As a litigator since 1984, I have lost a few cases which I felt I deserved to win, won some cases I thought were questionable, but have almost never felt as though I was denied the opportunity to have any court actually consider the facts and law presented by me.
On July 31st, when I received the dismissal of our case per curiam as improvidently granted, with no opinion after the court not only accepted our case under its King’s Bench extraordinary jurisdiction, but requested additional briefing on two significant constitutional issues, I did feel my clients and I were denied the opportunity to have our case properly considered, and even the respect of a reasoned opinion supporting the decision of our State Supreme Court. I felt that Justice Wecht, who wrote an impassioned 14-page dissent, was the only Justice to attempt to give the important constitutional issues on separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of Pennsylvania government raised in our case fair consideration.
We will not rest as landlords across the Commonwealth face not being paid rent for the occupancy of residential property they own, and not being able to use the only collection tool they normally have, the threat or actual process of eviction, against those who have not paid for the use of property which they occupy but do not own, now for six months.
Those who have not paid on car loans have had cars repossessed, those who have not paid on credit cards have had accounts frozen, but owners of residential real estate must pay their mortgages, taxes, insurance and maintain utilities, cut grass and clean their properties, pay for trash to be removed and send plumbers, electricians and roofers to maintain their rental properties, all while tenants are permitted by the Governor’s order to stay without paying any rent at all.
While the Governor’s order applies generally to residential leases, help to landlords from the PA Rental Protection Program is limited to qualified low-income tenants who are willing to apply for the assistance, who can prove their need for assistance, and whose landlords must agree to accept a maximum of $750.00 per month from the program and waive all other rent for months for which they receive those funds, even though median rents in this area are about double that amount.
We will be refiling our action in Commonwealth Court under that court’s original jurisdiction, and expect the case to eventually be heard and decided on its merits by that court, and thereafter on appeal by the PA Supreme Court. That timeline will not, however, address the immediate needs of landlords deprived of rent for the last six months, and likely for many more months.
We did receive some good news also on July 31st for PA landlords. I understand that the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has called the Governor’s directive on his Frequently Asked Questions page regarding COVID-19 to the attention of all Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judges. This directive should allow us to proceed with evictions of tenants whose leases contain a waiver of the notice to vacate which the Governor’s order affects.
Many PA residential leases include such a waiver, which is specifically allowed under the Landlord-Tenant Act. Most Magisterial District Judges have been unwilling to allow evictions to proceed on leases containing such waivers due to the ambiguity of language in the Governor’s executive orders. We hope this action by the AOPC will provide clarity to the Magisterial District Judges across Pennsylvania, and allow evictions to proceed when appropriate, while we await the process for full consideration of our case by the Commonwealth Court.