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The 6-3 ruling found that the CDC did not have the authority to impose an eviction ban that was set to last until October.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium, ending protections even as only a small amount of emergency assistance has been distributed to at-risk renters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction ban, which applied only in counties with a “substantial” or “high” level of community transmission of the coronavirus, would have otherwise remained in effect through Oct. 3.
The court issued a 6-3 decision Thursday night, with the majority concluding the CDC’s moratorium exceeded its authority.
“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 court said it “strains credulity” to believe that the statute the CDC relied upon to issue the eviction ban gave it that kind of sweeping authority.
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.
Since September 2020, the national eviction moratorium has provided protection for the nation’s 43 million renters during the coronavirus pandemic. An estimated 4 million to 6 million renters are behind on payments by several months and are considered at high risk for eviction.
Congress approved $47 billion in emergency rent relief programs to help those who had fallen behind on payments get caught up. But state and local governments have been slow to design and implement rent relief programs. As of July, state and local programs had distributed $5 billion in emergency assistance.
To speed up the pace of aid distribution, the Treasury Department released guidance this week that includes recommendations meant to streamline the application process.
Opponents of the federal eviction ban hope the Supreme Court’s ruling will force state and local governments to get programs running and more quickly distribute aid.
“This ruling will allow property owners the benefit of their property and also light a fire under tenants to access, and the government to actually disperse, the Congressionally authorized solution to this problem, which was rent support,” said John Vecchione, senior litigation counsel with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, in a statement.
Some cities and states have adopted eviction moratoriums, which provide a range of protections to renters.
But even with that, housing advocates said the abrupt end to the moratorium will lead to evictions before eligible renters can get aid.
“State and local governments are working to improve programs to distribute emergency rental assistance to those in need, but they need more time,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s decision will lead to many renters, predominantly people of color, losing their homes before the assistance can reach them.”
For landlords, who had challenged the legality of the eviction ban, the ruling means they can evict tenants who have not paid rent. Landlords of small properties have struggled to pay mortgages and taxes as they’ve been unable to collect rent from tenants.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.