Judge temporarily stays ruling against CDC eviction moratorium

A federal judge has temporarily stayed an order that found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority when it imposed a federal eviction moratorium to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The stay, issued late Wednesday by a federal judge in Washington, came after the Justice Department filed an emergency appeal in the case. The administrative stay means there will be no immediate impact on the ban, which was extended in March to go through the end of June.

The judge said issuing the stay was not based on the merits of the Justice Department’s argument but instead is meant to give the court time to consider the motion and any potential opposition.

Opponents of the moratorium, including the National Association of Realtors, welcomed the judge’s initial ruling and said the solution was rental assistance, not a ban on evictions.

The eviction ban, initially put in place last year, provides protection for renters out of concern that having families lose their homes and move into shelters or share crowded conditions with relatives or friends during the pandemic would further spread the highly contagious virus.

Proponents of the ban argue it is necessary because the pandemic is still a threat and so many people are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. Nearly 4 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Earlier Wednesday, a federal judge ruled the CDC exceeded its authority when it imposed a federal eviction moratorium in a case brought by plaintiffs including the Alabama and Georgia associations of Realtors, who argued the solution was rental assistance, not a ban on evictions.

“This prevents two crises — one for tenants, and one for mom-and-pop housing providers who do not have a reprieve from their bills,” the president of the Realtors association, Charlie Oppler, said in a statement. “With rental assistance secured, the economy strengthening, and unemployment rates falling, there is no need to continue a blanket, nationwide eviction ban.”

The eviction ban, initially put in place last year, provides protection for renters out of concern that having families lose their homes and move into shelters or share crowded conditions with relatives or friends during the pandemic would further spread the highly contagious virus.

The eviction moratorium “protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses,” Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement announcing the department’s decision to appeal the court ruling.

“Scientific evidence shows that evictions exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than half a million Americans, and the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone,” he added.

Congress has allocated more than $45 billion in rental assistance, but much of that hasn’t reached needy tenants.

Eric Dunn, the director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project, said most of the rent relief programs only started in late March and early April. “It feels like the pandemic, at least in the U.S., is coming to an end, but it’s not over yet. If we have a wave of mass evictions, it could really set us back.”

There are at least six prominent lawsuits challenging the authority of the CDC ban. So far, three judges have sided with the ban and three have ruled against, with all cases currently going through appeals. One judge in Memphis declared the CDC order unenforceable in the entire Western District of Tennessee.

Dunn worries that the sweeping nature of this ruling — which clearly states that it applies nationally — could embolden landlords in some states to push ahead with evictions.

“Just practically there could be some landlords that maybe thought the prior decision didn’t apply to them or they couldn’t rely on those and may choose to rely on this one,” he said. “There could be some broader effect for that reason, but I think technically it’s still the same. None of the federal court decisions are binding on state court judges that actually hear eviction cases.”

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