Finally, after almost a year, the CDC's ban on evictions, the eviction moratorium, is over. The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision issued Thursday evening that the CDC had exceeded its authority by issuing the ban. The ruling states, "If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it."
The CDC overstepped its authority
The Supreme Court ruled in a case filed by the Alabama Association of Realtors that the CDC doesn't have the authority to halt evictions. This is good news for all the landlords who've faced irreparable harm from being unable to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent.
The court specified that the CDC can take the following measures to control the spread of interstate disease: inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of contaminated animals and articles. Regulations from the CDC have so far been used only to quarantine people and prohibit the sale and transport of animals known to transmit disease.
The CDC went beyond its scope this time, using reasoning, according to the Supreme Court ruling, that if people are evicted, some might move from one state to another while infected with COVID-19, thereby spreading the disease throughout the country. But that reasoning is too much of a stretch, going beyond directly targeting disease, ruled the court.
Beyond that, there's the issue of state law as it pertains to the landlord-tenant relationship. The CDC went beyond its authority in this case, setting a dangerous precedent and giving the CDC a "breathtaking amount of authority," the court ruled. What would be next? The court, in its ruling, brought up the following examples: Could the CDC next mandate free grocery delivery to the sick? Free computers so people can work from home? Could it force telecommunications companies to provide high-speed internet service for remote work?
The court recognized how the moratorium put millions of landlords at risk of "irreparable harm by depriving them of rent payments with no guarantee of eventual recovery." The court also stated: "Many landlords have modest means. And preventing them from evicting tenants who breach their leases intrudes on one of the most fundamental elements of property ownership -- the right to exclude."
The CDC had even imposed a $250,000 fine and a year's jail time for any landlord who violated the eviction moratorium.
Three judges disagreed with the majority ruling: Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion and said, "It is far from ‘demonstrably' clear that the CDC lacks the power to issue its modified moratorium order."
But President Biden acknowledged in a speech a few weeks ago that the eviction moratorium wasn't likely to "pass constitutional muster" but that it was worth the effort to try anyway. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is "disappointed" with the ruling.
The ban kept being extended
The eviction moratorium, first implemented under President Trump, kept being extended, and it was looking like it would never end. It began in September 2020 and was supposed to end by Dec. 31 of that year. It was extended by Congress for one month, and then the CDC took matters into its own hands, extending it through March, through June, and then again through July 31. Three days later, the CDC reinstated the ban to extend until Oct. 3 -- on a limited basis, but one that would affect most landlords. It's over now, though.
The Millionacres bottom line
It's understandable to keep people off the streets during a pandemic. But that doesn't mean the CDC has the authority to act unlawfully, even if its intentions are good. We have a problem in this country with housing insecurity, and we should find solutions. But making landlords bear the brunt of the problem isn't the answer.
Perhaps workers should be compensated more, perhaps landlords should actually get the rent relief earmarked for them (only $3 billion of $47 billion in rent relief aid has been distributed), and perhaps more affordable housing options should be a priority. There are lots of scenarios that could help people with financial difficulties that don't sacrifice residential landlords, most of whom are running a small business. Let's hope private property rights don't ever come under attack again.