(Graphic by the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. http://www.phillytenant.org/pepp/)
After City Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large) held a press conference yesterday calling on the municipal courts to ban all lockouts and sent a letter co-signed by nine members of City Council, the courts issued an order banning lockouts of tenants who have completed an application for rent assistance.
The court also agreed to provide an updated pre-lockout notice when renters’ last notification occurred before May 1, 2021. Gym commended the municipal court for the order and called on the courts to go further by banning lockouts throughout the duration of CDC’s newly extended eviction moratorium.
“I have heard from families who were locked out but were unable to apply for rent assistance or who had paid all their rent but were evicted anyway,” she said. “At a time when the Delta variant is on the rise, and studies have found that evictions lead to the increased spread of COVID and deaths, I am calling on the courts to halt lockouts throughout the duration of the CDC’s newly extended eviction moratorium.”
“Lockouts are traumatic, dangerous, and counterproductive. We have built nationally renowned alternatives to eviction that can keep renters housed, and help landlords get paid,” Gym added.
“We now need time to limit the spread of COVID by keeping families housed.”
The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project helps connect renters with a coalition of agencies who provide information, support, and legal services to tenants. Tenants looking for information on their rights and resources can go to www.phillytenant.org for up-to date information.
Tenants can attend one of TURN’s daily Know Your Rights webinars: https://rturn.net/tenant-union-representative-network-services/renters-rights-webinar/. The webinars are one-hour sessions which go into detail about what rights and responsibilities tenants have and tenants can schedule one-on-one meetings with housing counselors after the webinar, said Rachel Garland, managing attorney of the Housing Unit of Community Legal Services (CLS).
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They can also call the Philly Tenant Hotline for more advice about their individual case and to be connected with one of the legal services agencies for possible representation.
“Our legal services agencies — Community Legal Services, SeniorLAW Center and Legal Clinic for the Disabled — provide robust legal advice to tenants facing eviction and other rental issues and represent high volumes of tenants in their court proceedings,” Garland said. “They can also connect tenants with PhillyVIP which works to match tenants with pro bono attorneys. The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project also has a Lawyer of the Day team in the eviction courtroom every day who is available to represent a limited number of tenants who arrive at court without having connected with an attorney in advance.”
Since September 2019 the City of Philadelphia, along with its nonprofit partners, has run a pre-filing Eviction Diversion Program. Garland said many tenants are now able to go through Diversion rather than the court eviction process.
The program continues to be required for landlords seeking to evict tenants for non-payment of rent. Tenants can call the Philly Tenant Hotline if they are in the Eviction Diversion Program to be connected to their housing counselor. The housing counselor will reach out to the tenant to help connect them with rental assistance, discuss their issues and attend the mediation date with the tenant, Garland added.
In the three weeks since July 15, daily new cases have risen over 700% in Philadelphia. Last week, the CDC extended the federal eviction moratorium through October 3, 2021 for counties experiencing substantial levels of community transmission — such as Philadelphia. This comes after findings that evictions cause displacement that leads to an increase in the spread of COVID and deaths, according to a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania.
According to CLS, more than 300 renting households are scheduled for lockouts in the coming weeks despite their pending rent assistance applications, and other households may qualify for the CDC moratorium but are not yet aware of their rights.
Philadelphia’s rent assistance program has distributed over $120 million so far, and has yet to distribute half of its latest round of federal and state funding — over $65 million, which could save thousands of renting households from lockouts.
Of the 1,500 households that have completed the city’s eviction diversion program, over 91% of landlords and tenants have agreed on an alternative to eviction.
Philadelphia has recently been heralded as a national model by the Department of Justice, the White House, and the Urban Institute for its alternatives to eviction. With time granted by a ban on lockouts, the city can help landlords get paid, keep families stable, and avoid an unnecessary increase in the spread of COVID.
“Philadelphia has led the nation in preventing a catastrophic wave of homelessness and displacement that would have impacted our most vulnerable residents and greatly exacerbated the deleterious impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large).
“Now, we are calling on the municipal court to act halt lockouts, which threaten to completely disrupt the lives of community members. We cannot stand idly by while Black and brown, low-income, senior, and immigrant Philadelphians are put out on the street, when we could instead be providing them with the support and time they need to get back on their feet.”-30-
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