Since our last article on eviction moratoriums several weeks ago, significant changes have occurred regarding COVID-related eviction moratoriums in Pennsylvania.
Gov. Wolf’s Eviction Moratorium
Gov. Tom Wolf initially issued an eviction moratorium on May 7 that went through July 24, later extending it through Aug. 31. While there were calls for him to extend the moratorium a second time, the governor publicly stated that he lacked the legal authority to again extend the eviction moratorium and encouraged the General Assembly to pass legislation to extend the moratorium.
Legislation was introduced that would specifically ban all evictions and foreclosures through the end of the year. The proposed legislation would also grant the governor authority to suspend evictions and foreclosures during a disaster emergency, with the suspension continuing for 90 days’ after a disaster emergency ends.
Local Moratoriums and Court Orders
We are not aware of any new eviction moratoriums imposed by local municipal governments.
However, two bills and one resolution were recently introduced before the Philadelphia City Council prohibiting evictions in most circumstances through Dec. 31, requiring landlords to enter into hardship repayment agreements with tenants without any penalties, and seeking to hold hearings on the role of the Philadelphia landlord-tenant officer position.
Several courts in Pennsylvania have also entered orders relating to landlord tenant matters. The CARES Act affidavit still must be completed by landlords and filed with the court when seeking an eviction.
CARES Act and Federally-Backed Mortgages
The eviction moratorium under the CARES Act expired on July 24. Moratoriums issued by FHFA, HUD, USDA and the VA were extended through at least Dec. 31.
CDC Eviction Moratorium
The biggest change was the CDC order issued on Sept. 4 that imposed a nation-wide residential eviction moratorium through Dec. 31. The CDC’s eviction moratorium only prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent. Evictions for other reasons are not prohibited by the CDC eviction moratorium.
To be protected from eviction under the CDC eviction moratorium, each adult tenant must complete and provide to the landlord an affidavit under penalty of perjury certifying:
- The tenant has used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing;
- The tenant expects to earn less than $99,000 for the year or $198,000 if married filing jointly, did not report any income to the IRS in 2019 or receive a CARES stimulus check;
- The tenant is unable to pay rent in full due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours or work or layoffs or out-of-pocket medical expenses of at least 7.5% of a tenant’s annual income;
- The tenant is making best efforts to make timely partial rental payments;
- If evicted, the tenant would become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter or have to move in with someone else in close quarters;
- The tenant understands that the tenant still owes all rent and any fees, penalties or interest due for untimely rent; and
- The tenant can be evicted on Dec. 31, 2020, if all past-due rent, fees, penalties or interest remain unpaid.
A tenant is able to provide the affidavit to the landlord either prior to the commencement of eviction efforts or at any time during eviction proceedings.
Eviction is broadly defined as “any action by a landlord, owner of a residential property or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or a possessory action.” Based on this definition, prohibited actions could include issuing or posting a notice to quit, filing an eviction complaint or requesting a writ of possession. The definitions of a “covered person” and “eviction” are expansive enough that this moratorium may even prevent ejectment actions against unlawful occupants.
Violations by landlords of the CDC eviction moratorium can result in significant criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and one year in jail if a person does not die and $250,000 and one year in jail if a person dies. If the landlord is an organization, such as an LLC or corporation, the fine can be up to $200,000 if no one dies and $500,000 if a person dies.
There are a lot of questions regarding this eviction moratorium that remain unanswered at this time. Several county court systems have entered orders regarding the handling of evictions in light of the CDC eviction moratorium. Landlords should first check with the legal counsel and their local courts before for current eviction procedures and requirements. There is currently at least one legal case challenging the ability of the CDC to issue its eviction moratorium.