At a time when Miami-Dade was urging residents to prepare for Hurricane Dorian, county police helped a South Beach landlord evict a 75-year-old woman, whose belongings sat on the curb Friday night.
The pre-storm eviction of Maria Cazanes, her adult son, 81-year-old brother, and about a dozen cats sparked outrage after a Facebook post from a community activist and a story in the Miami New Times. On Sunday, the county mayor who supervises Miami-Dade police said the assistance was a mistake and that Miami-Dade will no longer allow officers to serve eviction papers during a storm emergency.
“The Miami-Dade Police Department will not be evicting anybody during a time of emergency,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during a Sunday press conference at the county’s emergency-operations center in Doral. “We’re going to be stopping that.”
Cazanes wound up at a Salvation Army shelter after the eviction at the apartment at 7th Street and Euclid Avenue. The landlord blamed it on filthy conditions inside the apartment, according to a county police spokesman, who said officers only saw furnishings removed to clear access to the front door.
Rafael Velasquez, the activist who publicized Cazanes’ plight on Facebook, confirmed the apartment was dirty from holding so many cats. He also shared a photo of the English-only eviction notice posted on the door, under the heading “Miami-Dade Police Department.” Cazanes only speaks Spanish, and thought the notice was related to an issue with county authorities over her cats. Though the family has very little income, he said they’ve managed to always cover their expenses in the apartment.
“They’ve very proud of the fact they’ve always paid their rent on time,” said Velasquez, a candidate for Miami Beach City Commission.
Translating for Cazanes from the shelter, Velasquez asked her how she felt learning she could not return to her apartment as a hurricane menaced Miami Beach. “I was very scared,” Cazanes said through Velasquez.
Landlords pay Miami-Dade police’s court-services division to dispatch officers to serve the papers needed for a landlord to back a residence from a tenant, change the locks and remove the property inside.
Juan Perez, the county’s police director and an Gimenez appointee, said the department had no policy against processing evictions when Miami-Dade was facing a hurricane threat. But he said the agency typically held off when a storm got close, since so many officers were mobilized to other duties. He said the department will produce a new policy to match Gimenez’s order, and halt evictions once the county declares a state of emergency. Gimenez issued that declaration Friday morning for Dorian.
“It makes sense,” Perez said.