With evictions paused but rent still due, tenants are joining forces. Will landlords listen?

 

Update (5/7/2020): Evictions and mortgage foreclosures are now on hold, statewide, through July 10, under an order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf and endorsed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Tenants struggling with the rent, and concerned with getting the boot — or big bills for back rent — are getting organized.

Late Wednesday, Allegheny County President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark extended a pandemic-driven moratorium on evictions through June 1. That doesn’t keep rent charges from piling up though, even as many unemployed tenants go without pay.

Coalitions of renters are bringing back the tenant council model, which largely hasn’t been a factor in Pittsburgh’s private apartment market for decades. They are pooling their power and urging landlords to waive unpaid rent during the coronavirus crisis.

Nationally, tenant troubles drew headlines in mid-April, when U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, proposed legislation that would nix rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic. There has been no indication that the bill will become law.

Locally, activists blocked the Greenfield Bridge on Friday to urge a pause on housing payments. A coalition called All-In-Pittsburgh is urging landlords to be patient with their lessees and to consider seeking mortgage deferrals. Tenants of Regent Square Rentals created a council that is asking for rent breaks, and scores of people who rent from JJ Land Company are following their lead. The Pittsburgh Union of Regional Renters [PURR] is assisting those, and other, uneasy tenants.

“People shouldn’t even owe rent right now” because public health concerns prevent many from working, said Celeste Scott, a member of PURR’s board who is also the affordable housing organizer for the advocacy group Pittsburgh United.

Friendship resident Trieste Devlin is one of 21 JJ Land Company tenants who signed an April 30 letter asking the East Liberty-based company to suspend rent “for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” to waive back rent and late fees and to agree to monthly meetings to address concerns including “unsolved maintenance problems.” (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

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With evictions paused in Allegheny County but rent still due, tenants are joining forces. Will landlords listen?

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