“Definitely during a pandemic, the last place you want to have anybody is living in the street,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.By Chris Hoffman

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh City Council is one step closer to banning evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After much discussion, it preliminarily approved the eviction bill Wednesday morning.

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Brandi Fisher with Pittsburgh United says the group has been calling for this type of legislation for some time. They feel people should not be forced out onto the streets.

“With the loss of jobs and the loss of income, people are in very dire situations,” she said over Zoom.

Mayor Bill Peduto proposed the bill to Council. He wants to make sure people are not homeless during the pandemic.

“Definitely during a pandemic, the last place you want to have anybody is living in the street,” he said.

The bill has four main pillars.

Landlords aren’t allowed to evict someone due to losing a significant amount of income, and/or due to medical expenses.

Landlords can’t refuse a lease or end one due to a previous tenant not paying or lease violations.

Threats to the health and safety of others and criminal activity are not protected from eviction.

Any landlords in violation of the bill could face a summary offense and fine up to $10,000.

“We have to take care of the people. These are working people, people who are out here every day keeping our economy going,” Fisher said.

Landlord organizations feel they are being left out of the discussion. They want to know who is helping them pay their bills.

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“Council and the city isn’t doing a whole heck of a lot to help landlords during this whole process. They’re not forgiving the taxes,” Jim Eichenlaub with the Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh said.

He said not every landlord is a conglomerate. Some are small mom and pops. Some of the money people pay in rent goes back to the renter in the way of building maintenance, staffing and bills.

“And in fact under the COVID, our expenses have gone up in many instances because of the cleaning protocols,” he said.

Advocates like Fisher say kicking people out of their homes can cause bigger problems like incarceration.

“This is how people’s families are separated. We really want to make sure we are taking care of people in Pittsburgh,” she said.

In a statement, the Pittsburgh Union of Regional Renters said, “If council adopts Deb Gross’s amendments, they will save hundreds of lives. If they don’t, the remaining loopholes will be used to evict tenants, spread COVID, and kill people. That’s the status quo. Action is overdue.

“PURR calls on council to adopt the amendments – which are a compromise – as soon as possible. The county needs to follow suit. Otherwise there will be 1,110-plus eviction hearings next month, and people will die for the ‘crime’ of being poor in a pandemic.”

Eichenlaub advises for landlords to work with their tenants to try and keep a roof over their heads.

“Those landlords are not just waiting and itching to throw them out on the street. They want to work with them,” he said.

Mayor Peduto said he worked with city council and the city’s law department to make sure this bill will not be thrown out in the courts.

“We’re supportive of providing that safety net during this pandemic. However we also want to make sure that what we’re doing will stand the test of law,” he said.

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The council will hold an executive session to work through any proposed amendments. A final vote is expected next Tuesday.