Federal judge strikes down nationwide ban on evictions; Biden DOJ to appeal

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A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the national moratorium on evictions, allowing landlords to resume eviction proceedings against tenants who have stopped paying rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

When Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020, it created a 120-day ban on evictions that applied to rental properties receiving federal assistance. When that order expired, the Trump administration Department of Health and Human Services issued a second eviction moratorium through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that unlike the CARES Act applied to all rental properties nationwide. President Joe Biden subsequently renewed that order twice, with the current moratorium set to expire on June 30, 2021.

The eviction moratorium was intended to protect some of the 13.5 million American adults — nearly 1 in 5 renters — who reported that they have fallen behind on their rent payments during the pandemic due to economic hardship. But landlords opposed to the policy say they can’t continue to house people for free.

Rental property managers Danny Fordham and Robert Gilstrap, along with the Alabama and Georgia Associations of Renters, brought a lawsuit against the CDC challenging the order as unlawful and unconstitutional. They claimed the CDC exceeded its statutory authority, rushed to enact the order without proper procedure, and acted unconstitutionally by essentially depriving landlords of their property without due process.

THE SECOND WAVE

D.C. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, sided with their argument in her opinion, ruling that the CDC did not have the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium.

“The pandemic has triggered difficult policy decisions that have had enormous real-world consequences. The nationwide eviction moratorium is one such decision,” she wrote.

“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 opinion reads.

“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.”

Housing advocates and tenants-rights activists immediately called on the Biden administration to appeal the decision, and hours after the ruling the Department of Justice announced it would indeed challenge Friedrich’s opinion.

“The CDC’s eviction moratorium — which Congress extended last December and the CDC later extended through June 30, 2021 — protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses. 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,” Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice respectfully disagrees with today’s decision of the district court in Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS concluding that the moratorium exceeds CDC’s statutory authority to protect public health. In the department’s view, that decision conflicts with the text of the statute, Congress’s ratification of the moratorium, and the rulings of other courts,” Boynton continued.

“The department has already filed a notice of appeal of the decision and intends to seek an emergency stay of the order pending appeal,” the statement said.

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