue the court-ordered timesharing schedule. The parties to a parenting plan may temporarily modify the parenting plan by written agreement, but any permanent changes may require the filing of a new petition.

 

Q: I’m worried about my situation changing and want to be prepared with my parenting plan. What should I consider?

A: Consider making a temporary parenting plan. Temporary parenting plans focus on short-term needs and lay out an alternate parenting plan in extenuating circumstances. A temporary parenting plan should be outlined in an agreed-upon format and documented. They can address what if situations such as: What if my co-parent gets sick? What if I or my co-parent loses our job?

 

Q: I have to go into the courts, but I’m confused about how the pandemic procedures might have changed things. What is filing with the court like now?

A: If you are filing pleadings with Manatee County Courthouse, you may drop them off at the Courthouse. There is a dropbox right inside the entrance. You may also mail them. If you need to file for an Injunction for Protection, you may go inside Manatee County Courthouse to file.

The Sarasota County Courthouse does not have a drop box, but you may mail your pleadings to:
To mail your documents:
Sarasota County Clerk and Comptroller
P O. Box 3079
Sarasota, FL 34230-3079

To send your documents by overnight mail:
Sarasota County Clerk and Comptroller
2000 Main Street
Sarasota, FL 34237

 

Q: What are hearings like now?

A: Most hearings are currently being held via Zoom and/or conference call, depending on the judge and order of priority of cases. The way hearings are held are different between counties and are sometimes not uniform with one county itself.

 

Q: I’m owed child support. How will I get it?

A: If you are owed child support and the Florida Department of Revenue collects and distributes the payments, the stimulus payment made to the parent owing child support should be held and distributed to you as payment towards the amount owed.

 

Q: I was told that there are no resources for me, a domestic violence survivor, because of the pandemic. 

A: This is NOT true. GLS can assist survivors of domestic violence with civil legal matters ranging from divorces, injunctions for protection, and many other services. All domestic violence shelters are operational and can assist you with making safety plans. GLS can provide these referrals to you. Please call us at 727-821-0726 ext. 244 for help. If you can’t talk on the phone, you can fill out an online application for help.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of domestic violence and is seeking assistance, please reach out to your local domestic violence shelter:

 

 

Financial & Income

 

Question: What if I don’t meet the work requirements but need SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)?

Answer: DCF has suspended all SNAP (food assistance) time limits and work requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can apply online.

 

Q: What if I already have SNAP? Could I be eligible to get increased benefits?

A: Yes. If your monthly SNAP benefit is less than the maximum SNAP for your household, you will get a supplemental benefit up to the maximum SNAP grant.  If you already get the maximum SNAP benefit, you will not get extra SNAP.

Note: The USDA has recently increased monthly SNAP benefits by 40%

 

Q: What, if any, changes are being made to Medicaid?

A: Medicaid changes are being documented on the Agency for Healthcare Administration.

 

Q: Will I get any relief from bills for services that are now essential?

A: Each provider is different. Check their websites for information. Some companies, such as Duke Energy, have suspended disconnections, as many customers are facing hardships.

 

Q: I’m elderly and worried about creating end of life documents. How can I do this?

A: GLS can provide assistance to any seniors (age 60+) for free, however we prioritize those with the highest need. For information and assistance creating life-planning documents, call extension 232.

 

Housing

 

On April 2, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued an Executive Order suspending foreclosures and evictions.

The Order means that all mortgage foreclosure lawsuits are stopped at least until June 2, 2020, and all residential eviction lawsuits, based on failure to pay rent, are stopped until at least until June 2, 2020.  You still have an obligation to pay your mortgage and your rent, but while the Order is in effect foreclosures and evictions are stopped.

For a STEP BY STEP GUIDE on how to deal with an eviction, click here.

 

Question: I lost my job because of the COVID-19 emergency, and I’m behind on my rent. Can my landlord evict me?

Answer: No. If you are behind on your rent because of the COVID-19 emergency, the landlord may not evict you while the Order applies. Currently, the Order applies though June 2, 2020; it might be extended.

 

Q: I live in a mobile home park; I own my mobile home and rent the lot. Does the executive order apply to me?

A: Yes. Since the Order stops all residential evictions, it applies to mobile-home park residents and RV park residents as well as people who rent homes, duplexes, and apartments.

 

Q: I have a section 8 voucher. How does the Order apply to me?

A: Your tenancy is governed by federal law – the new CARES Act. This federal law applies to evictions if your landlord gets federal assistance. The CARES Act prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent through July 27, 2020. You can read more here. It’s a good idea to check with your caseworker. If your income changes because you lost your job, your rent payments may be lowered.

 

Q: I’m a tenant who is behind on my rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic and my landlord just gave me a three day notice to pay or I will be evicted, what should I do?

A: Do not ignore the notice. Contact your landlord or management company to discuss alternatives and to see if they will make new arrangements with you based on this national emergency. If your landlord files an eviction, and gets a judgment to evict you, the Sheriff will not be able to execute a Writ of Possession to make you leave until at least May 29, 2020.

 

Q: I don’t have to pay my rent, right?

A: Paying rent is your legal obligation in return for your landlord’s obligation to provide housing. The Order stops evictions until May 29, 2020, but it doesn’t stop your obligation to pay rent.  Keep in contact with your landlord during this crisis. Legal consequences for not paying your rent are temporarily suspended.

 

Q: I was served with an eviction before April 2, 2020. What should I do?

​A: Read and follow all the instructions on the summons. In Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties, a writ of possession will not be issued until after May 29, 2020.

 

Q: Am I covered under the CARES Act? 

About 70% of mortgages are “federally backed or insured.” Federally subsidized housing can include Section 8, Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), Section 202, Section 236 etc.

Loans that are owned, purchased or securitized by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Freddie Mac), FHA or VA loans are covered.

To find out if your mortgage is Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, call your servicer.

To find out if your mortgage is a FHA loan:

  • Check your mortgage documents for an FHA case document,
  • Call the owner,
  • Or check the monthly statement for FHA premium.

To find out if your mortgage is a VA loan, look for references to VA in your closing and mortgage documents.

To find out if your mortgage is with the Dept. of Agriculture of USDA Rural Housing Service, check your closing documents or contact the servicer.

 

Q: I need something in my apartment fixed, but my landlord refuses.

A: Make a repair request in writing, either over email or over text. If the repairs are not urgent, give your landlord time to respond. If the problems are affecting your health and safety, ask the landlord to make repairs right away.

If they will not, you can send them a letter giving them seven days to comply or you will withhold rent. Make sure you have an attorney help you with this!

 

Q: My landlord has asked to enter my home but I’m uncomfortable with that because of COVID-19. What can I do?

A: Normally, your landlord must give you notice at least 12 hours before entering your unit, and can only enter from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. For emergencies, they can enter at any time. If you have any issues with this, call GLS.

 

Q: I have a Section 8 voucher, public housing, or some other subsidized housing and I lost my job. What should I do?

A: Report your loss of income immediately. The next month’s rent should be based on your new income. If there is delay in changing your rent, you should receive a rent adjustment during the following month (meaning money will be returned to you).

 

Q: I have general questions about tenant issues. 

A: Check out the GLS Tenant Handbook in English and in Spanish.

 

Note: If you are being evicted for a reason other than failure to pay rent, the Order does not apply to you.

 

Housing issues are rapidly changing. GLS will do our best to keep up to date. 

 

Taxes

 

Question: What actions have the IRS taken to help taxpayers meet their 2019 tax obligations?

Answer: On March 21, 2020, the Department of Treasury and the IRS announced that the federal income tax filing date has been automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. This deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as independent contractors.

 

Q: Will I be charged interest or penalties during the extension time?

A: No interest or penalties will be applied, regardless of the amount owed, as long as 2019 taxes are filed and paid by the July 15, 2020 filing extension.

 

Q: Do I need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief extension?

A: No, it is automatic, you do not need to do anything. Just file and pay your 2019 taxes by July 15, 2020, in order to avoid any penalties and added interest.

 

Q: What if I am due a refund?

A: The IRS is urging taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most refunds are still being issued within 21 days.

 

Q: What if I can’t meet the July 15, 2020 deadline?

A: Taxpayers needing additional time to file beyond the July 15 deadline, should request a filing extension by filing Form 4868 through a tax professional, tax software, or by using the Free File link on www.IRS.gov. Businesses who need additional time must file Form 7004.

 

Q: What if I need Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to file my 2019 taxes?

A: The majority of VITA sites have been closed until further notice, however, some sites are still operating remotely. Go to www.IRS.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ for a list of VITA sites nearest you. Make sure to follow up with the VITA site to confirm whether they are providing services and for more information on how to proceed.

 

Q: Will the IRS continue to levy my account and issue collections notices?

A: No, until further notice, the IRS will stop all manual and systemic levies and notices except for LP 68 notices informing taxpayers that their notice of levy was released.

 

Q: How do I receive a stimulus check for COVID?

A: No additional action is needed to receive a stimulus check if:

  • you have already filed your tax returns this year for 2019. The IRS will use this information to calculate the payment amount.
  • you haven’t filed yet for 2019 but filed a 2018 federal tax return. For these taxpayers the IRS will use their information from 2018 tax filings to make the Economic Impact Payment calculations.

For Social Security, Railroad retirees and SSDI who have qualifying children, you can take an additional step to receive $500 per qualifying child.

Taxpayers can check the IRS.gov tool – Do I Need to File a Tax Return? – to see if they have a filing requirement.

 

Employment Law

 

Q: May an employer send home an employee involuntarily who has or is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?

A: Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is following the 2009 pandemic H1N1 flu guidance states that advising workers to go home either (a) is not a disability-related action if the illness is akin to seasonal influenza or (b) is permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the illness is serious enough to pose a direct threat to the employee or coworkers. This also applies to asymptomatic employees who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or who is returning from travel to an area with “widespread sustained” transmission. This can further be employed as a preventative measure so long as an employee’s duties allow telework.

 

Q: When may an employee who was sent home for exhibiting symptoms (subjective or measured fever, cough, difficulty breathing) return to work?

A: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that an employee may return to work after 24 hours of no longer having or exhibiting any of the symptoms—without the aid of fever-reducing, or other symptom-masking medicines (cough suppressants).

 

Q: May an employer require an employee with COVID-19 to use his/her vacation time and/or other paid time off for their absence?

A: Generally, yes. This also applies to employees not exhibiting symptoms, but who have been in close contact with and individual with COVID-19 or is returning from an at-risk area.

 

Q: Does Florida law provide for paid sick days?

A: No, nothing in Florida state law requires private business to give employees paid sick leave. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period if they need time off to deal with a “serious health condition” or care for an ill family member or new child (an asymptomatic employee may not qualify for FMLA). Under FMLA, although this leave time is unpaid, the employee’s job and benefits are protected during that time off. Note: FMLA only covers private employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and public or private elementary or secondary schools.

 

 Q: Must an employer pay a non-exempt (hourly) employee during closures due to COVID-19?

A: According to the Department of Labor (DOL), employers are only required to pay non-exempt employees for hours worked. As such, if a business closes temporarily due to COVID-19, it is not required to pay non-exempt employees, even if they may have been scheduled to work. However, these employees may be entitled to unemployment compensation or other state benefits during these closures due to COVID-19.

 

Reemployment

 

Question: How do I apply for reemployment assistance?

Answer: Start by visiting FloridaJobs.org for an application. If you do not have a computer at home, call GLS and we can mail you a paper application. In addition, you can call 1-800-204-2418 for information.

 

Q: How much will I be eligible to receive?

A: The Department of Economic Opportunity will calculate how much you are eligible to receive in benefits.

The newly-passed CARES Act will provide eligible individuals with an additional $600, which is in addition to their weekly benefit amount.

 

Q: It has been difficult for me to find jobs that are hiring right now. What about reemployment work search requirements?

A: The DEO has also waived its work search requirements for individuals requesting benefits from weeks of March 15, 2020 to May 9, 2020.

 

Q: What if I am denied benefits?

A: If you are denied benefits, you have a right to appeal this decision. Before appealing to a FL District Court of Appeals, there are two levels of appeals in place. Appeal options are available online through the CONNECT portal, or by mail or fax.

Call GLS at 727-821-0726 ext. 247 if you have questions or need guidance.

 

Q: I am a musician, artist, or other “gig” worker. Can I apply?

A: If you are a “gig” worker, artist, or musician, and your employment has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, you will follow the same application, review, and payment process as other applicants do for Reemployment Assistance.

More information on the types of assistance available can be found here.

 

Q: I am not a U.S. Citizen. Can I apply?

A: Yes, but you must be able to provide your A-number or Work Authorization form and you must be “able and available” to work.

  1. “Able to work” means physically and mentally capable of performing the duties of the occupation in which work is being sought.
  2. “Available for work” means actively seeking and being ready and willing to accept suitable work.

For example, if the applicant has an illness or injury that impacts their ability to work, or has a school schedule that conflicts with an ability to work during the week, then this would potentially impact their eligibility.

 

Q: I keep applying for benefits but the system keeps crashing! What do I do?

A: Be patient and keep trying! It can be frustrating, but the DEO is working to hire new employees to help keep up with demand. In addition, they are looking to partner with tech companies to provide an app to use. In addition, the Call Center has expanded hours Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Be persistent! Try during off-peak hours, or even overnight, or calling first thing in the morning.

In addition, CareerSource can assist with helping to reset your PIN on the CONNECT system. They are also offering paper application in English, Spanish, and Creole.

 

*Please note that the CDC is continuously updating its information in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and as such, answers to these questions may change in response. We will do our best to update them as changes arise. 

**For up to date information on Circuit Court priorities, please check their websites directly.

 

THESE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ARE PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE. LEGAL ADVICE CANNOT BE GIVEN WITHOUT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.

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