Philadelphia will continue to require landlords to go to mediation with their tenants before filing for most residential evictions, a step that could help stem an expected tide of lockouts driven by the pandemic.
City Council extended through March 31 the requirement that landlords participate in the city’s Eviction Diversion Program. The mandate was scheduled to expire at the end of the month, when the city and federal eviction moratoriums also are set to expire. In the coming months, city officials will work out whether and how the diversion program will continue, most likely under the purview of the courts.
City Council included the program in a package of housing bills it passed in June. Since the city launched the initiative in September, more than 2,250 evictions have been filed in Municipal Court. Although the city has banned lockouts due to nonpayment of rent, eviction filings themselves are stains on tenants’ records that make finding future housing more difficult. City officials and housing advocates cite mediation as a way to find alternatives to court appearances.
More than 230 mediations have taken place since the first sessions occurred at the end of September. Landlords and tenants reached agreements in more than 180 of those sessions, and they agreed to continue talks in more than 40 others.
Mediators let tenants and landlords air their grievances and help them compromise on a path forward. Housing counselors share resources, help tenants and landlords navigate housing protections and laws, hammer out repayment agreements, and help tenants find new housing if needed.
Landlords say improving communication between property managers and tenants through mediation is helpful, but the program has to ensure participants follow through on agreements. Additional federal and local rental assistance also is key to help landlords cover their expenses and prevent evictions.
The Eviction Diversion Program is modeled after the city’s successful Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, which Philadelphia started in 2008 during the foreclosure epidemic to keep residents in their homes.