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(Right to left) Councilmember Helen Gym, Nicolas O'Rouke, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, Rep. Rick Krajewski, Sen. Nikil Saval. Ericka Conant
(Right to left) Councilmember Helen Gym, Nicolas O'Rouke, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, Rep. Rick Krajewski, Sen. Nikil Saval. Photo: Ericka Conant

Courts ban lockout of tenants who apply for rental assistance, Helen Gym calls for more action

Zip codes most at risk for lockouts are most impacted by COVID-19 pandemic.

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Four hours after City Councilmember Helen Gym held a press conference calling on the municipal courts to ban all lockouts and sent a letter with other members of City Council, the courts issued an order banning lockouts of tenants who have applied for rental assistance. 

The councilmember says the courts also agreed to provide updated pro-lockout notice. Before the press conference, these lockouts always came as a surprise to tenants. 

Since July, these lockouts in Philadelphia reached a rate of about 100 a week — all while Covid cases in the city rose by 700% this summer. 

“That is unconscionable,” Gym said at the press conference Monday. 

She later commended the municipal court for answering the joint call, and issuing the subsequent order banning tenant lockouts for those that fit the criteria. 

But she says the action must go further, by calling on the courts to halt lockouts throughout the duration of the CDC’s newly extended eviction moratorium — to limit the spread of the virus by stopping evictions that end in lockouts.

“I have heard from families who were locked out but were unable to apply for rent assistance or who had paid all their rent but were evicted anyway. At a time when the Delta variant is on the rise, and studies have found that evictions lead to the increased spread of COVID and deaths,” Gym wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon. 

In July 2021, the courts began allowing the lockouts conducted by the landlord tenant officer, despite the fact that many of these evicted tenants had either been approved for rental assistance, or had pending applications. 

“What we know is evictions and moratoriums are directly linked to Covid spread and Covid mortality,” Gym said, referencing two national studies conducted by Penn Medicine and UCLA, respectively. 

The UCLA study found that states that let eviction moratoriums expire — thereby giving landlords the authority to kick tenants out — had 2.1% higher case incidences and 5.4% higher mortality rates, equating to 433,700 excess cases of coronavirus and 10,700 excess deaths.

The Municipal Court’s ban on tenant lockouts for these individuals is the first step in ending the violent cycle of eviction, but it only applies to applicants for assistance. 

“Seventy percent of evictions involve a Black tenant. Seventy percent of evictions involve a Black mother or a woman, and over have the evictions involve an individual who was either caring for a child, a senior, or a member of the family who was disabled,” Gym said at the press conference. 

It’s a trend that can be followed across the city.

Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood, with zip code 19124, has the most evictions scheduled for the next two months, at 52. It also has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the city, at 9.8%. 

“We have built nationally-renowned alternatives to eviction that can keep

renters housed, and help landlords get paid. We now need time to limit the spread of COVID by keeping families housed,” Gym’s statement continued. 

To learn more about the application process for rental  assistance, visit https://phlrentassist.org/.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org. 

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