In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control enacted a nationwide eviction moratorium in an effort to curb homelessness and the spread of COVID-19.
After multiple extensions, the US eviction moratorium is ending on July 31, 2021 ‒ which means landlords can begin evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent, without criminal penalty, starting on August 1.
But with tens of thousands of tenants across Pennsylvania still awaiting rent relief payments from the state government, how should landlords pursue evictions after the federal moratorium expires? Are there alternatives to eviction? What else can landlords do to secure rental payments during this financially-sensitive time?
In this article, Hoegen & Associates, PC dives into these questions and explores everything you need to know about the end of the US eviction moratorium. Let’s get started.
When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant in Pennsylvania?
After the federal eviction moratorium ends on July 31, 2021, landlords in Pennsylvania can, once again, evict tenants for nonpayment of rent.
Currently, there is a local eviction moratorium still in effect in Philadelphia, requiring landlords to first go through an eviction diversion program before filing an eviction lawsuit for nonpayment. The eviction moratorium in Philadelphia is set to expire soon, but there is a possibility that it may be extended.
Nonetheless, there is no indication that another statewide eviction moratorium (which ended last August) will come into effect. Therefore, landlords in Pennsylvania (with the exception of those who lease property within the Philadelphia jurisdiction) will once again be able to file eviction lawsuits against non-paying tenants after August 1.
Landlords can continue to evict tenants who have, for example, violated building codes or lease terms, caused property damage, or carried out illegal activity on the property. Commercial landlords can also evict non-paying tenants if a force majeure clause in the lease agreement does not define the pandemic as a qualifying event.
How to Evict a Tenant for Nonpayment of Rent
Before filing an eviction case against a tenant, landlords must first provide written notice. This notice must advise the tenant on when they need to move out. In Pennsylvania, tenants either must pay the rent due or leave the property within ten days from the date of service of the Notice to Quit.
What if the tenant doesn’t move out or pay the due rent within those 10 days? The landlord can then file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant and seek a court order that will force the tenant to leave.
Is Rental Assistance Still an Option?
Pennsylvania is no longer accepting applications for the CARES Rent Relief Program (RRP). That means tenants not currently covered by CARES are subject to eviction for nonpayment of rent after July 31.
The state will continue to provide assistance for those covered until November 4, 2021. However, the State of Pennsylvania has been slow to distribute relief funds to landlords. It’s likely many landlords will not receive funds until after the July 31 federal moratorium deadline. If a tenant is covered under CARES and payment is delayed, these may not be grounds for securing a court order.
What Are the Alternatives to Eviction?
As of August 1, landlords in Pennsylvania will once again have the legal right to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent ‒ but there are other legal avenues landlords can pursue before taking tenants to court.
Arrange a Payment Plan
Let’s say you have a tenant who has historically paid rent on time and taken good care of the rental property. They recently lost their job, missed the application deadline for CARES, and are slow or unable to pay rent after July 31.
While you can legally file an eviction lawsuit against them as of August 1, it may be more worth your while to coordinate a weekly or bi-weekly payment arrangement for the next few months. This way, the payments are more manageable for them AND you can avoid having to find a new tenant in the coming winter months.
Commercial landlords can pursue forbearance agreements, which essentially helps tenants catch up on missed rental payments while still providing lower rental payments each month.
Negotiate the Rent Amount
Are you willing to work with a good, long-term tenant who approaches you about their sudden financial hardship?
Rents fell drastically in many cities across the US last year in the wake of the pandemic. And it’s become increasingly common for tenants and landlords to negotiate temporary reductions in monthly rent amounts.
A good tenant is worth keeping. Consider lowering the monthly rent amount for a certain period of time until the tenant is able to get back on their feet and pay in full each month. Tenants may even be willing to put in services around the property, like lawn mowing, snow removal, or gardening, to help offset the difference.
Don’t Renew the Lease
In Pennsylvania, landlords have to provide a 30 or 60-day notice of termination ‒ but they are not required by law to provide a reason for non-renewal of a lease.
With that said, if a tenant is behind on rental payments and the lease agreement will soon expire, don’t renew it. By law, the tenant will have to vacate the property by the date outlined in the termination notice. It will then be up to you whether you take them to small claims court to collect the remaining rent owed.
Going forward, you may want to consider signing tenants on month-to-month leases as opposed to 12-month leases. Or, if you lease commercial property, you may decide to include ‒ or not include ‒ force majeure clauses that qualify pandemics as qualifying events.
Seek Professional Mediation
If you and a tenant are unable to agree on an alternative, mediation should be your next step. An independent mediator provides an objective view on both sides of the situation. They can provide insight on how to proceed further and potentially help you and the tenant come to an agreement.
While seeking the help of a lawyer or independent mediator will come at a cost, it can be significantly cheaper and less time-consuming than going through the eviction process.
Understanding Eviction in Pennsylvania
While the US eviction moratorium has helped millions of tenants across the United States avoid homelessness, landlords have taken a significant financial hit.
Do you lease residential or commercial property in Pennsylvania? If you’re a landlord and have been struggling to secure rental payments from a tenant, you’ll soon be able to pursue further action after the federal moratorium expires on July 31, 2021. However you decide to pursue delinquent tenants, make sure you have an experienced lawyer by your side.
Contact Hoegen & Associates, PC today to schedule a consultation with one of our real estate attorneys.