A U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia ruled Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’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 on Wednesday night, 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.
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, Erin Stackley, senior policy representative on commercial issues for the National Association of REALTORS®, told the Single-Family Investment Management Committee on Tuesday during the virtual 2021 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings.
In her 20-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the District of Columbia said, “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 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 Georgia and Alabama state REALTORS® associations, along with two housing providers and their property management companies, filed the lawsuit in defense of mom-and-pop property owners around the country struggling to pay bills without rental income. NAR supported the lawsuit and, separately, helped secure nearly $50 billion in rental assistance provided by Congress last year to help tenants pay their bills, saying the ban was no longer needed.
“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,” NAR President Charlie Oppler said in a statement Wednesday. “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 added that “our attention now should turn to the swift and efficient implementation of rental assistance.”
Stackley said Tuesday that NAR expects updated Treasury guidance on the disbursement of rental assistance funds by 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. Meanwhile, people fall further behind on rent,” Stackley said.
— Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine Online, May 2021, with permission of the National Association of REALTORS®. Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.