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Philly Municipal Court halts evictions for some who have applied for rental assistance

A court order will prevent tenants with "complete" rental assistance applications from being locked out of their homes.

City Councilmember Helen Gym speaks during a news conference Monday calling on the Municipal Courts to halt all lockouts during the CDC moratorium, which runs through Oct. 3.
City Councilmember Helen Gym speaks during a news conference Monday calling on the Municipal Courts to halt all lockouts during the CDC moratorium, which runs through Oct. 3.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Starting Saturday, Philadelphia landlords won’t be able to lock tenants out of their homes if their pending rental assistance applications have been marked “complete,” according to an order that the Philadelphia Municipal Court issued Monday.

Since lockouts picked up in the city last month, tenants waiting for funds have been among those evicted. More than 45,000 renters have applied for assistance, and the city continues to slog through applications. Some tenants have been waiting since the spring to find out whether they will receive rent relief.

More than 25,000 applications are marked as completed, so those tenants are covered under the order, according to the city. More than 37% of applications are being marked incomplete, which requires applicants to resubmit documents for further review, according to the city.

» READ MORE: More than 45,000 Philly tenants have requested help with rent. The city can help less than half.

Members of City Council sent a letter to the court on Friday asking for a halt on all lockouts — the final step of eviction — but a court spokesperson said court officials had drafted Monday’s order before receiving the letter. The court does not plan to expand its order to shield more people from lockouts.

The letter and the court order come as the delta variant drives up coronavirus cases across the Philadelphia region.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, which lasts through Oct. 3, does not cover all tenants. About 100 lockouts occur in Philadelphia each week. Landlords who receive rental assistance cannot lock out a tenant until after 90 days have passed.

City Councilmember Helen Gym, who signed Friday’s letter, urged the court at a news conference Monday to halt all lockouts during the eviction moratorium. She thanked the court for its order but said it must go further to keep tenants in their homes and prevent spread of the coronavirus.

“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 in a statement.

The Philadelphia Municipal Court order also will require tenants to receive an additional notice of eviction if the city first served notice before May 1. Renters have been surprised when a landlord-tenant officer arrives to remove them from their homes, because some last received notice of their eviction a year or more ago, according to tenant advocates and members of City Council. Councilmembers also had asked in their letter to the court for more notice for tenants.

At the news conference of city and state officials and tenant advocates Monday, Councilmember Kendra Brooks thanked Municipal Court Judges Patrick F. Dugan and Matthew S. Wolf “for their leadership in keeping people safe and healthy and housed over this past year.”

» READ MORE: CDC issues new eviction ban for most of U.S. through Oct. 3

With the city’s mandatory Eviction Diversion Program, rental assistance, and prior bans on evictions, “Philadelphia has been leading the nation in protecting our most vulnerable residents from displacement, homelessness, poverty, and instability,” Brooks said.

“We are here once again calling for action to protect our city from a catastrophic wave of lockouts that will do immeasurable harm to our neighbors if we do not act immediately,” she said.

This story was updated to add the city’s tally of “complete” applications.