At the start of September, the White House issued an executive order allowing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to pause evictions through December 31, 2020. The CDC's order comes under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act to temporarily halt residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
The CDC directive applies to renters who earn less than $99,000 or $198,000 or less for couples. They must show that they've tried to take advantage of government programs and that they can't pay rent due to COVID-19. Tenants are also required to make partial rent payments if possible and file a declaration form with their landlord.
The announcements were bad news for many landlords whose tenants have not been paying rent. There has been no national blanket protection for landlords who have nonpaying tenants. With a second stimulus yet to be decided, the lack of income has caused intense financial difficulties for many individuals and families. Multiple landlords and groups have filed lawsuits saying that the moratorium infringes on their property rights. These weren't the first lawsuits filed regarding eviction moratoria, since eviction moratoria began earlier this year, dozens of suits have been filed to challenge federal, state, and local eviction bans.
Landlords band together
Seven landlords in Memphis, Tennessee, who have over 5,000 apartments in the area, have filed a lawsuit claiming that the CDC doesn't have the authority to prevent evictions and that the order itself is unconstitutional because it violates the Fifth Amendment's rules on due process. According to the complaint, all of the landlords in the suit have tenants who would otherwise be evicted for nonpayment of rent.
In Georgia, the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) filed a suit, Richard Lee Brown, et al. v. Secretary Alex Azar, et al., which states that rental housing providers have been damaged by the eviction ban and have no recourse to collect rent. Like the Memphis lawsuit, this suit also alleges that the CDC does not have the power to encroach on private property rights in individual states. It calls for a preliminary injunction to stop the CDC from enforcing the order.
The National Apartment Association (NAA) joined the NCLA lawsuit. The NAA has over 85,000 members representing over 10 million homes worldwide. In a statement, NAA President & CEO Bob Pinnegar noted that "rental housing works on extremely narrow margins and, though last paid themselves, owners still need to pay extensive bills."
The NAA, like other landlord groups, has called for rental assistance, especially for the thousands of individual property owners who aren't able to pay their bills and who also may not be able to keep up with required maintenance on their properties without any money coming in. Many other housing groups such as the National Multifamily Housing Council have also pointed out that while eviction moratoria are a short-term fix, they don't address the long-term issues of housing affordability and could actually make the problem worse by damaging the housing market as a whole.
What happens after December
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities, states, and the federal government have often issued conflicting legislation. Over half of all states have ended their eviction bans, and many more are set to expire by the end of the year. Some states may extend their moratoria deep into 2021, especially if we see a second wave of illness and a move to close public spaces again.
Despite the CDC's eviction moratorium, eviction lawsuits are still being filed in many states. Depending on the area, some are on pause until 2021, while others are making sure tenants are aware of the national eviction moratorium as well as their rights during the eviction process. The presidential election, as well as a new stimulus and other federal programs, may determine what happens after the new year.