As expected, the latest eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is under legal attack, as real estate groups asked a federal judge Wednesday to halt protections for vulnerable renters.
Only a day after the CDC instated another, more targeted, eviction moratorium following the expiration of an earlier one, the Alabama and Georgia chapters of the National Association of Realtors filed a motion in federal court to stop the ban, claiming the order is out of the agency’s bounds.
The real estate groups say the CDC caved to “political pressure” when instituting this latest ban, alluding to the public push from House Democrats for the administration to extend the previous moratorium.
The United States has been under a blanket national eviction moratorium since last September — an order from the CDC that finally expired last Saturday. For days, White House and administration officials argued that they had “no legal authority” to extend the moratorium again, calling on Congress to do it instead.
The House failed to do so, attempting to pass a vote by unanimous consent that was blocked by Republicans — a result that prompted outrage among progressive lawmakers. A group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), slept on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest of the last eviction moratorium expiring. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the White House, both publicly and privately, to extend the moratorium.
Finally on Tuesday, the CDC instated a more targeted moratorium ― not a blanket national ban on evictions, but one that only applies to counties with high rates of COVID-19. Still, because rates of transmission are so high, the moratorium will likely apply to 90% of renters, the White House said.
Unsurprisingly, these eviction moratoriums have not been popular with real estate groups and related industry lobbies, who have called the government’s action unlawful. Landlords have lost billions in unpaid rent, as millions of renters who lost income and jobs during the pandemic have been unable to keep up with their bills.
“We have argued all along that the best solution for all parties is rental assistance for tenants in need paid directly to housing providers,” Shannon McGahn, chief advocacy officer for NAR, said in a statement. “Nearly half of all rental housing in America is a mom-and-pop operation, and these providers cannot continue to live in a state of financial hardship.”
Compounding the issue is that states and cities have been extremely slow at getting out rental assistance — in the form of a $45 billion fund that Congress approved in the last two COVID-19 relief bills — that could go a long way toward making landlords whole, as they are also eligible to request funds. As of June, only $3 billion of the fund had been dispersed.
The Georgia and Alabama real estate groups filed a lawsuit against the last ban as well — a case that ultimately made it to the Supreme Court. In late June, the Supreme Court ruled that the national eviction moratorium could stay in place through July 31.
But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who in June voted in favor of keeping the ban in place at the time, cast doubt on the legality of any further extensions to the moratorium. Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion that after July 31, eviction moratoriums would need congressional approval.
The CDC is arguing that circumstances have changed in the past month as the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly through the country, with high levels of transmission in the majority of states.
That said, even President Joe Biden has suggested the CDC’s new eviction moratorium may not pass constitutional muster. On Tuesday, he said the White House had consulted with legal scholars, many of whom said the new order would likely be thrown out.
Biden also misleadingly said that the Supreme Court had ruled the last moratorium “unconstitutional.” It did not do that, but Kavanaugh’s opinion did give a window into the challenging legal environment the CDC will be facing this time around.
“At a minimum, by the time it is litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we are getting that $45 billion out to people who are in fact behind on their rent and don’t have the money,” Biden said Tuesday.
As of June, roughly 3.6 million adults in the United States reported they were within two months of eviction, including 2 million households with kids, according to recent census data.