Philadelphia City Needs to Take Action Now to Prevent Mass Evictions due to COVID-19
On March 31, 2020 HELP: MLP joined legal and housing advocates across the City to urge Mayor Kenney and City Councilto take action now to prevent mass evictions across the City related to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In a letter submitted to the Mayor’s Office and City Council, we advocate for immediate action related to :
- The extension of the eviction moratorium through two months past the end of the end of the state of emergency.
Currently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has enacted a moratorium on all eviction hearings and lockouts through April 3, 2020. It is now clear that the public health risk will long exceed the April 3 date calling for action from the City to ensure a prohibition on evictions and lockouts until at least two months past the end of the state of emergency. Additionally, an unprecedented number of Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment compensation benefits in the past week, which will lead to a delay in processing times before beneficiaries receive payment further disrupting individuals’ abilities to pay rent.
- Stopping the rise in illegal evictions.
There has been a rise in illegal evictions in the past week as landlords circumvent the law to evict tenants. Landlords are changing locks, shutting off utilities, and using threats of force to evict tenants rather than using the legal system. City Council needs to amend Ordinance 9-1600 now to include robust civil penalties to deter landlords from illegally evicting tenants and to hold them accountable.
Protecting Families after the Eviction Moratorium
In addition to calling upon the Mayor and City Council to enact the two immediate actions above, we are calling for additional protections to prepare for when the eviction moratorium ends and a large number of renters who have been without work will be unable to afford back rent. To protect families, the City should enact the following actions:
Rent and mortgage waiver
- Rent for April and through 120 days beyond the state of emergency should be zeroed out in recognition of tenants’ inability to pay through no fault of their own. Landlords can be made whole through zeroing out mortgage payments, a waiver of real estate taxes, or other subsidies.
Six-month repayment window
- As an alternative to the rent and mortgage waiver, the City can enact protections for tenants from eviction filings for non-payment of rent through 120 days beyond the end of the state of emergency. Philadelphia can expand on other jurisdictions’ models by coordinating rental assistance that covers a tenant’s rent for one third of the back amount owed, with an agreement by the landlord to waive one third of the back amount owed and a tenant’s promise to repay one third of back amount owed over a six-month period.
Waive early lease termination fees and late fees
- The City should implement a moratorium on early lease termination fees so tenants who need to end their lease early due to COVID-19 related financial hardship can do so without incurring a penalty, provided they give 30 days’ notice of intent to terminate the lease to the landlord. Additionally, tenants who have fallen behind on rent due to COVID-19 and are making a good faith effort to repay the landlord should not be subject to late fees.
Rent freeze and good cause evictions
- The City should extend its already enacted good cause protections in Ordinance 9-804 to all leases and institute a one-year rent freeze so tenants’ rents are stabilized through the recovery period.
Ensure notice of evictions
- The Court should immediately adopt more robust notice rules recommended by the Mayor’s Eviction Task Force in 2018 and the Philadelphia Bar Association in 2019.
Pre-filing diversion program
- The City should expand the capability of the Fair Housing Commission and Philadelphia’s new pre-filing mediation program through Good Shepherd to be able to resolve landlord-tenant issues in a way that stabilizes habitable housing. Individuals should be diverted prior to an eviction case being filed in landlord-tenant court, since eviction complaints docketed in landlord-tenant court puts a permanent negative mark on a tenant’s eviction history and prevents the likelihood of securing safe housing in the future.
Read the advocates’ letter in its entirety. If you agree with the recommendations included in this letter and with protecting the stability of families across Philadelphia during this time of crisis please urge your local elected officials to enact these recommendations now.
This letter was signed by the following organizations, in addition to HELP: MLP:
- Community Legal Services
- Public Interest Law Center
- SeniorLAW Center
- Legal Clinic for the Disabled
- Legal Help Center
- Face to Face
- AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania
- Fair Housing Rights Center
- Philadelphia VIP
- Neighborhood Networks