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A Philadelphia judge has extended a ban on evictions in the city through Oct. 7, which housing advocates say is, at least temporarily, shielding potentially thousands from getting kicked out of their homes.
Municipal Court President Judge Patrick Dugan ordered that all residential evictions cease in the city through the October date, extending his prior order, which was set to expire Sept. 23, and giving another temporary reprieve to renters.
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The halt comes as the city grapples with a potential wave of evictions brought on by job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that there are thousands of Philadelphians who are behind on their rent, which is why most evictions are filed, so without these protections I think we could see a number of evictions that we’ve never seen before,” said Vik Patel, an attorney for Community Legal Services, which offers legal aid to low-income residents.
Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also ordered that evictions stop through Dec. 31 of this year, saying that booting people from their homes could cause the virus to spread if people are forced to move into close quarters with others. Renters wanting to take advantage of the CDC’s moratorium, however, must fill out a form and present it to their landlord.
Judge Dugan’s order does not prevent landlords from filing new eviction notices, but it does mean that tenants will not immediately be locked out of their homes, Patel said. In addition, landlord-tenant officers are required to notify tenants about the CDC’s eviction moratorium, as well, he said.
Dugan’s order “buys tenants a little bit more time,” Patel said, and comes after citywide and statewide moratoriums both expired at the end of August.
Philadelphia has tried to reduce the possibility of mass evictions through a package of emergency housing bills passed in June. The bills include provisions allowing renters affected by COVID-19 hardships to repay unpaid rent over nine months, as well as having landlords and tenants enter into a mediation program before evictions are formally filed.
Renters, Patel said, are not seeking to avoid paying rent but instead are trying to figure out how to make payments even as they are being economically affected due to COVID-19.
“What we get the most questions about is not, ‘How can I avoid paying?’ It’s, ‘How can I find the resources to pay?’ because this is a situation for so many tenants out there,” he said. So it’s not evictions; it’s things like the diversion program that help both landlords and tenants find resources to fill that gap.”
Patel also recommended that people who fear getting evicted reach out for help. One resource is the Philly Tenant group, which brings together various organizations to help people at risk of eviction. Philly Tenant has a hotline that people can reach by dialing 267-443-2500.