Last Dec. 14, Dale Matejka, the landlord at 53B Raintree Place, a duplex in Palm Coast, issued a three-day notice to the tenants, Anthony Douglas Debolt and Jacquelyn Ruehle. They owed $2,137. They’d signed a lease in August 2019, agreeing to pay $1,395 a month in rent. By January 4, the unpaid bill had risen to $3,602. Matejka filed a formal eviction notice in county court.
Florida had an eviction ban in effect because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it expired last October. Some federal protection may still be in effect, however: On September 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the order titled Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19, enacted last year, renewed since, and extending the residential eviction ban through June 30, 2021. The order was in effect when Debolt was issued the eviction notice. The federal order prohibits evictions and protects tenants who are “unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income,” who are “using best efforts to make timely partial payments,” who are “taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses,” and who could be rendered homeless from eviction.
The couple at the Raintree Place home, who have children, appeared to fit those very criteria.
“Both Anthony and I were out of work due to COVID19 for close to 3 months,” Ruehle wrote Flagler County Circuit Court on Jan. 10. “During that time we used up everything in our savings to get by. By the grace of God we have both since found new jobs, but we are now making less than 50% of what we used to.” Down to one vehicle to save money, they’re carpooling to work, cancelled their cable television, and have made partial payments when they could, she wrote. “The payment that we have missed was due to having to pay FPL or the Utilities. Now that we have downsized our monthly bills we will be able to make our monthly rent payments. Mr. Matejka has agreed to a payment plan with us following a walk through of the property scheduled for Jan.15th.”
The landlord, meanwhile, had declined to repair the upstairs’ central air unit that broke almost two months before Ruehle wrote her letter, telling the tenants, according to Ruehle, that he “didn’t have it fixed due to us being behind on rent.” They had to buy space heaters for the colder spells and box fans for the warmer days. “There have been a few nights where us and the kids have had to camp out in the living room because the upstairs was unbearably hot.”
Justified or not, a county judge signed the order of eviction on March 5 and awarded $6,550 in damages and court costs. Debolt had “failed to appear” for the hearing. On March 8 a deputy clerk signed the order to the sheriff, ordering him to remove Debolt and Ruehle from the house.
It got worse for Debolt, 33. In early January he was involved in a rear-end collision on Belle Terre Parkway. No one was injured, but he was found to have been driving on a suspended license since the previous October. He had to spend the night in jail and post bail on $1,500 bond. He was to be arraigned on that case today.
But matters got worse still. The day before his arraignment, he was arrested on a second-degree felony charge of making written threats to kill. His alleged target: Dale Matejka, his landlord.
Matejka claimed to deputies that Debolt had been aggravated and had been making a scene with new tenants scheduled to move into the Raintree house in place of Debolt and his family. Matejka told deputies Debolt had become “increasingly angry and agitated over the matter,” with deputies responding to the house on April 4 over a verbal disturbance involving him. Later that evening, Matejka said he started receiving threatening texts. “We will cross paths and on that day when I slap you and make [you] my bitch I hope you pull a gun,” read one. In another, he tells him to “get you a revolver so you don;t have to load or take the safety off you still have a chance.” The sender also warns him that his brother is on the way from Miami and insults Matejka for calling the cops. “I warned I asked u to stop u didn’t I’m not letting it go.”
Most of the texts are incoherent, one of them implying that the sender can’t control what his brother will do to the landlord. The phone number associated with the texts was Debolt’s. When contacted by a deputy through Debolt’s father, Debolt conceded that he’d been angry at the landlord but that his brother was not on his way. That night, Debolt’s father called 911. It’s not clear why. But the deputy reported that Debolt was “observed in talking in the background of the 911 call,” and the call was traced to a particular house on Bunker Hill Drive, where deputies were dispatched to arrest Debolt.
This time, his bond was $5,000.