The Trump Administration’s new eviction moratorium, announced Sept. 1, gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authority to bar landlords from evicting most tenants for non-payment of rent through Dec. 31. The moratorium coincides with legislation signed Aug. 31 by Gov. Gavin Newsom (see details here).
The new rules, which go into effect as soon as the order is published in the Federal Register, covers the following renters:
anyone who earns $99,000 or less in income
has tried to obtain government benefits to afford their rent
has experienced a loss of income or an increase in medical costs
is using “best efforts” to make partial rent payments
would be at risk or homelessness or having to move into a shared living space if evicted
As concerns over mass evictions have mounted in recent weeks, housing experts see the executive order as addressing only part of a complicated problem.
Tenants Still Responsible for Rent
It’s an “incomplete solution,” says Solomon Greene, a senior fellow and housing expert at the Urban Institute. One major shortcoming of the new policy is that once it expires in December, the tenants who were on the brink of losing their homes will still be responsible for all the rent that they can’t afford to pay now.
“While the moratorium extension is a step in the right direction, it won’t adequately meet the needs of millions of families who are behind on their rent,” Peggy Bailey, vice president of housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a statement.
Landlords will have to continue to pay their mortgage on a property for which they are no longer earning an income, can’t live in, and would be hard-pressed to sell to a new buyer while tenants are squatting in it.
But the new rule isn’t ideal for tenants either. It may be comforting that renters no longer have to worry about eviction for the next few months, but after that, they’ll be required to pay months of back rent in lump sums as early as Jan. 1, or risk eviction. They also may be on the hook for late fees on their back rent, which the order explicitly permits.
‘It’s now my civic duty to provide free housing’
“If there’s a hunger crisis, we would ask the government to expand food stamps. With a medical crisis, we ask the government to expand Medicaid. But with a housing crisis we’re putting this all on landlords,” says 31-year-old Katrina Bilella, who rented out her house when she moved for a job, then lost her job during COVID and her renters stopped paying. “It feels like we’re being scapegoated, and it’s now my civic duty to provide free housing.”
Critics say the Sept. 1 announcement smacks of political expediency just weeks before a major Presidential election: it provides short term relief, but helps neither tenants nor small landlords past the new year.
“I want to make it unmistakably clear,” President Donald Trump announced in a White House press release, “I’m protecting people from evictions.”
Logistically, it’s unlikely renters who have struggled to make payments will have enough cash on hand to pay back-rent (plus, possibly, fees) once the moratorium ends. It’s also unlikely that landlords who are themselves struggling to make ends meet will be able to quickly receive the back rent. (Municipal courts will inevitably be backlogged when landlords are eventually able to evict en masse, and evicted tenants can sometimes avoid paying rental debts by moving across state lines, working under-the-table jobs, or filing for bankruptcy.)
Second, to be covered by the moratorium, renters need to file a declaration attesting they fit income and hardship qualifications. If renters are not aware of the new protection or do not have access to the internet to obtain the form, this poses a problem. Greene also expects there may be legal challenges to the CDC’s order, as the statute and regulation it cites have never been applied in the context that the CDC is invoking them.
Moratorium Is ‘Critical First Step’
Still, housing advocates and experts say the new eviction moratorium, however imperfect, is a critical first step in protecting Americans’ health six months into a pandemic caused by a virus, in part because it will help prevent an immediate surge in evictions and, subsequently, homelessness.
“Evictions in the midst of a pandemic present an enormous public health risk,” says Greene. In July, 32% of U.S. Households did not make full and on-time housing payments for the month, according to a survey by Apartment List. By August, the Aspen Institute estimated between 29-43% of renter households could have been at risk of eviction by the end of the year if not for “robust and swift intervention.”
It’s been months since Americans received a stimulus check, expanded unemployment from the CARES Act ran out in July, and swaths of eviction protections issued at the state and local level are no longer in effect or were set to expire soon. A more coherent solution, Greene argues, would be one that also includes rent relief payments that either go directly to landlords on behalf of tenants, or to tenants who would then use the funds to pay their landlords. The CDC order, he says, buys the government time to come up with a solution that includes that.