Landlord says eviction modification won’t deter his lawsuit

The Wolf administration is loosening its ban on foreclosures and evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, but that won’t deter Clarion attorney and landlord Blair Hindman from pursuing his lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf.

A tenant who damages property, breaks the law or breaches the lease in some other way can now be evicted under a modified executive order issued Friday by Wolf.

But the governor’s temporary ban still applies to evictions and foreclosures for nonpayment or because a tenant has overstayed a lease. The moratorium is scheduled to last until July 10.

Hindman on Friday filed an application for extraordinary relief with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s Western District challenging Wolf’s suspension of evictions. The filing seeks relief from Wolf’s May 7 order.

“I am protecting housing for Pennsylvanians who may be facing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in his written statement Friday. “My order will not affect proceedings for other issues, such as property damage or illegal activity.”

The Wolf administration has been fighting legal action by landlords who say the governor overstepped his authority by imposing a moratorium on evictions. His spokeswoman, Lyndsay Kensinger, said the decision to amend the executive order was considered before the litigation was filed “in consideration of feedback from stakeholders.”

“This (Friday’s amendment) is a better order than what he had before,” said Hindman. “However what he has done is throw the baby out with the bathwater. He is interfering with every personal contract between landlord and tenant in Pennsylvania. That is probably hundreds of thousands of contracts.”

“This shows what Wolf has done through this whole emergency. He has been reactionary,” Hindman said. “He has not been proactive. If you look at what Pennsylvania has done he has waited until someone else has taken action and then he will take action,” Hindman added.

“The Supreme Court made an order stating there would be no evictions for non-payment of rent. When that was coming to an end is was when he made this executive order suspending evictions for any reason,” said Hindman.

The attorney also said that “no landlord I know wants to evict someone. They are going to have a heart for someone who has an emergency. But you have people right now who do not have an emergency and there is no need for Gov. Wolf to paint things with that wide of a brush.”

Hindman said he filed the case on behalf of himself, as the owner and landlord of a number of residential and commercial rental properties in Clarion and Jefferson counties, and on behalf of other landlords adversely affected by the order.

In his suit, Hindman argued that landlords are “adversely, significantly and detrimentally affected by the governor’s order” due to being barred from commencing eviction actions against tenants who are in default of their lease agreements.

Hindman said the eviction process takes time, so actions initiated in July will most likely not cause tenants to vacate until September.

“Saying no landlord can evict any tenant for any reason for months is, I believe, an unconstitutional overreach,” Hindman said.

A hearing date hasn’t been scheduled.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)