By Sophie Lovering
Sophie Lovering is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and minoring in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.
On Monday, March 29, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended a nationwide ban on evictions through June of 2021 . Prior to this announcement, the moratorium deadline was March 31, determined by President Joe Biden in December of last year . The initiative was first established at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with landlords and tenants struggling to maintain incomes and pay their mortgages .
According to CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the goal of keeping people in their homes is to get them “out of crowded or congregated settings…like homeless shelters” . Notably, however, the moratorium on evictions applies only for nonpayment of rent; other lease violations remain valid grounds for eviction .
In addition to the CDC order, Biden’s American Rescue plan passed in early March and provided Americans with $21.5 billion for rental assistance, bringing the total accrued aid to $45 billion . Rental assistance applies to individuals who earn $99,000 or less annually, or couples filing jointly who make $198,000 or less.
In Philadelphia, almost one third of adults currently live in a home that is behind on rent payments . Even before the pandemic, landlords filed 20,000 evictions each year in Philadelphia’s landlord-tenant court . Black Philadelphians face eviction and its associated threats more than twice as often as white renters .
City Councilmembers such as Helen Gym have been working with tenant advocates to prevent evictions since 2017 . Gym and Community Legal Services have been marginally successful in their goal, passing a right-to-counsel bill ensuring that low-income and high-risk renters have guaranteed representation in work . In 2018, the Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response published a report including 17 recommendations to help renters, one of which was establishing a mediation program for landlords and tenants before they file in court . Despite this recommendation, the program was not established until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last June, Philadelphia’s City Council passed the Eviction Diversion Program . Between September and mid-March, the diversion program received over 2,000 applications, preventing the unnecessary harms of eviction during the pandemic . Last Wednesday, the Municipal Court of Philadelphia ordered that, for the next 45 days, landlords must enroll in the diversion program and apply to PHLRentAssist prior to filing an eviction for nonpayment .
Can Philadelphians be locked out of their homes? Yes. A landlord has the right to ask the court for permission to do an eviction lockout prior to May 16, however the tenant must have seriously broken the lease to warrant any action .
Though the nationwide moratorium and Philadelphia’s mandate do keep many Philadelphians sheltered, it does present a future threat. The CDC’s order does nothing to prevent rent from accruing. Tenants that are struggling to maintain an income as a result of the pandemic risk hurting their future credit scores, and thus their future housing opportunities, once the moratorium is eventually lifted and they have to pay months of missed rent . Landlords may also face this issue, as many of them use renters as a source of income; notably, they also benefit from the aforementioned relief programs. Though there are some safeguards in place for renters and their landlords, Philadelphia companies resumed shutoff of electric, gas, and landline for nonpayment as of November 2020 .
If you are struggling with rent payments as a result of COVID-19, you can visit www.phillytenant.org/covid for more information about your rights and protections.
 Allen, Taylor. “CDC extends eviction ban through June as 30% of Pa. households fall behind on rent.” WHYY. March 29, 2021. https://whyy.org/articles/cdc-extends-eviction-ban-
 The Editorial Board. “Philly may have just revolutionized evictions.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. April 5, 2021. https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/philadelphia-eviction-
 Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. April 5, 2021. http://www.phillytenant.org/.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.