Federal Judge Vacates Nationwide Evictions Moratorium

In this May 20, 2020, file photo, signs that read "No Job No Rent" hang from the windows of an apartment building during the coronavirus pandemic in Northwest Washington.

In this May 20, 2020, file photo, signs that read "No Job No Rent" hang from the windows of an apartment building during the coronavirus pandemic in Northwest Washington. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to issue the ban last fall, which has shielded renters from eviction during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

UPDATE, May 6: A federal judge on Wednesday threw out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's evictions moratorium for people who cannot pay rent, but agreed to put a temporary hold on the ruling as the federal government seeks to appeal the decision.

A federal judge on Wednesday threw out a nationwide ban on evictions that has prevented landlords from kicking out tenants who couldn’t pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in issuing the eviction moratorium, wrote U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich in the first federal ruling to invalidate the moratorium on a nationwide basis.

The CDC cited public health concerns when it issued the moratorium in September, arguing it is more difficult for people who are homeless to quarantine and that people are at higher risk of Covid-19 transmission in congregate settings like homeless shelters.

“The Public Health Service Act authorizes the department to combat the spread of disease through a range of measures, but these measures plainly do not encompass the nationwide eviction moratorium set forth in the CDC order,” wrote Friedrich in a 20-page ruling.

Housing advocates have praised the CDC’s moratorium for providing widespread protection for people who have lost work during the pandemic and struggled to pay rent. But landlords have complained the moratorium left them to cover mortgages when tenants stopped paying, regardless of the reason, and said it has made it difficult to evict problem tenants.

The Justice Department filed a notice of intent to appeal the ruling on Wednesday afternoon and officials said they would seek an emergency stay of the order to prevent it from taking effect. Evictions would “exacerbate the spread of Covid-19” and would greatly harm the public, said Brian Boynton, the acting assistant attorney general for DOJ’s Civil Division.

The lawsuit challenging the moratorium was brought by the Alabama and Georgia Associations of Realtors.

“No business can survive while forgoing steady income for a year,” said Charlie Oppler, the president of the National Association of Realtors. “If mom-and-pop property owners are put in a position where they can no longer sustain their small businesses, every tenant living there would be left without a proper home.”

The CARES Act included an eviction moratorium that only applied to the approximately 12 million renters who lived in federally backed housing. But the CDC extended those protections to all of the nation’s 43 million renters and the protections are currently set to expire in June.

A recent analysis of renter debt found more than 5 million people are behind on rent with an estimated debt of $3,400 per household. Nationwide, renters’ debt is estimated to total more than $19 billion.

Housing advocates said the ruling was devastating and they hoped the Biden administration would appeal the ruling.

“The nation cannot afford further increases in homelessness, and that is exactly what this ruling will do,” said Nan Roman, the president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

At least six other federal courts have considered legal challenges to the CDC moratorium, but the outcomes have been mixed.

Friedrich, who was appointed by President Trump, acknowledged the “serious public health crisis” and “unprecedented challenges” that the pandemic has posed for the nation. But she said ultimately the CDC did not have the legal authority to impose the moratorium and that it should be set aside. 

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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