HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday extended a statewide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions until Aug. 31, saying renters need more breathing room in the midst of the pandemic.
The Wolf administration has been facing growing calls to extend the four-month-old moratorium — which had been set to lapse Friday — with housing advocates and others predicting a rush to the courthouse and a wave of evictions and homelessness. House and Senate Democrats had also been pressing the Democratic governor for an extension.
“I am taking this action to help families know they will have a roof over their heads and a place to live while all of us fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in a news release. “It takes one more burden off of people who are struggling and ensures that families can remain in their homes so they can protect their health and well-being.”
As justification, the Wolf administration cited the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases statewide, the national surge in virus infections and the need to keep people in their homes to help prevent the spread.
Wolf’s ban on foreclosures and evictions does not cover a tenant who damages property, breaks the law or breaches the lease in some other way aside from nonpayment of rent or overstaying a lease.
“This order does not treat nonpayment of monies during this period as forgiven and individuals are still responsible for any rent or monies owed under the terms of the mortgage or lease agreement,” it said.
Landlords have been waging a legal fight against the moratorium, saying they are hard-pressed to keep up with taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and mortgage payments without the ability to enforce lease agreements. The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on their lawsuit.
Pennsylvania is using $175 million of its federal coronavirus relief money to provide rental assistance to eligible tenants and mortgage relief to homeowners, but the money has not started flowing yet and a $750-per-month cap on payments will not be enough to cover the full rental amount in many cases.
Wolf’s new executive order does not apply to landlords taking part in the state’s rent relief program because the program already includes protections for renters.
It also doesn’t apply to renters who live in a building with a federally backed mortgage, as federal housing agencies have extended their own moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until Aug. 31, the Wolf administration said.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Thursday:
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that 719 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to nearly 93,000.
Nearly half of the new cases came from Philadelphia and from Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh.
There were 36 new deaths. The statewide death toll stands at 6,848.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
The Wolf administration has ordered people to wear masks in all businesses and in public places outdoors where social distancing is not possible.