From relief to despair, one Pa. family struggles with the ambiguity of federal eviction ban

September 14, 2020

Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide ban on evictions expired Sept. 1, leaving thousands of families across Pennsylvania at risk of losing their homes. But later that day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a nationwide ban, halting evictions for failure to pay rent through the end of the year.

In the week leading up to the expiration of the state moratorium, there was an average of 60 new eviction filings per day. On Sept. 1, the day it expired, there were 1,911 filings statewide, according to an analysis by the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and figures compiled by Philadelphia Legal Assistance. The numbers fell sharply after the federal eviction ban was announced, dropping to 328 on Sept. 4.

While those numbers include eviction filings for any reason and not just unpaid rent, they hint at the wave that could occur should protections be fully lifted.

In Pennsylvania, it’s up to courts in each county to decide how to interpret the federal order, a spokesperson for the state court system said. As advocates parse the often ambiguous language of the order, gray areas remain.

A legal analysis by a national housing advocacy group described one part of the order as “hilariously vague,” warning it was “destined to become an engine of controversy.”

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