By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — There are a number of protections in place to help Philadelphia residents who have been financially impacted because of the novel coronavirus pandemic avoid eviction.
Kadeem Morris, a staff attorney in the housing unit at Community Legal Services, advises tenants to start by having an open dialogue with their landlords. The pandemic has caused millions to lose some or all of their income, as some businesses have closed or cut back their hours.
“There are so many things that are coming up at this time that can limit your ability to pay your rent as you typically would,” Morris said. “So have that conversation with your landlord upfront. Ask for a payment plan. Ask your landlord to waive late payment fees. Just start the conversation.”
Morris highlighted the Emergency Housing Protection Act, a package of five bills designed to protect tenants impacted by the pandemic.
The law extended Philadelphia’s eviction moratorium through Aug. 31, requires landlords to enter into hardship repayment agreements with tenants who are experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic, requires mediation between landlords and tenants before evictions can take place, and allows renters who are victims of illegal lockouts to recover damages.
The protections come as Philadelphia faces the looming threat of thousands of evictions, with 5,000 evictions already waiting and thousands more expected to be filed once the city’s courts reopen.
Morris said it’s important that renters are aware they cannot be legally evicted without their landlords going through the court system.
“There’s always been a bill that says that your landlord isn’t allowed to lock you out without going through the court process, but as those of us who do the work are aware that has never really stopped a landlord from trying to circumvent the court process and lock you out,” he said during the webinar. “What the city has done is they have increased the penalty and actually made it that tenants can file against their landlord. You can file against your landlord and your landlord can be fined up to $2,000 per incidence if they try to illegally remove you from the property.”
Renters were also briefed about financial resources that are available to help people pay their rent.
In July, Pennsylvania launched an emergency aid program to help renters and homeowners who are struggling financially. Money for the program comes from $175 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding. About $125 million of the funding is reserved to help renters and $25 million is being allocated for mortgage assistance.
Renters who qualify for the program can receive up to $750 in monthly rent payments for a maximum of six months. Residents who meet certain income guidelines and have lost their jobs or seen their income decrease by 30 percent because of the pandemic are eligible for the program. Philadelphia residents can apply online by visiting phlrentassist.org
Urban League Philadelphia President and CEO Andrea Custis encouraged residents to seek help from the Urban League or Community Legal Services if they are impacted during this challenging time.
“These are tough times,” Custis said. “The worst thing that you could do is avoid what is going on and to act like it’s not happening. I think we need to understand that we’re not in this by ourselves. There are resources available. Give us an opportunity to help you. Don’t feel ashamed.”
Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.