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3/2/21: Pittsburgh council votes to bar pandemic evictions, but questions remain
Pittsburgh City Council unanimously approved legislation that would largely bar the filing by landlords of eviction cases against city residents during the pandemic emergency, despite concerns on the part of some officials that the legislation may be difficult to enforce.
Councilwoman Deb Gross, who has been spearheading the bid for a citywide eviction moratorium, amended her own bill, requiring that landlords seek a waiver from the Commission on Human Relations before filing to oust a tenant. The commission could then grant the landlord permission to file for eviction if a tenant was a threat to themselves, or others, or was engaging in criminal activity.
“We should not be putting those tenants and those landlords into that process” of eviction hearings, blemished credit and possible ejection from housing, Gross said. Landlords who filed to evict city tenants without going through the process could face a $10,000 fine.
For more than two hours, council heard public comment on the eviction legislation and debated the amendment. Of the 16 members of the public to comment, 15 called for a strong ban on evictions. The other public speaker, representing the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, said the legislation could make it too hard for landlords to evict tenants who could harm others.
Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess asked council to delay consideration by one day, to consider another amendment proposed by Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration.
“We’re in that political season,” Burgess said. “But I’m always very fearful of giving false hope” by passing “legislation that we can’t enforce” and as a result giving “these very needy people no help.”
Burgess abstained from a vote on the amendment, but joined the other council members in voting for the amended bill. It now goes to Peduto, who can sign or veto it.
3/1/21: Evictions dip slightly in February, as City Council prepares to vote
Landlords filed 312 new eviction cases in Allegheny County in February, slightly down (in a shorter month) from the 366 filings in January.
The case filings continue amid a federal curb on evictions which expires at the end of March, new, temporary Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas rules for handling such matters and a likely imminent Pittsburgh City Council vote on more stringent rules that would restrict city landlords.
Council action would not affect evictions in the suburbs. Data collected by Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab indicates that since the pandemic, more than two-thirds of the evictions filed in Allegheny County have involved defendants that live outside of the city's boundaries.
3/1/21: Moribund land bank could get new clout at sheriff's sales
A Pittsburgh Land Bank which has done little, since its creation in 2014, to put publicly owned properties into private hands would get new powers under legislation being introduced in Harrisburg, Mayor Bill Peduto's administration announced.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, wants to allow the land bank to buy properties at sheriff's sale just by paying the outstanding claims and liens, even if another entity bids higher, according to a press release. Philadelphia's land bank has similar powers, according to the release.
That could be an alternative to taking properties through the Treasurer's Sale process, which Fontana described in the release as "a selective, long, and faulty process." That process is subject to state laws and local procedures that result in years-long waits for people seeking to buy city-owned property.
The Pittsburgh Land Bank was meant to streamline such transfers. "Since its creation, the land bank has been having difficulty clearing titles on properties and has only been able to fully acquire few properties," the Peduto administration confirmed in its release. The mayor added that Fontana's legislation "is what we need to finally turn it into the powerful, blight-fighting tool we expect it to be."
Fontana indicated in a memo announcing the impending introduction of his legislation that 30,000 parcels in the city are vacant or distressed, costing the city $4.8 million in tax revenue.
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