Some Philadelphia sheriff’s sales can continue as long as the owner who was foreclosed upon doesn’t live in the property and wouldn’t be eligible for federal pandemic assistance, according to a Thursday court order.
An earlier Common Pleas Court order had stayed the sales until the fall and said more guidance would be issued once the impact of Pennsylvania’s more than $350 million in American Rescue Plan aid became clear.
The details of that bailout are not expected to emerge until this summer. Meanwhile, the order from Common Pleas Court clears the way for the resumption of virtual sheriff’s sales for nonresidential properties scheduled for auction from March 17, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2021, involving commercial loans. Plaintiffs must file a motion to remove the stay on the commercial-debt properties and request they be sent to sheriff’s sale.
This is a smaller portion of sheriff’s sale properties. The moratorium remains for the larger portion -- sales stemming from tax and mortgage foreclosures. But the order allows the City of Philadelphia to file a motion to put properties up for tax sale after Sept. 1 if it believes no one lives in them. The homeowner would have an opportunity to contest the notice if they can show they reside in the foreclosed-upon property.
Mortgage sales follow a similar process, under the order: Plaintiffs can file a motion to have the property go to sheriff’s sale after Sept. 1, but homeowners who live there can oppose the sale.
Some advocates worry that owner-occupied homes could be still sold.
“The devil is in the details,” said Philadelphia Unemployment Project director John Dodds. Human nature leads some owners to ignore or fail to read a notice about their properties, he said, because they are already feeling cornered.
“Owner-occupied properties do not always appear to be owner-occupied,” Dodds said.
Someone contesting the potential sale can appeal at the Office of Judicial Records in City Hall, email the Office of Judicial Records at OJRCivil@courts.phila.gov, or call 215-686-4251 to make an appointment to file in person. The order also invites those who feel the sale is improper to call the Save Your Home Philly Hotline at 215-334-4663 for assistance.
Sheriff Rochelle Bilal and City Council have been at odds over her office’s awarding of a contract for virtual sheriff’s sales to Bid4Assets, a Maryland-based company. Council has questioned how the deal was struck without its approval, and during a six-hour hearing in April probed whether the online format would increase out-of-town buyers and accelerate gentrification. One councilmember, Helen Gym, has called the contract illegal.