A recent court order designed to give struggling Bucks County residents more time to get help paying rent before facing eviction has been put on hold.
The order, signed July 22 by Bucks County President Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr., had authorized the district courts to grant a mandatory 30-day stay in eviction cases where a tenant had applied for aid through the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance (BERA) program or similar programs.
A week later, Bateman’s order has been rescinded until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can review the Court Action to Reduce Evictions program. The matter was submitted to the high court on Thursday after a procedural objection to the program was raised this week, Bucks County Court Administrator Stephen G. Heckman said.
“Upon review of that objection, the Court elected to proceed in an abundance of caution and to place the program on hold,” Heckman said in a statement. Ultimately, a decision was made to seek the Supreme Court’s approval.
If approval is granted, the program would be reinstated immediately, the court administrator said.
“The Court is extremely disappointed that the County-Court cooperation that culminated in this effort to assist in the mission of BERA has been frustrated,” Heckman said. While approval is pending, “it is our hope that each magisterial district judge will use her or his discretion to facilitate the goal of the Court Action to Reduce Evictions program” by encouraging landlords and tenants to avoid evictions by seeking the assistance offered through the BERA program.
Funded with millions in federal COVID-relief dollars, BERA was launched by the county earlier this year in partnership with Bucks County Housing Link. Since March 1, the program has paid out $7.78 million and provided assistance to 858 households.
The uncertainty over Bateman’s order comes as the latest extension of a CDC moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent is set to expire this weekend.
Bateman’s order would have allowed people unable to pay rent because they have lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic to remain in their homes if they had applied for BERA aid.
Those who need help paying rent or utilities but who are not yet facing eviction may also qualify for aid through BERA. Applications are typically assigned to a caseworker for review within two business days.
Learn more by calling 1-800-810-4434 or visiting buckshousinglink.org.
Media Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, [email protected]