We dealt with the eviction moratorium by the PA Supreme Court from late March through May 11th, despite no relief being provided to landlords who did not receive rent. We fought in court, and although our emergency case was found by the PA Supreme Court not to be an emergency, we did get some limited relief from the Governor’s office with respect to Governor Wolf’s Eviction Moratorium Orders of May 7th and thereafter running through August 31st. We were able to proceed on non-monetary evictions and were able to move forward with some evictions on leases which contained waivers of notice to vacate.
We dealt with a series of court orders from the president judges of different counties setting up different procedures for handling eviction actions, some imposing delays and mediation. We received some help from the legislature which passed a rental protection program, (RPP), pursuant to which tenants who can prove COVID related financial hardship can apply for up to six months’ rental assistance at up to $750.00 per month, paid directly to landlords, as long as their landlords forgive any excess rent for those months over the $750.00 cap.
On September 1st, we were able to work through all of the above issues and start filing eviction actions against those who have not paid rent or utilities since March. However, the rules changed again on September 4th, when the CDC entered its own order imposing a national moratorium on certain evictions. This moratorium covers residential tenants who provide to their landlords the attached Declaration that they meet seven requirements to stay any eviction action. Each adult listed on the lease must sign a separate affidavit, which represents:
- That they have used their best efforts to obtain government rent assistance.
- that they expect to earn no more than $99,000 individually or $198,000 if filing jointly this year, or were not required to report income in 2019, or received a CARES Act stimulus check;
- that they are unable to pay full rent due to income loss or extraordinary medical expenses;
- that they are using best efforts to make timely partial rent payments as their circumstances permit;
- that if evicted, they would likely become homeless or share housing with others in close quarters;
- that they understand they must still pay rent, or be charged for late fees and other charges; and
- that they understand the housing provider may require payment in full on or after December 31.
The CDC order does not affect evictions for criminal activity, threatening the health and safety of other residents, damaging the property, violating health or building ordinances or regulations, or violating other terms of the lease. However, individual landlords or housing providers who proceed with evictions in violation of the CDC order can be liable for criminal fines of no more than $100,000.00 and or one year in jail for violations not resulting in a death, or fines of not more than $250,000.00 and or one year in jail for violations resulting in death. An organization violating the CDC order can be liable for fines of $200,000.00 per event not resulting in death, or $500,000.00 per event resulting in death.
This order is already well known to local Magisterial District Courts and Courts of Common Pleas, and we expect actions will be delayed while courts request the CDC form affidavits from tenants. If you believe you can proceed on any eviction where an affidavit has been filed, get the advice of a lawyer right away, to avoid the onerous consequences of moving forward in violation of the order.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania landlords should not expect to be able to move forward with eviction actions on January 1, 2021 against tenants who have provided declarations under the CDC order but are still far behind in rent by then. Governor Wolf came out on September 8th with a statement to urge the legislature not to allow many families to be evicted after January 1, during the coldest time of the year. Hopefully, legislative action by then will help those tenants but also provide landlords with large amounts of uncollected rent the means to pay their bills as well.