Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney signed the Emergency Housing Protection Act on July 1. The act provides relief to Philadelphia tenants who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act is made up of five different bills aimed to keep Philadelphia residents in their own homes. Many residents are wondering will this act affect the Philadelphia landlord and tenant law.
Why Did the Council Pass the Act?
The Philadelphia court system expects over 5,000 evictions to happen when the courts re-open. Additionally, over 135,000 Philadelphia residents have become unemployed since the coronavirus shutdown started in mid-March. The City Council was concerned that when the emergency orders preventing landlords from evicting tenants expire, a slew of at-risk tenants will be evicted.
The Pennsylvania legislature recently passed an emergency rental assistance order that will provide tenants negatively affected by COVID with emergency rental funds. The legislature passed the legislation to help cover any gaps from the federal response. The federal government just expanded the prohibition on evictions of federally backed mortgages by another two months.
Philadelphia Health Secretary Thomas Farley has stated that the city has seen an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the last few days. Also, the rates of hospital stays due to COVID-19 have been increasing again. A total of nearly 1,700 people have died from COVID-19 in Philadelphia.
What Does the Act Do?
The City Council passed the Act after hearing stores of Philadelphia residents who are unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. Council members argued that the adverse impacts of the coronavirus shut downfall heavily on minorities who are concerned about not being able to pay rent. The Act includes all of the following provisions:
- Preventing landlords from evicting tenants through at least August 31st for small businesses and residential renters. The Act provides an exception when there is a risk of immediate harm.
- Renters with financial hardships related to COVID can pay rent over an extended nine-month repayment period.
- Through December 31st, renters and landlords who have experienced financial hardships related to COVID can participate in an eviction diversion program. Those affected negatively by COVID can engage in a mediation process that is designed to help resolve issues before landlords file formal evictions.
- Landlords must waive all late fees on rent during the coronavirus pandemic for those tenants who are experiencing hardships related to COVID.
- Renters who have been illegally locked out of their homes can recover damages against landlords for any injuries suffered by the illegal lockout.
- The Act called on Congress to provide comprehensive relief packages to stabilize the local rental housing market and help property owners, including large rent subsidies for landlords to help them recover their lost revenues.
Landlords Cannot Evict Tenants Until August 31st
The Act that recently passed makes it clear that Landlords are still not able to evict tenants who have experienced financial hardships due to coronavirus until August 31st. On that day, the statewide prohibition on evictions will expire, and landlords will be able to seek evictions after that date. Keep in mind that it is possible that the state legislature will expand that moratorium past August 31st.
In addition to the prohibition in the recent citywide Act, Philadelphia landlord-tenant courts are anticipated to be closed until at least September 2nd. It is more than possible that the court system will also extend its date for re-opening until later, as coronavirus cases continue to increase.
Seeking Assistance Through the State’s Rent Assistance Program
If you are a landlord who needs to evict a tenant, you cannot start eviction proceedings until after August 31st. You can, however, engage in mediation with your tenant. The state of Pennsylvania currently has a $150 million rent assistance program, funded by the federal CARES Act.
Any Pennsylvania resident who can prove that he or she has filed for unemployment or lost at least 30% of his or her income can apply for rent assistance. The tenant will need to prove that his or her income is lower than or equal to the median income of the county in which the tenant lives.
Back Rent Will Eventually Become Due
While federal and state legislation has delayed the due date for rent payments, and prohibited fines for late payment, tenants will still need to pay all the rent that they owe in full. Expert financial analysis have stated that deferred rent payments could total an unprecedented $21.5 billion across the United States. These debts could loom over renters for many years to come.
There will likely be more renters who are unable to pay their rent in the near future. If Congress does not extend its $600-per-month in extra unemployment benefits, many renters who have lost their jobs will not be able to pay their rent. Congress members are currently debating the terms of a new relief package that would provide this additional rent.
Mediation During an Eviction Case in Philadelphia
The Emergency Housing Protection Act has provided that landlords and tenants have a right to use mediation to resolve disputes and eviction cases. The goal of the mediation process is to resolve disputes without a trial. Mediation is often a very good choice for tenants and landlords who have disputes.
Right now, mediation is one of the only options available to landlords and tenants since the courts are closed, and landlords are prohibited from starting the eviction process. During the mediation process, a landlord and tenant can ask a neutral third-party mediator to help them resolve their dispute, or they can try to work out an agreement on their own.
Contact Our Experienced Landlord/Tenant Law Firm Today
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an unprecedented amount of problems for landlords and tenants in Philadelphia. Whatever your landlord/tenant issue is, the skilled lawyers at Abramson & Denenberg, P.C., can help. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.