Connecting state and local government leaders
At least seven states and some cities have eviction bans in place but some expire soon.
State and local eviction regulations take on heightened significance now that the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of the Biden administration’s federal eviction ban.
At least seven states—California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington—and some cities have some form of eviction moratorium in place. Several of those protections are set to expire in the coming days or weeks, and housing policy experts believe the Supreme Court decision will likely galvanize state and local governments to extend existing relief or enact new bans.
New York’s eviction ban is set to expire Tuesday. After the high court’s ruling, newly sworn in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is “exploring all options to further protect New Yorkers from eviction, including with the legislative leaders.”
Acting ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker this week extended the state’s eviction moratorium through Sept. 18. Like New York, the Illinois ban was set to expire Tuesday.
The Supreme Court ended the nationwide eviction ban in a 6-3 decision Thursday, ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to issue the ban.
“It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorized the action that the CDC has
taken. But that has not happened,” the court’s majority wrote in an unsigned decision. “Instead, the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination.”
The decision was expected, as justices on the court previously indicated that congressional approval of such an order would be necessary. Acknowledging the shaky legal ground, the Biden administration allowed a previous nationwide eviction ban to expire in July.
Existing State Protections
The national eviction moratorium provided protection for the nation’s 43 million renters during the coronavirus pandemic. In its absence, state and local eviction bans offer varying degrees of protection to about a quarter of the nation’s renters, said John Pollock, a coordinator with the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, which advocates for legal representation of tenants in eviction cases.
New York’s ban was among the strongest in the country until a separate Supreme Court ruling curtailed the regulations, Pollock said. The state had allowed tenants to submit written declarations indicating they suffered economic setbacks due to the pandemic. The Supreme Court said the state’s ban unfairly precluded landlords from contesting that certification and denied them a hearing.
Oregon’s eviction moratorium expired in June, but lawmakers approved a “safe harbor” law that gives tenants until 2022 to pay back rent.
The Illinois law allows landlords to file eviction cases in court but prevents law enforcement from physically removing tenants.
“Once that eviction moratorium ends, the sheriff’s deputies can come the next day and move people out,” said Steve Berg, the vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “The further along the case can go, the faster it is to evict a person once the ban is lifted.”
Other Policy Options
In addition to local moratoriums, housing policy experts said state and local governments looking to blunt a wave of evictions could consider other policy options, including programs that provide legal representation to tenants in eviction court or increase outreach to local landlords about emergency rental assistance.
“It’s really the people at the local level who can safeguard against a massive amount of eviction,” Berg said.
Congress approved $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance. States and local governments can use 10% of that money on “housing stability” services, which includes tenant representation in eviction proceedings.
“In the wake of this moratorium, the best thing these jurisdictions can do is provide tenants with lawyers,” Pollock said.
Providing tenants with legal counsel in proceedings has been shown to dramatically reduce their chance of getting evicted. While landlords have legal representation in an estimated 90% of eviction cases, fewer than 10% of tenants come to court with an attorney.
In addition to helping mediate eviction proceedings, attorneys will also be able to help tenants understand and connect to rental assistance programs, Pollock said.
Local governments could also target outreach to landlords, Berg said.
“Get the mayor to call all the big landlords in town—the people who rent modest apartments in town,” he said. “Talk to them about how the city needs their help on this and that there is money available.”
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.