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Foreclosures, evictions halted under Pa. Supreme Court order

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a ruling Wednesday halting the enforcement of dispossession of property due to non-payment until April 30. This is on top of a March 20 Federal Housing Administration order preventing evictions and foreclosures due to the pandemic, in conjunction with the president’s emergency declaration.

“In view of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, during this timeframe no officer, official or other person employed by the Pennsylvania judiciary at any level shall effectuate an eviction, ejectment or other displacement from a residence based on the failure to make a monetary payment,” the order states.

The order states the temporary prohibition encompasses dispossessions predicated on mortgage foreclosure, a failure to pay rent or a failure to pay property taxes. Any execution on an order of possession is “stayed for the same time period, namely, through April, 30, 2020.”

The Supreme Court had previously closed court proceedings through April 3, pending order from public health officials.

Public health officials say residents are liable to spread the coronavirus or contract it themselves if unable to find refuge in sustainable housing. State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to extend statewide closure of the court proceedings aside from “essential services,” for one more month to restrict the amount of person-to-person contact and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the court said.

“Accordingly, the temporary, general closure of the Pennsylvania courts to the public shall remain in place through April 30, 2020,” the order said.

The state’s top law enforcement officials and courts have ordered landlords not to evict their tenants and courts to close all eviction proceedings during the coronavirus state of emergency.

In a March 30 letter addressed to the state’s leading residential trade association State Attorney General Josh Shapiro urged them to suspend evictions and give Pennsylvanians the chance to recover economically.

The latest reports show more than 830,000 residents have filed for unemployment insurance benefits in the last two weeks. That’s more than 10% of the Pennsylvania workforce, an increase from previous weeks that mirrors the exponential surge in COVID-19 cases.

“With millions of Pennsylvanians following Governor Wolf’s direction to stay at home, it is critical to public health that rental evictions cease for the duration of this emergency,” Shapiro wrote. “Without stable housing, Pennsylvanians may be forced to find temporary alternatives, moving from place to place and adding to the public health threat. We must not increase the risk of exposure by helping COVID-19 spread through our communities.”

Shapiro compelled landlords to go beyond the court’s order to halt evictions and “pledge not to institute any eviction proceedings against your tenants or mortgage-holders who have been impacted by this crisis, either medically or financially, for some additional time period after our courts are re-opened for eviction proceedings.”

“We cannot let this economic crisis contribute to the public health emergency,” the letter states.

Justin Henry is the regional reporter for the Central Penn Business Journal and the Lehigh Valley Business. He can be reached at jhenry@bridgetowermedia.com.

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