The ability of landlords to evict tenants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic through at least Aug. 31 is restricted due to a number of eviction moratoriums applicable in Pennsylvania.
As you’ll see, this gets quite complex since the various restrictions apply based on – among other things – the behaviors of tenants, the type of financing on a property and whether the property owner and/or tenant are getting different types of government assistance. Because of this complexity, the PAR Legal Hotline is not advising callers on whether specific tenants are or are not protected from eviction. Landlords and property managers should contact the local magisterial district justice to inquire about how they are handling eviction cases and should consult with private counsel to determine whether and how to move forward with specific eviction cases.
On May 7, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order suspending a landlord’s ability to evict tenants through July 10. He revised the order on May 22 to clarify that the executive order only applies to residential evictions for nonpayment of rent and hold-over tenants. In July, Wolf extended his eviction moratorium through Aug. 31.
The governor’s current order does not apply to properties with federally backed loans that are covered by eviction moratoriums issued by the FHFA, HUD, USDA or the VA. A moratorium on evictions from properties with federally backed loans was included in the CARES Act and expired on July 24. Each of these agencies then extended their respective moratoriums.
The FHFA moratorium on evictions applies to properties with single-family mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The moratorium currently continues through Aug. 31. As of December 2018, roughly 46% of outstanding mortgages were owned, insured or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, resulting in this moratorium the most likely of the federal moratoriums to apply to landlords. This moratorium is not limited to evictions for nonpayment of rent, meaning it applies to all types of evictions.
FHFA also requires multifamily property owners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to notify tenants in writing of tenant protections if the property owner enters into a new or modified forbearance agreement. Tenant protections include landlords not being able to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent, providing tenants with at least 30 days’ notice to vacate, not charging late fees or penalties for nonpayment of rent and allowing tenants flexibility to repay any back rent over time.
The HUD moratorium applies to properties in the FHA Title II Single Family mortgage programs, including Section 203(b), Section 203(k) and Section 234(c) loan programs. The moratorium was originally set to expire on May 17, but has twice been extended and is currently set to expire on Aug. 31. The moratorium prohibits landlords who own properties securing FHA-insured single-family mortgages from initiating eviction proceedings against a tenant.
The eviction moratorium issued by both the USDA and the VA are similar to the FHFA and HUD moratoriums and prohibit evictions through Aug. 31 for properties securing either a USDA Single Family Housing Direct Home Loan or VA-backed loan.
The Philadelphia City Council adopted the Emergency Housing Protection Act in early July that imposes strict requirements on landlords wanting to evict tenants. This act requires, in part, for landlords to enter into repayment agreements with delinquent tenants, delays when evictions can occur following entering into repayment agreements, prohibits late fees and interest and closes the eviction court until Sept. 2. It is anticipated that new eviction filings will not have a court date scheduled before Nov. 16, due to the backlog of prior cases. This act is currently being challenged in federal court as unconstitutional.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority recently extended its eviction moratorium through March 15, 2021. The moratorium only prohibits evictions based on nonpayment of rent. Evictions are still allowed for other reasons, such as health and safety or other breaches of the lease by the tenant.
Finally, the courts of common pleas in numerous counties, including Blair, Dauphin, Erie, Mifflin and Philadelphia have issued orders limiting the ability to evict tenants through at least Aug. 31 within those counties.
For landlords seeking to recover possession of a property, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order that landlords are required to file with the complaint an affidavit that none of the CARES Act protections apply. This order applies to all complaints filed between March 27 through Aug. 24. The affidavit must be attached to the complaint and served upon the tenant. There are different affidavits depending on whether the complaint for possession is filed with the district judge or in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Search tools are available to help determine whether a property may be subject to one of the federal moratoriums.
None of these moratoriums relieve tenants of their responsibility to pay rent while the moratoriums are in effect. Most announcements have specifically noted tenants remain liable for any rent under the lease. Both Wolf’s announcement and the announcements by the federal agencies also include moratoriums on foreclosures.
Editor’s Note: On Aug. 27, the Federal Housing Administration announced the third extension of its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through Dec. 31, 2020, for homeowners with FHA-insured single family mortgages covered under the Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act.