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City Eviction Moratorium Moves Ahead In Council

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The legislation requires landlords to renew leases even for tenants who've struggled to pay rent. Some critics say it will further burden landlords who are already struggling to pay the mortgage and other bills during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pittsburgh City Council has given preliminary approval to an eviction moratorium that prohibits landlords from refusing to renew a lease if a tenant has struggled to pay rent. The legislation protects people who are facing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including renters with month-to-month leases, who have less protection than tenants with long-term leases.

Under the legislation, landlords cannot take action to evict someone for nonpayment because of COVID-related issues. Councilor Deb Gross introduced the measure in concert with the Peduto Administration, and all nine councilors added their names as co-sponsors. The bill has moved quickly: It received the preliminary vote just one day after its introduction, rather than the eight days normally required under council's rules.

In council Wednesday morning, Gross emphasized that the moratorium was temporary, and would end when the city lifts a state of emergency tied to the coronavirus pandemic. “I just want to remind everyone that this is merely tied to the emergency declaration,” she said. “This is not a permanent capacity.” 

Some landlords voiced concern about the legislation during the public comment portion of the meeting anyway. In a statement Andre Del Valle, director of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, said the moratorium does not consider “the responsibilities involved with owning and maintaining homes.”

The association says that mortgage costs consume 40 cents of every rent dollar its members receive, with other money earmarked for taxes, upkeep and improvements. That leaves 9 cents to the owner or investors, the association says.  

If landlords default on their mortgages, Del Valle warned, ”It will also cause entire buildings of renters to lose their homes—which is what we are all trying to avoid.

“Rent collection may fluctuate, but expenses for property owners do not,” he added. “[L]egislation that is onerous only inhibits Pittsburgh’s ability to emerge from this crisis stronger. The provisions of this legislation will also devalue properties and contribute to job losses for maintenance technicians, plumbers, electricians, and other professions that provide services to residences.”

When asked if the association would take the city to court over the bill, Del Valle said PAA believes “in collaboration on such important issues, and we would urge the City Council to engage with stakeholders who would be impacted by this legislation.”

Jacob Klinger is an organizer with the Pittsburgh Union of Regional Renters. He said “there are boatloads” of rent relief that landlords can access, and that will pay up to 15 months of back rent. The federal coronavirus relief bill offers assistance for up to a year or more.

“Landlords will get paid,” Klinger said. “Them having to wait a couple of weeks should not move council.”

Klinger also said that landlords and real estate entities “made an investment, investments carry risks, they’re not guaranteed money” and the industry can be regulated, especially in a pandemic.  

Gross offered a series of amendments to the bill which would have spelled out circumstances and processes that could allow evictions in some cases. But council opted to leave the original bill intact. 

“We’ve been back and forth with language multiple times,” she said. “The language I introduced on Tuesday could still be fleshed out a little bit about how a landlord especially can be heard and present to the courts that they’re not in violation of the city ordinance.” 

 Council is set to take a final vote on the bill on Tuesday.