In Philly, another reprieve for tenants facing evictions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia judge has once again postponed the date on which landlords can resume evictions, giving tenants two more weeks to get certified for the eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control or come to some other agreement with their landlords.

Judge Patrick Dugan ordered the municipal court’s landlord-tenant officer not to issue any “alias writs of possession”— the final document needed for eviction— until Oct. 7. Previously, he’d set the deadline for Sept. 23.

Landlord-tenant court resumed operations after the state and city eviction moratoria expired Aug. 31.

Community Legal Services attorney Vikram Patel said there were some 1,800 cases pending from before the COVID-19 shutdown, including 300 to 400 that were at the “alias writ” stage.

Patel said most of those tenants should be eligible for the CDC moratorium, which went into effect Sept. 3, but tenants had to prove to their landlord that they qualified, which many didn’t realize.

“We’re still in a pandemic,” Patel said. “We still have resources people would rely upon that they can’t access; access to a computer, access to a printer to print those forms out.”

That’s why he was pleased with the extension.

“It gives time for us to assist with collecting all the documentation, getting the forms together and getting them mailed to the landlord,” he said.

The forms certify that tenants make less than $99,000 a year ($198,000 per household), that they attempted to get rental assistance and make at least partial payments and that if they were evicted they would be homeless, requiring placement in a shelter or in another household.

The moratorium lasts through the end of the year.

Patel said landlord-tenant court is still processing about 40 cases per day, but that tenants who qualify for the CDC moratorium are having their cases continued until January.

That is small comfort to Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym.

“We have 2,000 evictions that could be executed as soon as the courts lift their order, and that will create chaos and havoc in our city,” she said. “We need alternatives to that.”

Gym has introduced a bill that would extend the city moratorium through the end of the year, as a start.

“It makes sense to put evictions on hold and for us to get our landlords, our renters, our housing counselors and our governmental bodies together to come up with practical solutions,” she said, pointing to the new eviction diversion program as a model.

“We can help access millions of dollars in rent subsidies that are not being utilized right now. We can walk people through options and help people exit situations that aren’t sustainable,” she added.

Patel thinks rent subsidies are particularly important because, though tenants are not being evicted, they are still responsible for rent payments, and many are falling behind, accumulating debt that will be difficult to pay back.

He urged tenants to apply immediately for PHLrentassist, program funded partially by the state with CARES Act money and partially by the city.

The program, launched in July, originally provided up to $750 a month for six months, but landlords had to agree to accept that as full payment.

City officials hoped it would help more than 6,000 tenants but found landlords reluctant to agree to the terms, so the city added funding to double the subsidy to $1,500 a month.

Suburban counties are still offering the subsidies at the lower rate.

Applications for both programs, though, close on Sept. 30.

There are also other programs available through the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project.

“Mass evictions are not healthy. They’re not a practical solution to what we’re facing right now,” said Gym. “We really need to get more money flowing in to support landlords, to support renters and to help people get back on their feet.”