The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to have a tremendous impact on nearly all aspects of life. Currently, the federal extension of supplemental unemployment benefits is uncertain, which leaves many individuals and businesses in Pennsylvania in a precarious financial situation.
Many individuals may have been unable to pay rent during the last several months due to the loss of income caused by the pandemic. Conversely, they may have been able to cover rent with savings or with stimulus funds in the initial months. Still, as the pandemic wears on with no end in sight and savings accounts become drained, the ability to continue paying rent may be in question – leaving many families with questions about their options and rights.
The CARES Act, Evictions, and the COVID-19 Pandemic – Federal Considerations
Federally, the CARES Act’s eviction safeguards helped as many as one-third of the total renters in the nation, or 23 million Americans, stay in their homes. However, these safeguards have expired – meaning that eviction notices are now legally allowed to proceed. Evictions may start on August 24, 2020.
When the CARES Act was signed into law in March of 2020, it prohibited property owners from filing new evictions related to nonpayment of rent against tenants in many types of publicly funded housing. The ban lasted 120 days – until July 25, 2020 – and during that time, the owners of covered property could not file an eviction, issue a Notice to Vacate, charge late fees, or issue any other penalties for the nonpayment of rent.
Owners must also legally provide 30 days of notice of filing an eviction for nonpayment of rent after the ban ended, effectively extending the ban on filing eviction cases for these tenants until August 23, 2020. After this date, the CARES Act will not provide any protections for individuals who are unable to pay their rent. While there are several political proposals to extend protections on a federal level, nothing has been put into law or executive order yet – meaning that there will no longer be federal protections without further Congressional action.
Pennsylvania Housing and the Pandemic
To provide additional protection for homeowners and renters, the Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, signed an executive order on July 9. To extend protection from eviction and foreclosure until August 31. However, this order only covers homeowners and renters who have not received assistance from the PA CARES program administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), or those that are not already receiving relief through one of several federal foreclosure moratorium programs or judicial orders.
The Pennsylvania eviction moratorium does not cover evictions that are due to tenants damaging property, breaking the law, breaching the terms of the lease, or any other eviction that is for a reason other than nonpayment of rent.
President Trump has recently called for an extension of the federal eviction moratorium and signed an executive order to explore assistance for renters to prevent evictions. He is not alone; many key political figures and organizations have been promoting plans that may assist renters in some fashion. But there is a persistent fear that once the bans end, millions of renters will owe months of back rent that they cannot afford. And for many individuals, they may not even be able to resume current rental payments.
Currently, approximately 110 million Americans live in rental homes. It is estimated that as many as 20% of these households may be at risk of eviction by September 30, 2020. And up to 24 million people across the nation report that they have little to no chance of being able to pay rent in the month of August.
Unfortunately, this data indicates that there may be a wave of evictions across the country over the next couple of months. However, no matter how long it has been since a tenant has last paid rent, the landlord must follow proper procedures before they can legally evict someone.
The Landlord and Tenant Act of1951 outlines the specific steps that landlords must take to serve the eviction complaint and set up a hearing before a judge or magistrate. Other procedures include:
- A notice of lease violation must be provided to the tenant. If it is for nonpayment, they have ten days to settle the debt owed.
- A Notice to Quit must be served to the tenant explaining the violation and the deadline for them to vacate the property.
- If the tenant does not leave the property by the deadline, the landlord must file an eviction lawsuit and obtain a court order to force the tenant to vacate.
- Landlords may not take actions to force the tenant out themselves, such as changing the locks or removing the tenant’s property.
The pandemic is a scary time for many people, and particularly renters. However, renters must have all of the information they need about potential financial assistance options, mediation strategies, and a strong understanding of their legal rights. The best way to remain apprised of your rights is to enlist the help of a Real Estate Attorney in Pennsylvania. Let a trusted attorney help guide and protect your rights in such an unprecedented time.