When Linda Mallard’s tenant stopped paying his $650 in monthly rent last February for an efficiency he leases on Northeast 80th Terrace, she hired a private company to begin eviction proceedings.
That marked the start of a nearly yearlong saga, riddled with miscommunication, accusations and mounting unpaid bills, that has left Mallard stuck where she started: a small landlord owed nearly $6,000 in unpaid back rent by a recalcitrant tenant who refuses to pay.
She is also out $550 — the money she paid Metro Miami Landlord & Tenant Center (MMLTC), owned by William Mickens Jr., to file an eviction notice against her tenant that was never filed.
Mallard’s desperation — she’s 66, retired and depends on the rent from four local modest properties she and her father, John Palmer, own — illustrates the frustration shared by landlords stuck with fraudulent tenants who cannot be removed due to the ongoing COVID eviction moratorium. It also highlights the importance of vetting the lawyer or company hired to carry out evictions.
“Right now there are probably hundreds of people like Mickens running around Miami doing the same thing,” said Armando Alfonso, a Miami-based attorney who represents landlords and tenants in eviction cases. “It is not illegal. But a lawyer can represent you in court, which these companies cannot do.
“I’m pretty sure there are lots of clients who are calling this type of eviction company and asking them ‘What’s going on? What’s the status of my case?’ “ Alfonso said. “But if they’re not attorneys, helping you file the eviction is as far as they can go.”
A smooth start
Mallard’s case began smoothly. Mickens, who has operated eviction companies for 30 years in Miami, was recommended by her father, who had used his services before.
On March 11, 2020, Mallard paid Mickens the standard fee of $50 to serve her tenant with a three-day notice, advising him to pay the rent or move out.
But the next day, on March 12, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced a temporary moratorium on Miami-Dade Police carrying out evictions. The ruling allowed landlords to file evictions for the record, but no action would be taken.
Still, on March 13, Mallard paid Mickens another $500 to electronically file an eviction with the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts, hoping to get a spot near the beginning of the line when the courts resumed processing the cases.
But Mickens never filed the case.
On Aug. 1, Gov. Ron DeSantis ruled that courts could begin processing evictions again, even though the eviction moratorium remained in place. This allowed evictions that had been previously filed electronically to start making their way through the court system.
According to the Miami-Dade County Clerk of the Courts, a total of 8,067 evictions (for residential and commercial properties) were filed from March 13, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021. An additional 5,146 residential-only evictions were filed from Sept. 1 to Jan. 15, following DeSantis’ reopening of the court system.
A total of 2,259 Writs of Possession — the final judgment a landlord needs to physically remove a tenant from the property once Miami-Dade Police resume carrying out evictions — were granted between March 13 and Jan. 15, 2021.
A long career
Mickens, 79, has been in the evictions business since 1979, operating companies such as The Evictors of Florida and Rental Management Systems. He is not a licensed attorney. In 1987, the Florida Bar, in a case heard before the Supreme Court of Florida, found Mickens guilty in contempt of court by violating a previous court ruling that forbade him to engage in “unauthorized practice of law” by preparing legal documents in eviction proceedings.
The ruling also stated that when Mickens was given the opportunity to present a statement of mitigation in his own defense, “not only did the [defendant] show no remorse but instead indicated that he would continue to engage in the unauthorized practice of law.” The court fined him $1,000 and sentenced him to 20 days in Miami-Dade County jail.
Mickens said that none of his company’s current services violate the court’s ruling (his clients, for example, are required to file their eviction papers at the courthouse themselves). Nowhere on his elaborate website does he indicate or imply he is a practicing attorney.
“The Florida Bar knows I’ve been doing this work,” he said. “We’ve been doing this work for 30 years and we’ve been doing it well. I know what I am doing.”
But he also admits he was slow in learning the process of electronically filing evictions, which could have sped up Mallard’s eviction of her tenant.
“It’s a process that we are learning,” said Mickens, who occasionally hires part-time legal aides to help him with his company. “I’m not an expert — by no means — on the computer. I thought e-filings were only available to attorneys. But our company has progressed to the extent that we can file cases online now.”
By December 2020, when her tenant’s unpaid rent had reached a total of $5,850 and Mickens still hadn’t filed the necessary paperwork and wouldn’t take her calls, Mallard began to suspect she was being stiffed.
“Mickens could have filed electronically or something,” said Mallard. “The courts were still accepting evictions, they just weren’t processing them.”
When Mickens reached out to Mallard in early January to find out how much her tenant owed her so he could finally file her eviction papers, Mallard decided to cut off the business relationship.
“They asked if I wanted them to finish up and do the rest of the work, and I said ‘No, I don’t want you to do anything,’ ” Mallard said. “ ’Don’t even break a sweat. I got this. We’re going to have to evict the guy ourselves.’ ”
Mallard also asked Mickens to return the outstanding $500 she had paid him.
“He said that they didn’t believe in giving money back,” she said.
Mickens said that he wasn’t able to refund her money because “I had worked on her case, I had prepared her documents and I was only asking her for correct information.”
In another twist, Mickens is currently being evicted himself. His landlord, Angela Johnson, filed a complaint of eviction against Mickens in November, claiming he owes $5,700 in unpaid rent dating back to May for the small one-bedroom home located in the rear of her property he rents for $800 a month. Since the filing, his unpaid rent has ballooned to $8,000.
“I’m a cafeteria manager for the Miami-Dade Public School System so I don’t make a lot of money,” said Johnson, 56. “My bills outweigh what I make. When Mickens started struggling, I told him I was going to evict him.”
Mickens admits he has fallen behind on his bills and offered Johnson a $500 payment toward his back rent in the summer, but she declined to accept it. He blames the effect the coronavirus has had on his business for his inability to pay his bills.
“Business has completely dried up, and I get $850 in Social Security every month,” he said. “I can’t drive and I need to hire someone to take me places. I need that money for food. I need to eat.”
Legal experts, however, say Mickens’ reasoning for not having filed an eviction earlier doesn’t make sense.
“This case is like a law school exam question,” said David Winker, a Miami attorney. “His excuse of ‘I didn’t think I could file an eviction’ doesn’t fly. Landlords are prosecuting their tenants who don’t pay, moving the evictions forward, getting their Writs of Possession and then waiting.
“There is also a nuclear bomb at play in all this called the Centers for Disease Control that could extend the federal moratorium longer [the ban currently ends March 31],” Winker said. “But in reality, when tenants receive these court papers, most of them either pay or move out.”