Despite a federal eviction ban, whether or not families get kicked out in Pennsylvania often comes down to where they live, and which judge happens to hear their case

November 2, 2020

With state moratoriums expiring and scores of people across the U.S. behind on their rent — including as many as 400,000 families in Pennsylvania — the Trump administration in September halted many evictions until the end of the year.

Under an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tenants who qualify cannot be evicted if they sign a declaration form and send it to their landlord.

“I want to make it unmistakably clear that I’m protecting people from evictions,” President Donald Trump said in a statement when the order was announced.

But in Pennsylvania, a Spotlight PA investigation found an inconsistent system of justice across the 67 counties, leaving many vulnerable residents without the protections they were promised. All told, despite the federal order, whether or not families get kicked out of their homes often comes down to where they live, and which judge happens to hear their case.

Rather than establish a clear and robust standard, the state court system has largely left it to district judges — who are not required to be lawyers or have gone to law school — to interpret the vague federal order, leading to starkly different outcomes from town to town and city to city.

A review of 10 eviction cases in nine counties found tenants — many of them already distraught by the prospect of losing their home, and confused by a string of ever-changing rules — face pitfalls at every turn and a bureaucratic system that doesn’t go out of its way to help.

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