Federal Moratorium – Halt To Evictions Through December 31, 2020
Pennsylvania’s statewide moratorium on evictions ended on August 31, 2020. Residents in most federally backed or subsidized properties were facing eviction as of late August, if they were served with a thirty-day eviction notice when a federal moratorium ended in late July. As many as 40 million renters nationwide face possible loss of housing in the midst of this pandemic, and estimates are that up 500,000 Pennsylvanian residents are at risk. Our local magistrates reported high numbers of evictions filed on September 1 as soon as the moratorium ended.
Now, tenants may take steps to notify landlords of their circumstances and stop the eviction process. On September 1, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order declaring a Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19. This order provides a nationwide moratorium on evictions for renters who have suffered financially by the COVID-19 pandemic and would face homelessness, have to move into a shelter, or have to double up in housing if they were evicted. The CDC takes this historic action, under the authority of 42 CFR §70.2, because of known health risks to our communities from the lack of stable housing during this health crisis.
The CDC order is effective from September 4, 2020 until December 31, 2020. It provides that any landlord or owner of a residential property with a right to seek eviction or possession “shall not evict any covered person from any residential property...”
Eviction means any action by the landlord to remove the tenant. Evictions do not apply to mortgage foreclosures. Landlords are able to collect and charge rent or fees, but landlords are not allowed to use the eviction process to collect. Tenants who are able to make partial payments or get government assistance must do so.
Renters are “covered persons” and eligible for this eviction protection if they meet the following five parts of the test:
- They have used their best effort 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.
- They don’t expect to earn more than $99,000 in annual income if single, or $198,000 if married and filing a joint tax return in 2020; or, they were not required to report any income in 2019; or they received a stimulus payment during the pandemic.
- They cannot pay the full rent or housing payment due to one of the following reasons:
- “substantial” loss of household income, loss of paid working hours or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (likely to be over 7.5% of adjusted gross income).
- They must use their best efforts to make timely partial payments or payments as close to the full amount owed as “circumstances may permit.”
- If evicted, they would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter, or need to double up in housing with others because there are no other available housing options
The tenant still has an obligation to pay rent, and the landlord can still charge and collect late fees under the terms of the contract. The CDC order does not stop the landlord from charging or collecting rent or late fees under the terms of a contract for rent, so rent is still due, and the entire amount could be due at the end of this moratorium.
Protections from this moratorium do not happen automatically! The tenant must fill out a declaration and provide a signed copy to their landlord. You do not need to send any proof with the declaration, but you should be prepared to back up the declaration if challenged in court by providing reasonable proof of your financial circumstances.
If the landlord has already filed a Landlord Tenant complaint at the Magisterial District Court, there is a form you can fill out and send to your landlord. The magistrate will have copies of the form, or you can find it online. (See AOPC Form.) You may also send a letter with the declaration to your landlord at any time before or after an eviction is filed. There is a website that can help you prepare the letter to your landlord. (See CDC Declaration Form for Tenant.) All adult members of the household should sign a separate declaration along with the head of household or lease signer. The declaration is signed under penalty of perjury, so make sure you understand the declaration.
Certain evictions are excluded from the CDC order and the landlord can file a court action if these are the reasons for eviction. These are limited to the following: engaging in criminal activity while on the premises; threatening the health or safety of other residents; damaging or posing an immediate or significant risk of damage to the property; violating any applicable building code, health ordinance or similar regulation relating to health or safety; or violating any other contractual obligation other than timely payment of rent or housing related payment (including non-payment or late payment of fees penalties or interest).
The landlord should not proceed with eviction if the tenant completes the declaration and is unable to pay rent or late fees for the reasons cited. The landlord should accept partial payments and work with tenants to catch up on the rent. There are criminal penalties for violation of this order. They include up to a year in jail, and fines of $100,000 if no death resulted from the violation, or $250,000 if death results. Organizations can face fines of $250,000-$500,000, and the US Department of Justice is charged with enforcement. This order will be enforced by the federal government and cooperating state and local authorities.
Pennsylvania’s Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) sent information to every President Judge and Magisterial District Court in the Commonwealth, including sample declarations tenants can use to send to the landlord. If there is already a case before the Magistrate, the tenant should fill in the caption of the case, but the form must be sent to the landlord, not filed with the court. Make sure to save copies for the court and make a note of when and how you delivered it to the landlord.
The CDC order cautions that persons who have COVID-19 or are under quarantine are advised to stay at home to prevent spread. Having a medical condition, or perceived to have a medical condition, is not grounds for eviction and is likely covered by state and federal fair housing protections for persons with disabilities, in addition to the CDC order.
If a state or local government has greater protections, the order does not apply. For some tenants in single family property with federally backed mortgages, the CDC order does not apply and the federal moratorium remains in effect because it provides greater protection. (See NPLS Article: Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium from HUD-, FHA-, and VA-Backed Mortgages Extended.)