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City Council To Scale Back Eviction Moratorium

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A car with a sign to "Cancel the Rent" during a protest of evictions on August 31, 2020.

Pittsburgh City Council is set to scale back portions of a city coronavirus eviction moratorium on Tuesday morning. Proposed amendments would reduce the fine on landlords to pay for violating the code, and would no longer require landlords to renew leases for tenants who miss rent payments due to the coronavirus.

Councilor Deb Gross, who sponsored the original bill, proposed the changes. She said the decision to take out the language that required renewing many leases was especially difficult. The moratorium is intended to prevent evictions during the pandemic, both to protect public health and to limit the damage done by the virus' economic impact. But some tenants have month-to-month leases, and the amendments could mean more people face homelessness as landlords simply choose not to continue the lease.

“This one was hard,” Gross said. “Certainly the people who are attending these magistrate hearings and trying to assist the households facing evictions really wanted that to stay in. We’re worried that landlords are refusing to renew leases because they can get better, higher rent."

Still, Gross noted that the moratorium was now in court, and the language compelling landlords to enter into another lease faced a stiff challenge. Gross said the legal fight was something  “I wish didn’t happen. ... This is a negative effect on all of us if someone is evicted from their apartment. But this was one we had to give up to strengthen the legislation overall.”

The city's moratorium is temporary, and will expire when the city lifts an emergency declaration stemming from the virus. But critics say that already that neither the local law nor a recently extended federal Centers for Disease Control moratorium are doing enough to stop evictions.

Anne Wright is is chief technology officer with Rent Help PGH, a nonprofit that supports people in Allegheny County with resource navigation for tenants. She said filings for evictions have not seemed to slow down. According to Wright,  there are 363 eviction hearings scheduled, with 103 of them set to take place this week.

“The behavior of landlords continue to be against the spirit of the CDC and the ordinance,” Wright said. “There are legitimate [reasons] for evictions, but has not been the level of voluntary self-policing by many of these larger landlords. I’m sure there are landlords who have decided not to go there due to the pandemic, but there are some who are using the court to strongarm the rental payments.”

Wright said a large number of evictions involve Black women with children, who have not been vaccinated.

“We’re tossing them at record numbers into crowded [local courtrooms] for evictions,” she said. “On what planet is this the humane thing to be doing?”

The new council amendements also reduce the amount of fines landlords could pay for improperly evicting a tenant. Originally, an improper eviction could cost $10,000. The amount now varies depending on the type of household, but will be much less.  

“Causing the eviction or dispossession of an individual without good cause is a fine of  up to $1,000,” Gross said. “But especially when there are children in the home, that can go up to $2,500.”

Council will take a final vote on Tuesday.

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