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Here are six ways to avoid eviction in Philadelphia

(Photo by Erin Blewett)

On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered a nationwide eviction moratorium to temporarily prevent renters from being evicted for nonpayment of rent. The order argues that an eviction moratorium during a pandemic can be an effective public health measure to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, including in homeless shelters.

This update from the federal government comes after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Philadelphia City Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, and Kendra Brooks asked state legislators to extend Pennsylvania’s moratorium without success. 

Pennsylvania’s eviction moratorium expired on Aug. 31. Philadelphia’s eviction moratorium also ended on Aug. 31, and the Municipal Court plans to resume eviction hearings on Sept. 3 for people who were evicted before the pandemic. 

The federal eviction moratorium goes into effect on Sept. 4 and lasts until Dec. 31, 2020. Eligibility includes tenants who submit a declaration form to their landlord and who will earn less than $99,000 this year, reported The New York Times.

With the federal eviction moratorium in place, eligible Philadelphia residents won’t face eviction notices until 2021. Still, the federal moratorium won’t help everyone. Philadelphians evicted for breach of lease or termination of term aren’t covered under the moratorium, which means the Municipal Court can start hearing those cases now. 

>>Read and download information on the Federal Eviction Moratorium Flyer and Declaration here

To help Philadelphians avoid eviction, the Lincoln Financial Foundation’s Community Connections initiative — in partnership with The Urban League of Philadelphia and Community Legal Services — hosted an eviction prevention webinar on Aug. 18. 

Both organizations are familiar with the city’s housing issues. Community Legal Services provides free civil legal services to low-income people in Philadelphia, including same-day representation at eviction hearings. The Urban League of Philadelphia, an affiliate of the National Urban League, is a nonpartisan civil rights organization that provides Black people and underserved communities with a variety of services, like housing counseling. 

During the hour-long “Understanding and Avoiding the Eviction Process” webinar, President and CEO of The Urban League of Philadelphia Andrea Custis and Community Legal Services Staff Attorney Kadeem Morris discussed the eviction process, resources, and COVID-19 tenant protections. 

Below are six tips for people facing eviction, taken from the webinar and additional reporting by Kensington Voice. You can also watch a full recording of the event here. Tip: You might need to register in order to see the recording.

Understand the eviction process in Philadelphia

Evictions in Philadelphia follow a step-by-step process. First, the landlord sends the renter an eviction notice with a move-out date. If your lease waives the notice requirement, you will not receive this, so be sure to read your lease agreement. 

“It’s most likely going to be a demand for payment, ‘You owe me X amount of dollars for some specific period in which your rent has not been paid, and I’m trying to remove you from my property for that reason,’” said Morris during the webinar about the eviction notice.

Still, landlords have to take their tenants to court to legally evict them, so tenants aren’t required to move out by the date on the notice, according to the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. 

If the tenant doesn’t move out, their landlord can take them to court by filing an eviction complaint to the Municipal Court. Landlords are required to give tenants a packet of information from the court about their pending eviction. The packet states the date and time of the eviction hearing and why the landlord is evicting the tenant: breach of lease, nonpayment of rent, or termination of term. Remember: If you’re even a minute late to the hearing, you could automatically lose your case.

eviction Philadelphia
Row homes on Jasper Street in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia on August 17, 2020. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

At the court hearing, the tenant can either fight their case or negotiate a written agreement to resolve the problem with their landlord. If the judge decides that the lease term isn’t over, such as the landlord doesn’t have Good Cause, the tenant won’t be evicted, Morris said. The tenant is also protected from eviction if the judge decides there wasn’t a breach of lease.

If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, the tenant has 10 calendar days after the hearing to file an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas, according to the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord for nonpayment of rent, the tenant has 21 days after the hearing to pay the amount owed to stay in their apartment, Morris said.

Once those 10 days have passed, the tenant’s days are numbered. The landlord may then file a Writ of Possession, which is a court order the landlord gives to their tenant letting them know that they’ll be evicted in 11 days. If the tenant still hasn’t moved out after 11 days, the landlord can file an Alias Writ of Possession, which will allow a landlord-tenant officer to physically evict the tenant and change the locks. 

Any evictions that don’t go through the court process are illegal and can be reported to the police or the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500. According to Morris, tenants who have been illegally evicted can file an emergency petition in the Court of Common Pleas, too. 

For more information about the eviction process, you can read Community Legal Services’ explanation here. Additionally, local media outlets WHYY and The Inquirer recently investigated the city’s flawed eviction process.

Submit a declaration form to your landlord to avoid eviction

The federal eviction moratorium will protect eligible tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent until the end of the year. You can find the form that each individual listed on the lease needs to give to their landlord to prevent eviction here.

Eligibility:

  • The tenant either has an expected income of $99,000 or less for 2020, wasn’t required to report their income to the IRS in 2019, or received a stimulus check.
  • The tenant has tried to get available government assistance to pay their rent.
  • The tenant has had a substantial loss of income, loss of work hours or wages, out-of-pocket medical expenses or has been laid off. 
  • The tenant has tried to make timely partial rent payments.
  • The tenant’s eviction would likely result in homelessness or moving into a congregate or shared living space.

You can read the entire moratorium order here

Take advantage of Philadelphia’s Emergency Housing Protection Act (EHPA)

Led by City Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, and Kendra Brooks, City Council passed the Emergency Housing Protection Act on July 1 to protect Philadelphia tenants affected by the pandemic. The act has five parts:

  • Required participation in landlord-tenant mediation before a landlord tries to evict a tenant who has submitted the Tenant COVID-19 Certification of Financial Hardship form to their landlord. The city’s Eviction Diversion Program runs through Dec. 31, 2020. Landlords can apply to the program here.
  • Hardship repayment agreement for rent owed through Aug. 31, 2021. To enter the agreement, a tenant must give the Tenant COVID-19 Certification of Financial Hardship form and any proof to their landlord. This allows tenants to pay their rent, which was owed from March 1, 2020 to Aug. 21, 2020, by May 31, 2021. 
  • Late fee waiver through May 31, 2021 for tenants who present the Tenant COVID-19 Certification of Financial Hardship form to their landlord. This prevents landlords from collecting fees on late rent payments from March 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021. 
  • Tenant’s right to sue or file a complaint to the Fair Housing Commission if a landlord tries to illegally lock them out.
  • Eviction moratorium through Aug. 31, 2020 (since expired). This prevented landlords from taking any steps in the eviction process. 

If you can’t pay your rent, Community Legal Services’ Kadeem Morris said that tenants should be open and transparent with their landlords by letting them know that they’re having a financial issue.

“So, have that conversation with your landlord upfront. Ask for a payment plan. Ask your landlord to waive late fees. Just start the conversation,” Morris added.

Apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program 

The program is providing $750 per month for up to six months, which will be distributed to the tenant’s landlord. 

To apply, landlords and tenants both need to fill out an application. Eligible tenants must have lost more than 30% of their income due to reduced work hours or wages from COVID-19, or have become unemployed after March 1, 2020 due to COVID-19. 

You can apply to the statewide rental assistance program through the city’s website

Call the Philly Tenant Hotline

If you need to talk to someone one-on-one, you can call the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project’s Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500. The hotline’s staff can help tenants who are facing eviction with rental assistance applications, eviction diversion programs, legal advice, and legal representation.

The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project website has a variety of information and resources for tenants, here.

Ask local organizations for help

Morris said that tenants should ask for help, whether it’s calling Community Legal Services or the Philly Tenant Hotline. 

“This is one of the few times where there are ample resources available to hopefully help everyone, and we want everyone to be as protected as possible,” Morris said.

“Give us an opportunity to help you,” The Urban League of Philadelphia’s Andrea Custis said. “Don’t feel ashamed. Please step up and understand [that] you’ve got the Kadeems and the Andreas who are here. We want you to be successful. We want to get you through this.”


Editors: Claire Wolters / Designer: Henry Savage

Kensington Voice is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.

What did you think about this story? Send a note to editors@kensingtonvoice.com, and we’ll consider publishing it in our Voices section. You can also tell us what you think in person at our neighborhood events.

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