COVID-19 evictions: Tips for renters, homeowners worried about making payments

PHILADELPHIA -- April 1 is right around the corner, and with so many people out of jobs, renters and homeowners are worried about making payments.

We talked to the experts at Community Legal Services about these issues and the good news is if you don't think you're going to be able to make your rent or your mortgage payment next month, it doesn't mean you'll be immediately evicted or locked out. However, there are some steps you need to take right now.

Federal authorities have announced a 60-day moratorium on certain foreclosures and evictions. But that applies only to mortgages owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or insured by the FHA.

"I know that's kind of confusing. In Philadelphia, that's probably at least half of the mortgages, but it's not everybody's mortgage," said Mike Froehlich of Community Legal Services.

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A long list of banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Fifth Third Bank, TD Bank, and Ally Financial have said customers will be allowed to defer their mortgage payments but options vary so here's the best advice:

"If you think that you're not going to be able to make your April mortgage payment, get in touch with your mortgage company, get in touch with your mortgage service right away and let them know that because of the pandemic, you've lost income and that you're not going to be able to make your mortgage payments," he said.

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Keep records of all communication, date, time, and person you talked to so if there's a dispute later, you have information to back you up.

When it comes to renters, unfortunately, as of now there isn't any special help related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"First step is to reach out to your landlord and see if you can work out some type of agreement with your landlord. If you're able to do that, then pay according to the agreement and just keep in constant, constant contact with your landlord," said Rachel Garland also of Community Legal Services.

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If you can't pay your rent, know that your landlord can't just lock you out of your apartment or rental property. Landlords must first file an eviction case against you and let that process play out.

"Any lockout that happens between now and when you've gone to court and gone through the entire court process, is an illegal lockout and you should call 911," she said.

And of course, many courts are closed right now so these cases can't even progress at the moment. Community Legal Services has a tenant hotline at 267-443-2500.
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