The public health emergency is straining Pennsylvania landlords and tenants alike. People are losing jobs, taking pay cuts and dealing with illness and even loss of life. These difficulties all too often are causing people to fall behind on rent. Frequently changing state and federal laws and orders make it challenging for residential landlords to keep track of or understand evolving limitations on their right to evict tenants during this difficult time.
Unfortunately, economic stress flows from tenants to landlords and property owners, some of whom are also struggling financially from the inability to collect rent. Normally, a Pennsylvania landlord could move ahead to evict nonpaying renters – and they still can legally evict some – but not all. Let’s look at the federal eviction restrictions.
What is the CDC eviction moratorium?
President Biden recently extended until March 31, 2021, a national moratorium on eviction for late rent in certain cases related to the health crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) originally issued the ban Sept. 4, 2020, through the end of the year, and Congress extended it through Jan. 2021, with the new president picking up the baton from there.
In the agency’s original order (that contains the old expiration date), it explained that an eviction moratorium “can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease” by allowing people to use their rented premises as a place to self-isolate to help stop the spread of illness. Preventing eviction also lessens the chance of becoming homeless or living in congregate settings, both of which present higher risk of disease contagion.
The CDC’s halt on residential evictions, however, only applies to renters who have lost jobs, taken cuts in pay or hours, or faced extraordinarily high medical bills because of the public health emergency. The moratorium does not apply to evictions for other legal reasons like criminal activity or lease violations (other than for late rent because of the health emergency).
Nuts and bolts
To become eligible for eviction protection, a tenant (and in most cases each additional person on the lease) must sign a sworn statement that they meet multiple eligibility requirements. (The CDC’s required tenant declaration follows the text of the agency order linked to above.) Eligibility requirements that a tenant must swear to:
- Use of “best efforts” to get any available governmental rent or housing assistance
- Earnings of $99,000 or less in 2020, no requirement to report income in 2019 or receipt of a stimulus check in 2020
- Inability to make full rent payments because of substantial income loss, layoff, reduction of hours or wages, or extraordinary medical expenses
- Eviction would likely cause homelessness or a move into a shelter or crowded home with others
- Acknowledgment that rent and other obligations under the lease continue during the moratorium
The tenant must give a copy of the signed statement to their landlord, owner of the rented premises or other party like a property management company with the right to initiate eviction. The landlord has a right to challenge the truth of the tenant’s declaration in court and a tenant’s false statement subjects them to potential civil and criminal penalties.
It should be noted that a residential landlord is not under a legal obligation to tell tenants about the federal moratorium, but the landlord still must comply with the CDC order, according to an FAQ document on the CDC website (that contains the old expiration date). Landlords who violate the CDC order may face substantial criminal penalties.
Does the CDC moratorium apply to Pennsylvania?
The federal eviction moratorium applies in any state without its own moratorium under state or local law equal to or more generous than that of the CDC. As of this writing in early Feb. 2021, Pennsylvania has no statewide moratorium, so the federal one currently applies to residential landlords and tenants in the Keystone State.
State legislators, however, have introduced bills that would be relevant, if passed. For example, one would require a residential landlord to offer a 12-month repayment plan to tenants with late rent who meet one of several eligibility grounds related to the health crisis. A tenant who missed four consecutive rent payments under a payment plan could then face eviction. The repayment plan requirement would expire six months after the official state emergency ends.
Another bill would create a state residential eviction moratorium if a governor-declared public health emergency is in effect for tenants not working because of the crisis.
Federal and state mandates are frequently changing as the public health emergency evolves, so landlords should be careful to seek out current information as it relates to any limits on eviction rights.