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Lihai County has problems with evictions. Can a lawyer be the solution? – Morning call

In an apartment in Allentown, where she lived with her three children, Felicia Kantau noticed it leaking from the ceiling in several rooms, including one of her son and daughter.

Kantau said that after several years of leaks unresolved, she decided to stop paying rent in 2021.

As a result, she said, the owner evicted her, bringing the case to court, where he won. Kantau, 11-year-old Amir, 8-year-old Camron and 1-year-old Comoros were forced to find a new home.

While staying at the hotel, Kantawa had to compromise, such as asking people to take care of her daughter while she worked as a clerk, or skipping work to keep an eye on her.

“I lived in a hotel for about six or seven months because no one wanted to rent me out because of my eviction,” Kantov said. “It simply came to my notice then. I didn’t have day care, really a lot. My son also told me what broke my heart. I will never forget, he said, “Mom, I see you work so hard and we went from our big house to this little corner. Maybe if it weren’t for me, it would be easier for you. ” ”

In 2021, Lehigh County ranked fourth in the number of evictions in the state, second only to the counties of Philadelphia, Allegheny and Dauphin, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance. Depending on the number of tenants per county, the Housing Alliance found, Likhai ranked 3rd in the state, second only to Dauphin and York counties. (Northampton County ranked 12th in the total number of evictions and seventh in the frequency of evictions).

Since August 2020, more than 8,300 cases of tenants and landlords have been filed in Lehigh County, according to a press release from the office of District Attorney Mark Pinsley. Of these, more than 2,500 ended in evictions; 120 won by the tenant. According to Joshua Siegel, assistant manager for operations of the controller’s office, other cases would have results such as agreement or court dismissal.

Pinsley said those 2,500 evictions would be about two to three times more than the number of people being evicted.

Requests for evictions and orders have increased since the end of numerous moratoriums on evictions during the pandemic, the Housing Alliance said.

According to Jessica Reimert, deputy executive director for operations of Community Action Lehigh Valley (formerly the Lehigh Valley Community Action Committee), a nonprofit anti-poverty organization, the lack of rent is a big reason for the eviction.

In Allentown, rents have risen more than 28% since the start of the pandemic, according to the Housing Report. The average monthly rent in Allentown is $ 1,291 for a one-bedroom apartment and $ 1,605 for a two-bedroom apartment. Other analyzes revealed even higher numbers. Rent.com Last month, it was reported that a one-room apartment in the city costs 1,837 dollars a month, and a three-room – about 2,193 dollars.

Pinsley said those most affected by the evictions were those who lost their jobs, especially during the pandemic, such as cashiers and waiters.

Zip codes with a higher percentage of households headed by colored men and women with children also correlate with a higher rate of eviction applications, according to the Housing Alliance.

Aside from non-payment, Reimert said, other reasons for evictions include delays in paying bills due to mental health problems, improper care for apartments and landlords who want more affluent tenants who can pay more for rent.

Mark Rittle, executive director of New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem, said wages are not keeping pace with rising cost of living, including both the cost of housing and basic necessities such as food.

“At times like these, I think you see that the wealth gap is widening even more,” he said. “The rich are really getting richer, and the poor are really getting poorer.”

Solutions that would help reduce evictions in the county, Reimert said, would be more affordable housing and access to mental health services, especially for low-income people and those dealing with anxiety and depression. She added that even a normal working day can prevent people from having time to rest from work and give priority to mental health.

«[More mental health services] it would help people get the opportunity to keep their jobs … which will be necessary to pay rent and take care of property, “she said.” The pandemic has been difficult for everyone and we see it continuing through dismantled social situations and people trying return to normal routine. “

Rittle said the main way to stop the eviction would be to refuse property owners to raise the rental price.

“I’m not an economist, but it looks like a bubble in which … either everyone will just lose their home, or the owners will have to lower their rents,” he said.

Several landlords have approached Rittle to say they are keeping rents low or will not evict tenants until they find an alternative solution for them, he said.

Last year, Pinsley offered a $ 1.5 million investment in a “lawyer’s” program that would provide representation to tenants in eviction cases. as well as reducing the cost of services in handling evictions.

Pinsley quotes a study commissioned by the Philadelphia Bar Association that the claimed tenants experienced devastating displacement in 5% of cases when they were legally represented, compared to 78% of cases when they were not.

James S. Tupica, a lawyer from West Chester who has 50 years of experience in landlords and tenants, said that having tenants’ attorneys allows them to take their case much more seriously and gives the tenant knowledge of legislation that is otherwise case they might not have.

“The landlord, so to speak, will be very knowledgeable in traffic rules, and the tenant – zero,” – said Tupitsa. “So they can bluff to something. If you’re going to play professional baseball, you don’t go out on the field on your own. You hire a professional baseball player to play for you … because you just can’t do it. “

Pinsley offered to get money from the American Rescue Plan, a 2021 economic stimulus bill that was supposed to speed up the country’s recovery from the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In many cases, if you end up talking to some landlords, I think you’ll see that landlords like it too, because ultimately they want their money,” Pinsley said. “They’re not necessarily interested in kicking someone out while they’re being paid. Often the problem with people who move is that the rent is 30% or more of their income. So if you lag behind in income, if the rent is 30% or more, you will never be able to catch up. ”

The Pennsylvania Landlords Association did not respond to requests for comment.

In July, Likhai County allocated about $ 100,000 to Pinsley’s plan.

“We want to be able to fund every great idea,” said Director of Community and Economic Development Frank Kane. “If it is [$100,000] end … it is possible that we could amuse the idea of ​​funding more ”.

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Creating jobs that can keep pace with the county’s inflation rate would help reduce the number of evictions here, he said.

Meanwhile, so far, the county has provided assistance to 3,500 families out of $ 47 million allocated from the Rental Emergency Programsaid Kane.

“That’s the problem,” Pinsley said. “Some of these people will be entitled to money that they can use. It is possible that these landlords would be paid money, there is just a question of deadlines.

Pinsley still wants more investment, even if it’s over a period of time.

“I hope we can create enough information for people to put some pressure on the commissioners [so] that they immediately invest about half a million dollars, ”he said.

Kantov was not present at the court hearing in the case of her eviction. She said she would have done so if she had not been in a car accident that day.

She said she had no legal representation at the time of her eviction; Having this “absolutely” would help her cause, she said.

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