Action News Investigation: Some tenants taking advantage of federal eviction moratorium

We dug into court data and found a wave of potential evictions on the way.

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Investigation: Some tenants taking advantage of eviction moratorium
The Action News Investigative Team dug into court data and found a wave of potential evictions on the way.

MEDFORD LAKES, New Jersey (WPVI) -- In January the federal eviction moratorium expired, allowing landlords to remove tenants from properties from which they've defaulted on rent.

The Action News Investigative Team dug into court data and found a wave of potential evictions on the way.

Craig Kuhlow of Medford Lakes, New Jersey is one of those landlords who say it's about time.

He and his wife are out nearly $60,000.

They say their tenant, John Oppermann, damaged their rental property and didn't pay a dime in rent during the pandemic, despite being employed.

"It'd be very hard for me to make any repairs because we've had to dip into our savings deeply," Kuhlow said.

The couple said they had their day in court to evict Oppermann at the beginning of the pandemic, but a day prior the federal government issued an eviction moratorium.

Even more damaging, they say Oppermann refused to sign on for Federal Emergency Rental Assistance.

"The tenant has to file or give the landlord permission to file on his behalf, which this guy will not do," said Kuhlow.

We confronted Oppermann outside of his job.

"You could have helped him with the federal assistance, he would've got the money. You could have lived there," said Chad Pradelli.

"I made mistakes," Oppermann replied.

Paul Cohen, a real estate attorney who represents mostly landlords in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said Oppermann may have qualified.

"In Phase four, they (the government) finally pretty much eliminated all the proof that you needed to provide in order to be able to get the funding," he said.

The Kuhlows are among a wave of landlords now looking to evict tenants.

Data obtained by the Investigative Team shows in Camden County, New Jersey, residential landlord-tenant filings have quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels.

Filings went from 1,096 in March of 2019 to 3,908 in March of this year.

Filings have also more than doubled in Atlantic County from 303 in 2019 to 748 in 2022.

And the numbers have nearly tripled in Burlington County from 339 to 982, and in Gloucester County they climbed from 164 to 457.

"Now the floodgates just opened up," added Cohen.

Cohen said COVID-19 left many tenants in dire straits and in need of help, but far too many others took advantage of the situation - failing to pay rent when they could afford to do so.

"It's extremely widespread, but I can't even put an exact number on it. That would be impossible to do," he said.

In Pennsylvania, landlord-tenant filings in March remain down from pre-pandemic levels at about 33% in Bucks and Philadelphia counties, and 63% in Montgomery County.

Cohen says that's about to change, but it may be more gradual in some counties like Philadelphia.

"Before you can file an eviction case, you now have to go to what they call the diversion program, and you have to wait 30 days before you can file the complaint."

Oppermann told us he's sorry for not paying rent and not helping to get rental assistance.

When we asked why, he simply said he was dealing with some personal issues.

"Do you feel bad about what happened?" asked Chad Pradelli. "Yes I do," replied Oppermann.

A few weeks ago, the Kuhlows say they got an order to evict Oppermann but as of yesterday Oppermann still had not moved out nor had authorities locked him out yet.

The Kuhlows said they believe recouping the money they say they lost will likely be fruitless.