Pennsylvania’s Moratorium on Evictions Expires as CDC Implements New Nationwide Eviction Order

By Katie Herrmann

Pennsylvania’s 6-month ban on evictions and foreclosures ended this week, which had the potential to leave thousands of Pennsylvanians at risk of losing their homes. Almost simultaneously, however, the CDC announced a new directive halting the eviction of certain renters through the end of 2020, citing the need to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The new order was given with the Trump administration’s approval. Senior administration officials explained that this action is justified because the director of the CDC has broad authority to do what it deems reasonably necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease, and preventing Americans from leaving their homes and moving or entering homeless shelters would put them at high risk during the pandemic.  The nationwide order is not as expansive as Pennsylvania’s now-expired moratorium as it does not prevent foreclosures nor cover tenants who fail to pay rent. Eviction proceedings can now be filed under certain conditions.

Renters must meet specific requirements to be protected under this nationwide halt, including having an income of less than $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, demonstrating they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments, affirmatively declaring they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships, and stating they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

While many consider the CDC’s directive a step in the right direction, others were quick to point out a number of its issues.  The order itself does not stop landlords from bringing eviction complaints, and many fear that this new order provides landlords with a workaround tool to have tenants evicted. Competing claims in a landlord-tenant case will still have to go through the court and judges don’t know what this will look like yet. In Pennsylvania, there was a 4-day lag between the expiration of the state ban and the institution of the CDC directive. On the first day of the in-between period, 181 evictions were filed in Allegheny County, showcasing just how eager landlords are to collect their payments. However, Allegheny County’s latest order of the court seeks to combat this bombardment of eviction filings by requiring landlords to sign an affidavit confirming whether or not their tenant completed the CDC’s declaration form. If the tenant signs the form and meets the requirements of the nationwide order, their eviction case will be stayed until December 31, 2020.

Aside from procedural issues, the CDC’s new moratorium raises other questions such as the scope of power for an administrative agency like the CDC and the adverse effects this initiative has on landlords. Finally, under the moratorium, rent and interest will continue to accrue and will now be expected to be paid in January.  Critics of the order point out that this initiative only serves to stall what will inevitably have to happen—rent is not being forgiven and the money owed to landlords will have to come from somewhere eventually. The housing problems faced by Pennsylvanians are just another example of the negative impacts of the fluidity of a regulatory system amidst the pandemic.

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