Categories
COVID-19

A Quick(ish) Breakdown of Florida’s Stay-At-Home Order For Businesses:

On April 1, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order Number 20-91, which is a statewide stay-at-home order for Florida that took effect at midnight on April 3, 2020.  This Order requires persons in Florida to stay at home, unless providing or obtaining “essential services” or conducting “essential activities.” The Executive Order also allows only “essential” businesses or services to remain open.  But what does “essential” mean, what can employees do, and what businesses are “essential”? Below is a noncomprehensive list to help individuals and businesses better understand what they can and cannot do.

Please keep in mind that businesses and individuals should remain up to date with any new Executive Orders that may impact the one discussed above.  At present, this Executive Order does not prescribe penalties for violations, but it is likely that the Executive Order will be supplemented in the coming hours or days to include penalties. Read the Executive Orders.  Additionally, businesses and individuals should also make sure to stay up to date with their county’s and/or city’s orders, because these will apply if they do not conflict with the Executive Order.

If you have specific questions or would like to discuss your specific concerns, please reach out to us.  We would be more than happy to help!

Essential Activities:

  • Attending religious services that take place in churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship;
  • Participating in recreational activities, so long as social distancing guidelines are complied with (these activities include, but are not limited to, walking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, running, or swimming);
  • Taking care of pets; and
  • Caring for otherwise assisting a loved one or friend.

Essential Services, Essential Businesses, and/or Essential Workers:

  • Healthcare providers and caregivers, including, but not limited to, dentists’ offices, urgent care centers, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, physical therapists, mental health professionals, psychiatrists, therapists, and pharmacies;
    • This also includes practically anything in the healthcare space, such as hospital and laboratory personnel (including accounting, administrative, admitting and discharge, engineering, source plasma and blood donation, food service, housekeeping, medical records, sanitarians, etc.), workers performing research and development for the COVID-19 response; public health/community health works that compile, model, analyze, and communicate public health information; blood and plasma donors and their employees; workers that manage health plans, billing, and health information that cannot practically work remotely; workers performing mortuary funeral, cremation, burial, and related services; etc.  For a more comprehensive list of healthcare services that are deemed essential, please refer to the list detailed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, v. 4 (Updated Aug 10, 2021) (“Homeland Security Guidance”);
  • Grocery stores, farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supply, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products). This authorization includes stores that sell groceries and that also sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences.  For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” within the Food and Agriculture industry, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to Food and Agriculture;
  • Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities;
  • Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in this order to work as permitted. To the extent possible, childcare facilities should operate under the following mandatory conditions:
    1. Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 10 or fewer (inclusive of childcare providers for the group).
    2. Children and childcare providers shall not change from one group to another.
    3. If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room. Groups shall not mix or interact with each other;
  • Businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals;
  • Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing;
  • Banks and related financial institutions;
  • Hardware stores;
  • Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes;
  • Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services;
  • Private colleges, trade schools, and technical colleges, but only as needed to facilitate online or distance learning;
  • Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers;
  • Landscape and pool care businesses, including residential landscape and pool care services;
  • Contractors and other tradesmen, appliance repair personnel, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and other structures;
  • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food. Schools and other entities that typically provide free food services to students or members of the public may continue to do so on the condition that the food is provided to students or members of the public on a pick-up and takeaway basis only. Schools and other entities that provide food services under this exemption shall not permit the food to be eaten at the site where it is provided, or at any other gathering site;
  • Businesses that supply office products needed for people to work from home;
  • Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair, and related facilities;
  • Businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate, and which do not interact with the general public;
  • Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residences;
  • Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providers providing transportation services via automobile, truck, bus, or train;
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children;
  • Businesses operating at any airport, seaport, or other government facility, including parks and government offices;
  • Pet supply stores;
  • Logistics providers, including warehouses, trucking, consolidators, fumigators, and handlers;
  • Telecommunications providers, including sales of computer or telecommunications devices and the provision of home telecommunications;
  • Provision of propane or natural gas;
  • Office space and administrative support necessary to perform any of the above-listed activities;
  • Open construction sites, irrespective of the type of building;
  • Architectural, engineering, or land surveying services;
  • Assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and adult daycare centers, and senior residential facilities;
  • Factories, manufacturing facilities, bottling plants, or other industrial uses.  For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” within the
  • Manufacturing industry, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to Manufacturing;
  • Waste management services, including collection and disposal of waste;
  • Any business that is interacting with customers solely through electronic or telephonic means, and delivering products via mailing, shipping, or delivery services;
  • Public, private, and voluntary personnel (front line and management) in emergency management, law enforcement, fire and rescue services, emergency medical services, and private security, to include public and private hazardous material responders, air medical service providers (pilots and supporting technicians), corrections, and search and rescue personnel.  This also includes 911 call center employees that cannot perform their duties remotely, vendors that support law enforcement service and response operations, public agency workers that respond to abuse and neglect allegations, workers that support weather disaster/natural hazard mitigation and prevention activities, etc.;
  • Workers supporting the energy sector, regardless of the energy source (including but not limited to nuclear, fossil, hydroelectric, or renewable), segment of the system, or infrastructure the worker is involved in, or who are needed to monitor, operate, engineer, and maintain the reliability, safety, environmental health, and physical and cybersecurity of the energy system. For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” within the Energy industry, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to Energy;
  • Employees needed to operate and maintain drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure.  This is fairly broad. For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” related to Water and Wastewater, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to the Water and Wastewater;
  • Workers who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential public works facilities and operations, including bridges, water and sewer main breaks, fleet maintenance personnel, construction of critical or strategic infrastructure, traffic signal maintenance, emergency location services for buried utilities, maintenance of digital systems infrastructure supporting public works operations, and other emergent issues;
  • Workers who provide support, such as road and line clearing, to ensure the availability of and access to needed facilities, transportation, energy and communications;
  • Information technology workers.  For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” related to the Information Technology industry, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to Information Technology;
  • Elections personnel to include both public and private sector elections support;
  • Workers supporting the operations of the judicial system;
  • Trade Officials;
  • Clergy for essential support;
  • Staff at government offices who perform title search, notary, and recording services in support of mortgage and real estate services and transactions;
  • Residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services;
  • Workers supporting the chemical and industrial gas supply chains, including workers at chemical manufacturing plants, workers in laboratories, workers at distribution facilities, workers who transport basic raw chemical materials to the producers of industrial and consumer goods, including hand sanitizers, food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, paintings and coatings, textiles, building materials, plumbing, electrical, and paper products.  For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” related to the Chemical industry, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to Chemicals;
  • Workers who support the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and U.S. Military. These individuals include, but are not limited to, space and aerospace; mechanical and software engineers (various disciplines), manufacturing/production workers; IT support; security staff; security personnel; intelligence support, aircraft and weapon system mechanics and maintainers; and sanitary workers who maintain the hygienic viability of necessary facilities.  For more information on the specifics of what is “essential” related to the Defense Industrial Base industry, please refer to the Homeland Security Guidance, which features a section specifically dedicated to Defense Industrial Base;
  • Workers in animal shelters;
  • Workers responsible for the leasing of residential properties to provide individuals and families with ready access to available housing;
  • Workers responsible for handling property management, maintenance, and related service calls who can coordinate the response to emergency “at-home” situations requiring immediate attention, as well as facilitate the reception of deliveries, mail, and other necessary services;
  • Workers providing personal and household goods repair and maintenance;
  • Workers providing disinfection services, for all essential facilities and modes of transportation, and supporting the sanitation of all food manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail;
  • Support required for continuity of services, including commercial disinfectant services, janitorial/cleaning personnel, and support personnel functions that need freedom of movement to access facilities in support of front-line employees; and
  • Postal, parcel, courier, last-mile delivery, and shipping and related workers, to include private companies.

 

Categories
COVID-19 Property Management

COVID-19’s Impact on Evictions and Foreclosures

On March 18, 2020, President Donald Trump ordered a moratorium on the foreclosures of mortgages that are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  That moratorium arose from the President’s proclamation that the COVID-19 outbreak constitutes a national emergency.  The moratorium is expected to stay in effect for at least the next sixty days.

Commercial Outdoor RetailAlthough the effect of the President’s moratorium has thus far had a somewhat limited impact locally, other events have caused either extreme delays or complete stoppages of foreclosures and evictions.  For example, Hillsborough County Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta recently issued an Administrative Order that expressly authorized the Sheriff to completely cease the execution of Writs of Possession arising from eviction suits until at least April 20, 2020.  It is a fair presumption that the holding of Writs of Possession by the Sheriff’s Department will continue past April 20, 2020, if the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not significantly improved by that time.

Judge Ficarrotta’s Administrative Order has effectively stopped the completion of evictions in Hillsborough County.  It is unknown if the Hillsborough County Sheriff will apply Judge Ficarrotta’s Administrative Order to commercial evictions, as they are not specifically mentioned.

Hillsborough County is not the only Florida County with stoppages in the court system.  In almost every Florida county, the Clerk of Court’s Office is closed to the public.  Further, at least thirty-seven separate Sheriff’s Departments in Florida have ceased executing Writs of Possession.  Even in counties where the Sheriff’s Department is still in action, landlords are faced with judges who are only handling cases that are “mission critical.”

If you decide to file for eviction, it is our firm’s recommendation that you move forward quickly – especially on commercial evictions, as the intent of the Order appeared to be related to dwellings.  Although you will very likely hit a stoppage, we think it is important to advance your case as far as possible and get in line as early as possible, so that your case is more quickly addressed when the court system resumes full operations.

Categories
COVID-19 Transactional Law

Notarized from the Comfort of Your Home: COVID-19 Does Not Stop Florida’s Online Notaries Public

With bank lobbies closed and large numbers of people working from home to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are without reliable notaries public or do not want to risk potential exposure to the virus through physical interactions. This has many scrambling to comply with critical deadlines or otherwise take care of business. However, fortunately, Florida has joined the ranks of states that permit online notarial acts, and people can have their documents notarized from the comfort of their own homes or offices, even if outside of Florida.

But not so fast! Not just any notary public can complete online notarizations.

Businessman writing testament at notary public officeIf you are in need of an online notary public, look for someone who holds the designation of a Remote Online Notary service provider, or “RON.” This notary public has registered with the State as an online notary, posted a $25,000.00 bond, holds $25,000.00 of errors and omissions insurance and has completed the required educational course.

Once a qualified online notary public is selected and retained, the online public notary will confirm the identity of the signer either through personal knowledge or through the following: (1) remote presentation of the signer government-issued ID, (2) authentication of the ID, and (3) knowledge-based authentication, which involves answering at least five questions within a two-minute time span, such as what vehicles the signer has owned or where they have lived.

The signer will then appear before the online notary public by means of audio-video communication technology that allows for real-time, two-way communication in which the participants are able to see, hear, and communicate with one another. This technology will be used to record the signer and the online notary public as they complete the signing of the document in question and the required notarial act.

See? The process is easy enough, but please keep in mind that it still takes longer than in-person notarization, and because most notaries are not RON’s and many people are seeking out RON’s right now due to COVID-19, finding an available qualified notary can be difficult. Those seeking notarial services—especially those under deadline—should prepare their documents and retain a RON to complete the notarial act as soon as possible.

Also note, that online notaries are unable to solemnize marriages or notarize probate instruments until July 2020.

If, someone is up against a deadline and absolutely cannot find a RON or an in-person notary to perform a required notarial act, the Florida Supreme Court issued Administrative Order AOSC20-16 on March 18, 2020, which temporarily allows oaths to be administered remotely for testimony, depositions, and other out-of-court legal testimony, so long as the notary or other qualified person can positively identify the “witness” via audio-video communications equipment. This arguably could provide a basis for allowing any notary that is not a RON to perform a remote notarial act. Please keep in mind though that the AOSC20-16 is not entirely clear and might apply to only testimony like depositions, where there is a requirement that the individual administering the oath be physically present—and not to non-litigation-related documents such as documents required to close real estate deals or comply with Florida’s Construction Lien law.

Categories
COVID-19 Transactional Law

Businesses Beware: A Stack of Mail Can Be a Stack of Liability

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

It appears that “pandemic” should be added to this famous, unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service. COVID-19 has reportedly caused “only minor operational impacts” to USPS’s ongoing delivery of mail. FedEx and UPS also continue to make deliveries with limited interruptions, despite the spread of the Coronavirus.

Mail Piling Up on a Desk

Even during this surreal time of national emergency, when many companies embrace social distancing and remote work, they still need to remain vigilant about their mail and deliveries. Unless instructed otherwise, carriers will continue to do their part in keeping our economy moving. Businesses must take measures to ensure that any legal notices are regularly opened, reviewed and timely addressed or provided to counsel, as they could contain important legal deadlines.  These deadlines are ignored at a business’s peril:

  • Contractors that miss a construction defect notice may inadvertently waive their opportunity to repair, and also face sanctions in any subsequent litigation;
  • Landlords that neglect a written demand for verified lease provision pursuant to Florida Statute 713.10, may open their property up to liens by their tenants’ contractors;
  • Associations that fail to comply with requests for record inspections could be liable for damages; and
  • Generally, any party to a contract could miss an opportunity to cure a notice of default.

Despite the interruptions to daily life, legal deadlines will be largely unchanged, especially when the courts remain open.

If mail is being ignored or neglected, companies could discover days or weeks too late that the stack of mail that had been piling up is actually a stack of liability.

 

Categories
COVID-19 Property Management Real Estate

What Landlords and Property Managers Should Be Doing During COVID-19

As the nation responds to the Coronavirus outbreak, we are all hopeful for the best outcome. During these trying times, however, consider the following:

Communicate: In times of trouble, one of the most important factors is a constant and open line of communication. This is also true for landlords and property management teams. While practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19, communication via e-mail, phone and video chatting should be utilized. Have an open line of communication with each tenant. Notify them of continued monitoring of the national and local situations, as well as, ask them to notify you if there is any change in their health or employment status.

Rent: As of this date, there has been no government-mandated abatement of rental payments. However, many Florida jurisdictions have stayed their evictions during this pandemic. Landlords and property managers should continue to monitor the situation to stay up to date with any changes and communicate with tenants accordingly.

Inspections: Cancel all regular onsite inspections until further notice.

Repairs: Tenants should be notified that repair requests are to continue as they always have, however, repairs will be prioritized according to necessity. Obviously, plumbing, electrical and HVAC issues will take priority over others.

As the nation responds to the Coronavirus outbreak, we are all hopeful for the best outcome. As we move forward through these unprecedented times, continue to monitor developing and changing legislation and court orders to ensure that you are not opening yourself up to any sort of liability. As information comes available, continue to communicate with your tenants so all parties have a clear understanding of the nature of these events.

If you have any questions or need guidance regarding your potential exposure and/or responsibilities during this crisis, please contact Lieser Skaff Alexander to speak with one of our Florida landlord/property manager attorneys.

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