News COVID-19 Housing Resources

COVID-19 Housing Resources

Tenant Protections and Eviction Update Spring 2021

Since March of 2020, there have been multiple efforts from the federal government and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to protect residential tenants from eviction. Many of the programs you may have heard of have ended, but some protections are still in place and there are rental assistance programs set up to help tenants pay overdue rent in order to avoid eviction.

Current Protections:

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Moratorium on residential evictions effective on September 4, 2020. This Moratorium has been extended several times. The current end date is March 31, 2021. It may be extended again. Recently, several federal courts have issued decisions finding that the CDC does not have the authority to stop evictions in this way. The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually rule on this issue.

In order to qualify for the CDC Moratorium, all adult tenants in a property must sign a CDC Declaration and provide it to their landlord (and the Judge if the case is in Court). Tenants should only sign the declaration if the following statements are true in their case:

  1. I have used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing (“Available government assistance” means any governmental rental or housing payment benefits available to the individual or any household member);
  2. I either expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act;
  3. I am unable to pay my full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (An “extraordinary” medical expense is any unreimbursed medical expense likely to exceed 7.5% of one’s adjusted gross income for the year);
  4. I am using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses;
  5. If evicted I would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter, or need to move into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters because I have no other available housing options (“Available housing” means any available, unoccupied residential property, or other space for occupancy in any seasonal or temporary housing, that would not violate Federal, State, or local occupancy standards and that would not result in an overall increase of housing cost to you.);
  6. I understand that I must still pay rent or make a housing payment, and comply with other obligations that I may have under my tenancy, lease agreement, or similar contract. I further understand that fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent or making a house payment on time as required by my tenancy, lease agreement, or similar contract may still be charged or collected.

In Pennsylvania, the CDC Moratorium is usually only being applied where the eviction is based on nonpayment of rent, not on breach of the lease or end of lease term. There has not been any court decision finding that the CDC Declaration doesn’t apply in these types of cases, so tenants should still provide the CDC Declaration to their landlord and Judge if an eviction case is filed.

It is important to know that the CDC Moratorium on evictions does not mean that tenants don’t have to pay rent. Landlords may still charge rent and late fees. In fact, one of the conditions for the CDC Moratorium to apply is that a tenant must try to pay as much of the rent as they can, even if they can’t afford the entire amount. A judge may find that the CDC Declaration does not prevent eviction if a tenant has not even tried to pay some rent. The tenant must also try to get help paying rent.

A list of rental assistance organizations can be found here.

CDC Declaration Form for Temporary Halt In Evictions:
http://www.pacourts.us/assets/files/setting-901/file-9976.pdf?cb=321819

ILLEGAL LOCK-OUTS

Self-Help Evictions, or lock-outs, are illegal in Pennsylvania. An example of a self-help eviction is if your landlord has changed your locks, or threatened to, without ever taking you to court. Another is if your landlord has shut off your utilities or made your home unlivable in the hopes that you will just move out.  In order to evict you, a landlord MUST follow the correct legal procedures.

If your landlord has changed your locks, threatened to lock you out, cut your utility service, or refused to make necessary repairs, please contact North Penn Legal Services by completing the online intake form.

Resources for Public Housing Tenants and Tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers

While the COVID-19 crisis continues, HUD is allowing public housing authorities to waive certain rules and procedures in the interest of public safety.  Local housing authorities are encouraged, but not required, to adopt temporary new rules based on the recommendations. HUD has also issued guidance to housing authorities encouraging then to be flexible.

Many local housing authorities have relaxed their rules for reporting changes of income. Most Housing Authority offices are closed temporarily. Changes of income should still be timely reported to the housing authority by mail, fax, phone message and/or e-mail to the tenant’s assigned case worker. Some housing authorities are allowing tenants to self-certify their change in income by signing a sworn statement and providing it to their housing authority by mail, e-mail, or fax. Tenants should hold on to any paperwork to provide at a later date if it is requested.  Note that the $1,200.00 coronavirus stimulus payments ARE NOT considered income that would have to be reported. The stimulus payments are temporary, non-recurring payments that will not impact a HUD tenant’s income eligibility or reporting requirements.

Hyperlinks:
https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PIH/documents/COVID19_FAQ_PIH_3-30-20.pdf