by Rich Lord
Frozen since March 16, more than 400 eviction cases in Allegheny County were set to resume June 2 in the first of a series of steps toward normal landlord-tenant court activity.
Orders by county President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark had stalled all eviction actions in light of the public health effects of the coronavirus. But on Thursday, the judge issued an order confirming the planned June 2 resumption of action on already-filed eviction cases. That means stopped clocks will start ticking again toward the hearings and decisions required under the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, and potentially toward the ouster of residents from apartments and rental houses.
Another related milestone has some civic leaders and advocates scrambling for alternatives to the existing eviction system. Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on new eviction and foreclosure filings runs through July 10. No one claims to know what will happen when nearly four months of pent-up landlord-tenant tension is released at a time when the statewide unemployment rate has already topped 15%.
“I’d like to be optimistic and say, no, [landlords] are not waiting to evict,” said Megan Stanley, director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, and a member of an informal working group convened by the *Pittsburgh Foundation to address eviction. But data from years past, she notes, suggests that the county “could be looking easily at thousands of eviction filings” this summer.
Some are hoping that a potential crisis could create an opportunity to improve a system that is tough on both tenants and landlords. Pittsburgh Foundation Senior Program Officer Jane Downing is floating to courts, state lawmakers and local governments a five-point plan to reduce evictions. An effective response, though, depends on funding, and so far, the amounts allocated don’t come close to matching estimated needs.
If the moratorium expires with no safety net in place, warned Carol Hardeman, co-director of the Hill District Consensus Group, “Well, then Allegheny County is just going to have a lot more homeless people.”
“They can’t wash their hands, they can’t keep up with their hygiene,” she added. “And plus just the anxiety in it. We’ll have more people sick — not from the COVID, but just from the stress of it.”
“This eviction thing,” she said, “is just as scary as the COVID.”
Jala Rucker of the Pittsburgh Union for Regional Renters in Allegheny Dwellings housing where she was working Friday, May 29. (photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)