A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a nationwide moratorium on evictions that was implemented as the pandemic raged through the United States.
In a 20-page order, a federal judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the legal authority to issue the eviction moratorium.
In the order, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich canceled the CDC’s order that was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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 order says. “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.”
The CDC’s moratorium stopped evictions for tenants who could not pay their rent due to the pandemic.
Luke Wake, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, has made similar arguments for landlords that he has represented.
“We’ve argued from the beginning that the CDC lacked statutory authority to impose this, and we’ve had multiple courts agree with us on that,” Wake said. “Today’s decision again vindicates our argument.”
The Biden Administration plans to appeal the decision. Advocates are calling for the administration to defend the policy and step up legal protections.
“While this latest ruling is written more starkly than previous ones, it likely has equally limited application impacting only the plaintiffs who brought the case or, at most, renters in the districts court’s jurisdiction,” Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said. “The [Department of Justice] should immediately appeal and the Biden administration should continue to vigorously defend and enforce the moratorium, at least until emergency rental assistance provided by Congress reaches the renters who need it to remain stably housed.”
According to the Census Bureau, 1 out of 7 renters are behind on their payments. The ruling does not affect state or local eviction moratoriums. The Justice Department is seeking an appeal and wants the moratorium to stay intact while arguments for the appeal are being made.
“The Department of Justice respectfully disagrees with today’s decision of the district court,” Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the department’s civil division, said. “In the department’s view, that decision conflicts with the text of the statute, Congress’s ratification of the moratorium, and the rulings of other courts.”
Emily Benfer, a Wake Forest University law professor and co-creator of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, argues that canceling the CDC moratorium would be detrimental to families that are now in a position to start paying back their debts.
“Without this critical public health measure, the eviction floodgates would open, placing millions of families in jeopardy, thwarting efforts to control the pandemic, and impeding $46 billion in eviction prevention assistance,” Benfer said. “We know eviction spreads COVID-19, we know it disrupts access to health care and we know it’s increasing health inequity among Black and Latinx people. The moratorium stops all of these harms.”
Through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, $21.6 billion will be distributed to local and state governments for rental and utility relief.
“There are now numerous conflicting court rulings at the district court level, with several judges ruling in favor of the moratorium and several ruling against it,” Yentel said.
Eric Dunn, director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project, says that Congress was preserving the status quo by keeping the moratorium in effect through the presidential transition.
“Practically, all these decisions have already made it so the CDC protection is basically a lottery ticket for tenants,” Dunn said. “If you qualify you can sign the declaration and it may protect you or it may not. The judge may decide it applies to you or her or she may decide it does not.”