Protection from Eviction During COVID-19: Pennsylvania and (Some) Federal Eviction Moratorium Ending
Tenants across the United States are facing eviction due to loss of income and a sudden inability to pay rent. The federal government has passed several laws to help tenants. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf has issued emergency orders to protect tenants. The Pennsylvania court system has also issued emergency orders that affect tenants’ rights.
For some tenants, these protections allow time for their unemployment claims to be processed, so they have enough money to pay the rent. Others may be recovering from illness or caring for family members, and waiting for a return to work. There are different state rules and federal laws that may help tenants during this crisis. Legal advocates are paying careful attention to changes in law at the federal and state levels, as there may be updates to these orders or extensions at any time.
Pennsylvania Eviction Moratorium
Many Pennsylvania residents are coping with the loss of income due to COVID-19. Pennsylvania has taken steps to slow down evictions and stopped many landlords from serving eviction notices. Early in the spring, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an Emergency Order stopping evictions, but this Order ended on May 11, 2020. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a new emergency order, effective May 11, to continue the eviction moratorium for certain tenants. On July 9, 2020, the Governor issued an extension of the eviction moratorium to August 31, 2020. One important purpose of the Governor’s order is to allow time for tenants to seek state or local assistance, if needed, to pay rent due from March through December 2020.
The Governor’s order provides as follows:
All residential eviction proceedings requiring compliance with the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 and the Manufactured Home Community Rights Act cannot commence until August 31, 2020. All eviction timelines must be computed with a start date of August 31, 2020, at which point any previously delivered Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 and Manufactured Home Community Rights Act notices will be deemed delivered and any eviction proceedings may commence. PA Executive Order dated July 9, 2020
This Order staying notice requirements applies to any Landlord or Manufactured Home Community that is required to send a Notice to Quit, and has a tenant who is either behind on the rent or the lease is scheduled to end during this period. If the tenant is behind in rent or lot rent, has lost income or are on unemployment, they should apply for financial assistance as soon as possible.
The Governor’s Order does not forgive rent. All rent will still be owed to the landlord during this time period. Tenants who do not pay may have an eviction case filed against them after August 31, 2020. The tenant and landlord may reach an agreement to lower rent or enter into a payment agreement, and that should be in writing and signed by the parties. This may be done with the help of a lawyer or a local mediation program, if one is available.
The Federal CARES Act
Many tenants in Pennsylvania will also qualify for protection under a federal law called the CARES Act. This law applies to tenants with a HUD rent subsidy. This includes tenants who live in public housing or a low income housing tax credit building, or who have a voucher under Section 8, or who participate in the HOME or HOPWA programs, or who live in Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), subsidized senior housing, or any other type of HUD-funded housing.
CARES Act protections also apply to tenants who live in properties that have a federally-backed single-family or multi-family mortgage. This includes mortgages that are
- Insured by the FHA;
- Guaranteed, provided by, or insured by HUD, the VA, or the USDA; and/or
- Guaranteed or owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
A tenant may not know if the building they live in has a federally-backed mortgage. The landlord or the building owner should know whether the mortgage is federally-backed. If it is, the building owner can’t file an eviction against a tenant for nonpayment of rent or fees until after August 26, 2020. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court now requires that every landlord must file an affidavit and attach it to the complaint when filing at the magisterial district court (MDJ) or the court of common pleas (CCP).
If the landlord files an eviction before August 26, 2020, or does not include the Affidavit with the filing, the tenant or their attorney should attend the hearing and ask that the case be dismissed. The tenant or their attorney should check to see if the property is one that might be covered by the CARES Act.
If the CARES Act applies, the landlord can’t file an eviction for nonpayment of rent or fees added between March 27 and July 25, 2020, unless they first:
- Give the tenant a 30-Day Notice to Quit that begins on or after July 25, 2020; and
- Wait until after the 30-day Notice to Quit is expired before they file the eviction case.
The earliest date that an eviction can be filed in a case that is covered by these CARES Act protections would be August 26, 2020. The landlord cannot collect late fees for rent that was late or unpaid between March 27 and July 25, 2020. If the MDJ (Magisterial District Judge) finds that the landlord followed all the rules above, they may issue a judgment in favor of the landlord. The CARES Act only protects tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent or late fees. There are no restrictions about filing an eviction case for a reason other than nonpayment of rent, such as breach of the lease. But the MDJ should not issue a judgment for rent in arrears (one or more payments have been missed), since it should not be part of the complaint. Either party may appeal the decision of the MDJ to the Court of Common Pleas if they disagree with the notice of judgment.
Rent During Coronavirus
Rent was not suspended during the eviction moratorium. All tenants must continue to pay their full rent. A tenant who is not able to pay the full rent should talk to their landlord and see if they will accept a payment plan or temporarily accept less rent. A tenant who qualifies for tenant protections under the federal CARES Act can’t be charged late fees for nonpayment of rent between March 27 and July 25, 2020. If a tenant needs help paying rent, there are programs set up to provide rent assistance. Anyone who is interested in learning about rental assistance programs in Pennsylvania can dial 211 for more information. See also our article on the PHFA Rent Relief Program and Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program.
See also our article: Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium from HUD-, FHA-, and VA-Backed Mortgages Extended