PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The federal ban on evictions has come to an end, but that does not mean landlords can automatically lock out tenants who fail to pay rent. Evictions can only take place with a court order.
There is money available to help renters and landlords, but you have to apply for it, and it is critical you do that as soon as possible.
"My life is hell right now," said Jamie Smith of Lester, Delaware County.
Smith, 31, is a mom of three, including a newborn, Josiah. She is living at a motel week by week after she was evicted from her Philadelphia rental on Thursday.
"It's been tough. It's scary and I don't know what I'm going to do about tomorrow," she said.
Evictions in Philadelphia resumed on July 1.
The federal eviction moratorium protected only tenants who signed a CDC declaration and gave it to their landlord, who, in turn, stopped the proceeding. Now, even that moratorium has ended -- so millions are at risk of being evicted like Smith.
But there is federal money to help: $46 billion in rental assistance and only $3 billion has been used.
"So either a landlord or a tenant can apply for the rental assistance. Both of them have to participate but either one can start the application. It can cover rent and utilities for any amount, and going back to April of 2020, so over a year now. And the tenant can also apply for future rent," explained Rachel Garland of Community Legal Services.
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Tenants can apply for up to three months of rent in advance and for a total of 18 months altogether. The city of Philadelphia has received more than 40,000 applications and is processing thousands a week. Payments can be made directly to landlords, utility companies or the tenants.
Smith applied on July 5.
"I applied for rental assistance and I was waiting," she said.
"Ideally, that rental assistance should have been paid out before the moratoriums ended, but unfortunately, the moratoriums ended too soon. And so we have all of these tenants that are still in limbo, waiting for the rental assistance to come, but it hasn't come yet," said Garland.
"Rental assistance, I thought it would pay me back rent, but my landlord was very impatient and he did not want to wait for the rental assistance to be approved," said Smith.
So, apply ASAP and log into the rental assistance portal daily to see where you are in line, and if you need to fix an issue or upload more documents.
And remember if all those efforts fail, even after a landlord sends an eviction notice:
"The landlord cannot just change the locks or evict them at the end of that notice, the landlord does have to file in court," said Garland. "And the landlord has to go through the court process to do the lockout."
"I've never been homeless before. I'm scared to be homeless. I'm scared to not have anywhere to go," said Smith.
New Jersey has its own eviction moratorium, which continues through the end of the year, so tenants there potentially have more breathing room.
New Jersey Emergency Rental Assistance
More on New Jersey's Eviction Protections
Call 267-443-2500 for information on your legal rights as a tenant
Call 311 or apply online for rental assistance.
Go to www.phillytenant.org for updated tenant information.
For more rental assistance information for the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys.