On November 14, 2019, the Philadelphia City Council passed Philadelphia Code Chapter 9-808, “Legal Representation in Landlord Tenant Court.” This new law aims to curb evictions by implementing a right to counsel for covered individuals. Residential property owners and investors in Philadelphia, and their counsel, should be aware of the risks and opportunities provided by this new law.
The right to counsel established by this new law is relatively straightforward: any individual living in a dwelling in the City of Philadelphia under a claim of right is covered if their income is under 200% of the federal poverty level. A single person is covered if their income is less than $24,980. A family of four is covered up to an income of $51,500.
If a covered individual is involved in any “judicial or administrative proceeding to evict or terminate the tenancy or housing subsidy” of that individual, or any appeal related to such proceedings, then they will receive legal services.
The law routes City of Philadelphia funds through designated partner organizations, which will provide the free legal services. Under the 2020 budget, this right to counsel is not fully-funded. The 2020 budget funds approximately 30% of the projected cost of the new right to counsel law.
The law permits the program to prioritize services if it is not fully funded. Given that the City’s current funding covers only a third of the projected cost of total coverage, the first few years of the program will give priority to ultra-low-income individuals, eventually expanding to cover all covered individuals.
Now is the time for property owners and investors to perform a top-to-bottom tune-up of their residential leases. Landlords should review and rewrite, if necessary, residential leases, fix outstanding Licenses and Inspections violations, and ensure that all rental licenses are in order. Also, if a tenant’s contract term has ended and the tenant has become a holdover month-to-month tenant, the landlord should formalize that tenancy with a new written lease. Under the new law, more residential leases will be scrutinized by opposing counsel for issues to challenge. Therefore, catching and cleaning up problems now will be much less costly and time-consuming than litigating the issues later in court.