By: Steven M. Williams and Alexander F. Barth
Pennsylvania landlords’ ability to proceed with evictions against tenants who have not paid rent has been furthered delayed by two recent actions. First, on July 9, 2020, Governor Wolf issued a new Executive Order that extends his statewide eviction moratorium until August 31, 2020. Curiously, the Governor has recently stated that the moratorium does not apply to tenants whose leases contain a waiver of the notice to quit required under the Landlord and Tenant Act. Nevertheless, it appears that most courts are not accepting eviction complaints for filing even when a tenant has waived the notice to quit.
Second, on July 1, 2020, Philadelphia Mayor Kenney signed into law five bills passed by City Council on June 17, 2020, which are known as the Emergency Housing Protection Act (EHPA). Most of the EHPA provisions apply only to residential tenants, but some also apply to small business tenants.
The EHPA is more robust than the city’s prior eviction moratorium and provides extra protections for tenants suffering from COVID-19-based hardships. Hardships include, among other things, the inability to work for various reasons, including child care issues or the loss of a job as a result of the pandemic. The EHPA contains many barriers that prevent landlords from proceeding against tenants who have failed to pay rent.
For the EHPA protections to apply, a tenant must first provide to his/her landlord with a written certification that he/she cannot pay rent due to loss of income as the result of a COVID-19-based hardship. If a tenant provides the landlord a certification of a COVID-19-based hardship, the landlord may not proceed with an eviction until August 31, 2020. And, prior to proceeding with an eviction, the landlord must participate in a mandatory eviction diversion program. This requires that landlords and tenants participate in a conciliation conference/mediation to try to resolve the dispute.
In addition to the eviction moratorium, the EHPA also prohibits landlords from collecting late fees or interest on unpaid rent from tenants who have provided a hardship certification. Furthermore, the EHPA requires that landlords enter into mandatory repayment plans, allowing tenants to repay back-rent over a nine-month period.
Lastly, the EHPA creates a private cause of action for tenants who are victims of self-help evictions or illegal lockouts. Tenants can use local police to regain entry into their homes, and they can recover from their landlords any damages they have incurred, together with attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.
If you have any questions regarding the EHPA or how it may impact you, please contact us.
Steve Williams provides a full range of legal services to landlords, property managers, and other housing providers. He can be reached at 717.234.5530 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Barth is an associate in the Real Estate Group at Cohen Seglias. He can be reached at 267.238.4744 and email@example.com.