Appeal Delays Judge’s Ruling to Lift Eviction Ban; CA Status
A U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia ruled lastweek that the CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium is unlawful, striking down the ban and delivering relief to housing providers who haven’t been able to collect rent from struggling tenants for more than a year.
But the struggle for housing providers isn’t over. The U.S. Department of Justice immediately filed an appeal, and the D.C. District Court issued a temporary stay, meaning the CDC eviction moratorium remains in place across the country pending another hearing. The court will have a hearing in the next two weeks on the DOJ’s motion, and the temporary stay will remain in effect at least until that decision is issued.
A new federal rule issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), effective May 5, 2021, requires attorneys and agentsof landlords or owners of residential property (“debt collectors”)to provide written notice to tenants of their rights under the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium.
Regardless of the enforceability of the federal CDC order, California’s own rent moratorium laws will protect most tenants from eviction based upon non-payment of rent, according to C.A.R.
CDC Lawsuit Filed by REALTORS®
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich vacated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction ban after a seven-month legal battle between the Alabama Association of REALTORS® and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Alabama and Georgia associations and several other plaintiffs filed the suit in November when the CDC extended the reach of the eviction ban beyond properties receiving federal assistance. After the update, the plaintiffs said a growing share of renters abused the protections provided by the CARES Act and stopped paying rent.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs argued the federal government had overstepped its bounds by extending the moratorium to properties outside of its purview — an argument with which Friedrich agreed.
“It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic,” the memorandum opinion read. “The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not.”
NAR Support for Lifting Ban
The National Association of REALTORS® supported the lawsuit, stating that it was no longer needed.
NAR said it helped secure “nearly $50 billion in rental assistance provided by Congress since December to help tenants pay their bills, and provide relief to housing providers who have lost income.”
“NAR has always maintained that the best solution for all parties was rental assistance to cover the rent, taxes and utility bills for tenants struggling during the pandemic,” says NAR President Charlie Oppler. “This decision prevents two crises—one for tenants, and one for mom-and-pop housing providers who do not have a reprieve from their bills.
“With rental assistance secured, the economy growing, and unemployment rates falling, there is no need to continue a blanket, nationwide eviction ban. With this safety net firmly in place, the market needs a return to normalcy and stability.”
Oppler adds that “our attention now should turn to the swift and efficient implementation of rental assistance.”
The judge’s decision added that, “Because the plain language of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. § 264(a), unambiguously forecloses the nationwide eviction moratorium, the Court must set aside the CDC Order, consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act and D.C. Circuit precedent. For the foregoing reasons, the plaintiffs’ motion for expedited summary judgment is granted and the Department’s motion for summary judgment and partial motion to dismiss are denied.”
CDC Extended Over Spike in COVID Cases
Over the past year, the CDC has extended the moratorium several times as coronavirus infections and deaths spiked in the summer and then again during the holidays. The latest moratorium extension was set to expire on March 31 as outlined in President Trump’s $900 billion relief package passed last December; however, the CDC announced on March 29 another extension until June 30.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement to CNBC. “Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The nation’s largest housing advocacy groups are slowly releasing statements, with National Low Income Housing Coalition Diane Yentel saying the ruling will likely only impact renters in Alabama and Georgia. However, she’s calling on the Department of Justice to fight the ruling.
After the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March 2020, established an eviction moratorium that ended last July, former President Donald Trump granted the CDC the authority to enforce an eviction moratorium under public health powers in September 2020. The moratorium has been extended twice and was due to expire at the end of June after President Joe Biden authorized the latest extension.
Tenants’ rights advocates had been pushing for a third extension, said Erin Stackley, senior policy representative on commercial issues for NAR, during the Single-Family Investment Management Committee virtual 2021 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings.
Stackley said that NAR expects updated Treasury guidance on the disbursement of rental assistance funds by today (May 10). So far, the process has been slow, she added, because there’s no centralized method for getting money to the people who need it.
States have developed their own programs to disburse the funds, and some cities have started a program that’s different than their state’s.
“States are perpetuating the problem for renters by taking too long to get the money out there,” Stackley said. “Meanwhile, people fall further behind on rent.”