PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- There's now a city-wide ban on evictions, but a local landlord group calls the move "unconstitutional."
Lawsuits are flying and a local tenant advocacy group is accusing the city of not enforcing it strongly enough.
KDKA's Meghan Schiller reports it is truly a tug of war between local renters and landlords. Some renters say they can't pay their bills because of pandemic-related layoffs, let alone rent. Landlords are asking the city, "How much longer do you expect we can hold on?"
"These folks have rent and taxes due and some of these folks' taxes are due now because Allegheny County just sent their taxes out. So their taxes are due and they don't have any funding in order to pay and their tenants are in there," said John P. Corcoran Jr., attorney for Jones, Gregg, Creehan and Gerace.
It's the battle to find a balance between renters and landlords amid a global pandemic and unprecedented unemployment numbers. For that reason, the city of Pittsburgh passed an eviction moratorium, protecting renters from evictions if they can't make rent because of pandemic-related income loss.
Corcoran said, "It's unconstitutional."
"You already had moratoriums put in by the state and the governor of PA last year that expired," Corcoran said. "And Governor Wolf had the moratorium up through October and said, 'I can't continue it past October. I don't think I have constitutional authority to do it.'"
"Once you rent to somebody, you can never, never, never cancel their lease because you no longer want them as a customer," said Craig Kostelac, the CEO of Landlord Service Bureau.
Kostelac's Landlord Service Bureau reps tens of thousands of local landlords and feels they're bearing the burden.
"Our government has done an extremely poor job of identifying the COVID victims and financially helping them," said Kostelac.
That's why the city of Pittsburgh's Commission on Human Relations offered up some exemptions Friday for stuck landlords who feel they have "good cause" for an eviction.
"If you say that there's a nonpayment of rent that is not related to a COVID-19 hardship, they can say that there is a health or safety reason that they need to proceed with the eviction. Or they can say that there has been a material breach of the lease," said the commission on a Zoom call Friday.
Meanwhile, the local tenant advocacy group, Pittsburgh Union or Regional Renters, accuses the city and Mayor Bill Peduto of not standing by the current moratorium, alleging evictions are still happening.
"When city council passed anti-eviction legislation two-and-a-half weeks ago, the mayor of Pittsburgh had a chance to stand by it, and decrease the number of evictions happening in a pandemic. He chose not to. Evictions have followed. COVID deaths will too. "Us and our partners at the Hill District Consensus Group know for a fact that Peduto opposed the most crucial protections for tenants throughout the legislative process, and was surprised to see them pass. We understand the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations to be working very hard to establish rules that uphold the spirit of the legislation we got passed, and thank them for that. The mayor's continued silence, however, remains deadly."
The Mayor's office responded to that allegation Friday, saying:
From the very beginning of this process the Mayor's Office has worked with City Council members and activists to craft legislation that would protect some of our most vulnerable Pittsburghers from being evicted from their homes during this deadly public health crisis. The City's moratorium is intended to supplement existing state and federal COVID-19 relief protections to prevent residential evictions and stipulates that no landlord may evict their tenants without good cause. Landlords will be able to seek a good cause exemption through a process determined by the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (PghCHR). Landlords found to be in violation of this law could be subject to a serious fine.
After the passage of this eviction moratorium by City Council, the Mayor promptly signed the legislation into law and has been working with the Commission on Human Relations (CHR) on how create an enforceable program which the legislation mandates. The Mayor, City Council and PghCHR are working swiftly to get this program up and running.
Today PghCHR released its proposed rules for the good cause exemption process, which can be viewed at pittsburghpa.gov/chr. These rules are open for public comment and Pittsburghers are invited to submit their comments to bit.ly/TEMORulesFeedback. The vote to finalize the rule will be held on March 26, 2021 at 11:30am and Pittsburghers can register for the meeting at bit.ly/PghCHRMoratoriumRules.
Rent relief continues to be an important option to keep our City's most vulnerable people safely at home. For those in need of rent rental assistance, in partnership with the County, City has opened another round of rent relief program funding for both tenants and landlords. If you are behind on your rent and need assistance, you can request assistance by calling 412-248-0021 or emailing email@example.com.
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