This article is part of our guide to tenants’ rights in Philadelphia. Got a question? Ask us using the form at the bottom of this article.
The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a federal eviction moratorium, saying it’s up to Congress to impose any future ban.
Millions of tenants across the country are now at risk of eviction.
But even if Congress extends the moratorium, the ban does not protect all tenants. The federal moratorium only applies if you:
Earn $99,000 or less per year or were eligible for a pandemic stimulus check.
Can’t pay rent because you have lost income or have to pay “extraordinary” medical expenses.
Have tried to get rent assistance from the government.
Have made “best efforts” to pay as much rent as possible on time.
Would end up homeless or in cramped living quarters if evicted.
Landlords also have been allowed to evict tenants for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, such as lease violations.
Philadelphia’s eviction moratorium, which applied to a broader range of tenants, expired at the end of June, and Philadelphia renters are being evicted for nonpayment of rent. In New Jersey, on the other hand, an eviction moratorium is in place until Jan. 1, 2022, for low- and moderate-income renters.
If you get an eviction notice or fear you might, you have options. Here’s advice from housing advocates and attorneys on what you should do if you’re behind on rent.
Use the Philadelphia Eviction Diversion Program
The city launched its nationally recognized eviction diversion program last year as part of the renter protections included in a package of housing bills City Council passed. Through Oct. 31, landlords must apply for rental assistance and for the diversion program and then wait 45 days before filing for eviction against a Philadelphia tenant in court, according to Philadelphia Municipal Court order.
Ask whether your landlord has applied for rental assistance and the diversion program. If your landlord has not and has filed for eviction, you can argue in court that your eviction was filed improperly.
Document financial hardship
“One thing every tenant affected by COVID-19 should do right now, whether or not they’ve received an eviction notice from their landlord, is, they should send their landlord a COVID-19 hardship form,” said Vikram Patel, a staff attorney in the housing unit at Community Legal Services.
If you are struggling financially because of the pandemic, send your landlord the COVID-19 financial hardship certification, which you can find on the Fair Housing Commission’s website. It entitles you to protections under City Council’s Emergency Housing Protection Act, including waiving your late fees, giving you access to mediation before going through the eviction process, and granting you more time to pay back rent. Document that you gave the form to your landlord — such as taking a screenshot if you texted it, or holding onto the email you sent — and keep a copy for yourself.
Talk to your landlord and see if you can work something out
Housing advocates advise reaching out to your landlord as soon as possible if you don’t think you can pay your rent, instead of waiting for your landlord to threaten eviction. If you don’t pay and your landlord then sends you an eviction notice, contact your landlord right away to see whether you can come to an agreement. In either case, show your landlord you want to work toward a resolution.
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“For a lot of landlords, it’s about whether or not you’re willing to engage with them and work something out with them,” Patel said. Housing advocates and attorneys can help you negotiate.
Landlords typically want to avoid evictions, which are time-consuming and can be expensive because of lost rent, legal bills, and vacancies. Both landlords and tenants are struggling financially during the pandemic.
“There are a lot of people caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Judith Jones, vice president of the Philadelphia Tenant Support Organization, which focuses on helping Black, brown, immigrant, and low-income renters.
Make sure you document your interactions with your landlord. For example, after speaking on the phone with your landlord, email or text something like, “This is the agreement we came to. Let me know if this doesn’t reflect the conversation we just had,” Patel said.
» READ MORE: Tenants’ rights guide: Breaking a lease
“When you get to court, it’s all about what you can prove,” he said. “Without documentation, the court is probably not going to listen.”
Verify that your landlord has a rental license by searching for your address at atlas.phila.gov. If landlords do not have rental licenses, they cannot sue tenants for rent. The same goes for a certificate of rental suitability, which your landlord had to present to you when you signed the lease. This document from the Department of Licenses and Inspections verifies a landlord has necessary licenses and does not have code violations.
Contact a tenant advocacy organization
If you get an eviction notice or think you might, call the Philly Tenant Hotline, which pulls together renter resources, at 267-443-2500 and get an attorney as soon as possible, said Patel at Community Legal Services. An attorney can advise you of your options and put together a defense for court if your case makes it there. Low-income tenants can get free representation, and all tenants can get free advice. A lawyer also can determine whether an eviction was filed legally.
“Having an attorney involved helps because there is a lot of nuance to these cases,” he said. “There are defenses a tenant may not know about.” Tenants with attorneys generally reach more successful outcomes.
Organizations that can help you, if you’re in Philadelphia, include:
You can find lots of information on tenants’ rights from various organizations at phillytenant.org.
Jones of the Philadelphia Tenant Support Organization said to reach out to any of these organizations as soon as possible when you think you’ll fall behind on rent or have gotten an eviction notice. They’ll give you the information you need or direct you to someone who can help.
» READ MORE: Tenants’ rights guide: Landlord entry
The Philadelphia Tenants Union can send representatives to support you during court hearings and while you’re being removed from a property, said Noah Cote, an organizer with the group.
The Renters United Philadelphia Project at the Public Interest Law Center helps organize tenants to collectively negotiate with the same landlord. “There is really true power when tenants take collective action,” said Mary Beth Schluckebier, a staff attorney at the law center.
Apply for rental assistance
If you’re facing financial hardship because of the pandemic, you can apply for rental assistance through your county before or after receiving an eviction notice. Housing advocates suggest applying as soon as possible when you fall behind on rent.
Bucks County is allowing judges to postpone eviction cases for up to 60 days if a tenant is waiting for rental assistance.
Philadelphia has been racing to distribute aid ahead of the end of the federal eviction moratorium. Tens of thousands of Philadelphians have applied for assistance, and many renters are still waiting to hear whether they will receive the money that could keep them in their homes.
If your landlord has been neglecting the property and hasn’t been fixing issues you’ve brought up, document and photograph the disrepair. You can try calling L&I and ask for an inspection, and you can use the results during an eviction court hearing to argue against your landlord. You also can reach out to the city’s Fair Housing Commission for help.
This article has been updated since it first published.