Harrisburg councilors unanimously passed an emergency ordinance this week to prevent tenants from being kicked out of their homes if they are struggling financially during the pandemic.
A federal eviction moratorium expires on December 31, 2020, which could expose hundreds of city residents to a possible risk of eviction on January 1.
PennLive interviewed some of these residents, including Bobby Mitchell, a 61-year-old type 2 diabetic with a kidney transplant and a low salary for the disabled. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, it is no longer safe for him to supplement his income by collecting scrap metal. As a result, he, his fiancé and son expected to pack their bags at Christmas instead of opening presents.
Instead, city officials have issued an emergency order to suspend evictions for 30 days for financial reasons for city residents. The moratorium applies until mid-January and can be extended by the city council for a further 30 days until the end of 2021, when this power expires.
"This is a very important law," Mayor Eric Papenfuse said in a press release. "As Covid-19 levels rise and we reach colder temperatures this winter, this moratorium on eviction processing will protect our residents during these difficult times."
Residents of other municipalities in Dauphin County are not subject to the moratorium, so evictions in these municipalities could take place in January.
City attorney Neil Grover said city guides had decided to act on governor's side. Tom Wolf said he couldn't offer such protection across the state without the support of lawmakers, who didn't act before he went home for the year.
Landlords who break the moratorium could face fines of up to $ 10,000 and 90 days in jail, Grover said.
"The idea is to essentially make non-compliance something very unattractive," he said. "We essentially made the violation a criminal offense."
The order is for rooms and boarding houses, Grover said.
The rule does not prevent evictions for non-financial reasons such as criminal activity, health and safety threats to other residents or property damage, according to the press release.
The break for tenants doesn't mean landlords aren't getting paid. It just means their payments will be delayed until after the moratorium, Grover said.
"It doesn't cost the right to be paid," he said. "It only extends the time that payment would come for."
City residents who require assistance to prevent an eviction related non-payment of rent should contact the Harrisburg City Helpdesk at 3-1-1 or 717-255-3040 or 717-255 contact the Bureau of Codes -6553.
In an emergency, residents should contact the Harrisburg Police Office.
To see the city council discuss emergency protection for tenants, watch the city council meeting on Youtube, starting at the 4 hour and 4 minute mark:
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