By: Steven M. Williams
Please Note: This article was updated on Thursday, April 2, 2020, to reflect the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s extension of the eviction ban in Pennsylvania until April 30, 2020. Nothing else has changed.
In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, Pennsylvania landlords now have four separate hurdles that impact eviction proceedings. Initially, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order staying all evictions until April 3. This was followed by some local officials issuing their own eviction bans. Last week, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act). And, most recently, Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a letter providing guidance to landlords.
The Supreme Court’s order is pretty straightforward. Simply, all eviction proceedings are stayed until April 30, 2020. The Supreme Court order does not prevent landlords from assessing late fees for late rent payments, sending required default notices, serving notices to quit, or otherwise “teeing up” eviction cases so that prompt filings can be made and pending cases can move forward after the Court lifts the ban. It merely prevents the filing of any new eviction complaint and the proceeding of any pending eviction case. Because Pennsylvania courts are generally closed, compliance with the Court’s order is not difficult.
Since the Supreme Court issued its order, several municipalities have also issued local bans on evictions. For example, the mayors of the City of Philadelphia and the City of Harrisburg have ordered that no evictions can proceed within city limits. Since the eviction procedure is governed by the Supreme Court, it is uncertain whether these orders have any real effect. However, in municipalities where rental licenses are required, the failure to comply with these local bans could impact a landlord’s license.
Next, under Section 4024 of the CARES Act, there is now a 120-day moratorium on evictions. However, it does not apply to all landlords. It only applies to properties that participate in a covered housing program (as defined in section 41411(a) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (34 U.S.C. 12491(a))) or the rural housing voucher program under section 542 of the Housing Act of 1949 (42 U.S.C. 1490r), or that have a federally backed mortgage loan or federally backed multifamily mortgage loan. The CARES Act moratorium also differs from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order in the following ways:
- It only relates to evictions based on nonpayment default
- It prohibits landlords from charging fees or other penalties relating to nonpayment of rent
- It prohibits landlords from requiring a non-paying tenant to vacate sooner than 150 days after the CARES Act’s effective date or thirty days after a notice to vacate is served, whichever is later.
Finally, in his letter, Attorney General Shapiro encourages landlords to go beyond the requirements of the Supreme Court’s order and the CARES Act and provide tenants with even more time to recover from this crisis and get back on their feet before proceeding with eviction remedies. Shapiro wrote: “Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians have lost wages and jobs during this crisis, and we will need time for businesses to reopen and for our economy to come back when the emergency is lifted. Stable housing is part of the foundation we need as a Commonwealth to fully recover.” While the Attorney General does not have any specific authority to ban evictions or set into place steps to control or limit them, he does have the power to investigate and prosecute violations of the Pennsylvania consumer protection laws. One does not have to think too hard to imagine the potential consumer protection issues that could arise under the current environment if landlords do not follow Attorney General Shapiro’s suggestion.
In conclusion, landlords are cautioned to be fully knowledgeable of the various impediments that now exist in the eviction process and to follow them fully. Failure to do so could result in the imposition of legal sanctions by the courts, law enforcement, and the state Attorney General. In extreme cases, it could also result in the loss of rental licenses and the privilege of doing business in Pennsylvania.
About the Author:
Steven Williams provides a full range of legal services to landlords, property managers, and other housing providers. He assists clients in avoiding and resolving legal problems and positioning themselves to maximize the success of their businesses. Steve can be reached at 717.234.5530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.