HARRISBURG, Pa. — The federal eviction moratorium did little to slow filings amid the pandemic and debt has piled up on both sides. The moratorium may have helped millions of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic, but it did not wipe away their bills.
Despite the moratorium, FOX43 Reveals that landlords filed thousands of evictions against tenants who owed rent. However, those landlords may never see the money that they’re owed.
FOX43 Reveals obtained a trove of landlord-tenant cases after filing a data request with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. From September 2020 through June 2021, landlords filed more than 9,100 evictions in Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties.
During this time, rent relief programs were being rolled out and a ban on evictions for nonpayment of rent was still in effect. We set out to learn why landlords filed these evictions. Within this 10-month timeframe, the Harrisburg Housing Authority filed 25 evictions.
“It’s nothing that you ever want to do. You never want to evict someone from their house, especially not in a pandemic,” said Catherine Wyatt, chief legal officer for the Harrisburg Housing Authority. “They were not rent related. We only filed for reasons that would be other lease violations like if they had criminal activity on the property.”
Due to the moratorium, the Harrisburg Housing Authority could not collect the amount of unpaid rent owed to them, which now sits at more than $520,000.
“That is from the beginning, basically from when the moratorium was put in place. It’s a lot of money,” Wyatt continued.
It is a similar situation for the Dauphin County Housing Authority. Thirty-four percent of their rent roll is unpaid. The agency has filed 23 evictions for nonpayment of rent since the moratorium was lifted. They expect that number to rise.
“We definitely saw tenants who had no effect. They had no loss of income. They were either on social security or disability and those payments continued to come and yet we still saw them falling behind in rent, which was frustrating on many levels,” said Leah Eppinger, executive director for the Dauphin County Housing Authority
We reached out to the Greater Harrisburg Area Tenants United to talk with renters who may have been impacted by evictions. We did not hear back.
Digging deeper through these eviction filings, FOX43 Reveals that thousands of tenants were behind on rent in as many as 15 months and owed upwards of $10,000 each. Those cases are raising concerns about the impact of the moratorium. It may have guaranteed stable housing for millions of renters during an unprecedented year, but landlords could be the collateral damage.
Many landlords are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in lost rent—money that was meant for retirement, a college fund or for their investors. They are dipping into savings to pay property taxes, insurance, water bills and maintenance.
“There’s a lot more to the story than people realize,” said Chad Gallagher, co-founder of Home365 which was formerly known as SlateHouse Group.
The property management company filed 320 evictions from September 2020 through June 2021 in Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties. Their eviction judgements, like those from other property managers, included rent in arrears, court and legal fees. However, Gallagher said local judges would only hear eviction cases for lease violations that were not rent related.
“I think sometimes when people think about a real estate investor, they have this image in their head of this super wealthy individual who owns 500 houses and look, that’s just not the reality,” Gallagher said. “There’s people out there who own a bunch of real estate, but the average person owns one property. And they have a mortgage to pay on that property and they have real estate taxes and there wasn’t, frankly, a ton of relief for those landlords.”
Those landlords likely will not see the money that they are owed. There is now fear that cities may see a wave of evictions since the federal eviction ban has been lifted. Landlords say that only would create more instability.
“We’re going to get sort of a landslide, which is going to put our maintenance staff with their backs against the wall because they are going to attempt to turn all these units over as quickly as possible so we can get these new tenants in there,” Eppinger said.
FOX43 Reveals tried to track down tenants who have not paid rent in over a year. We are still waiting to hear their side of the story.
Rental assistance for landlords and tenants is still widely available. Adams, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Franklin and Lebanon counties are using the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). York, Dauphin, Cumberland and Lancaster counties are creating their own programs with direct federal aid and state funding.
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