CDC Eviction Moratorium, Only Partly Effective, Loses Ground In Court
Two separate federal judges have ruled against the enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's nationwide eviction moratorium, which is slated to expire at the end of this month in any case. The decisions are the latest in the legal wrangling around the CDC order, but they are not definitive nationwide.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled that the agency exceeded its authority because the CDC is limited to dealing with infected animals, objects or properties. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas ruled that despite the public health benefit of the moratorium, it was an unprecedented exercise of federal government power in what should be a state matter.
Neither of these decisions is the final word on the CDC moratorium, because other federal courts have ruled differently. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia rejected arguments similar to those made by the Ohio plaintiffs.
Also late in 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana rejected a similar constitutional challenge to the CDC's authority that was approved by the Texas court.
The CDC's eviction moratorium seems to have some impact on the volume of evictions nationwide, though the picture has been muddied because of overlapping state and local measures that have stopped or slowed evictions.
Between the time the CDC moratorium started in September and the end of February, the nonprofit Eviction Lab at Princeton University tracked more than 163,700 eviction filings. According to the organization, that is about 44% as many filings as for the same period in a typical year (more than 369,200).
"Focusing on just those cities that had no additional protections — or just those times when no such protections were in place in a given city — we find that eviction filings were at 50.1% of historical average," the Eviction Lab said in a report.
Eviction filings actually increased nationwide during the first four months of the CDC moratorium, from 48.7% of their historic average to 65.7% in the 23 cities that the Eviction Lab tracks. When Congress authorized $25B in rental assistance at the end of 2020, eviction filings started decreasing. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law last week, provides an additional $21.5B in rental assistance.
The Government Accountability Office, in a separate report on the effectiveness of the CDC and other moratoriums, reached a similar conclusion. During this moratorium, places without state or local moratoriums had larger increases in eviction filings, the GAO said, which suggests that many renters may not have understood how to avoid eviction under the CDC moratorium, which does not prevent landlords from launching the legal process and requires those tenants to complete documentation to avoid eviction.
"CDC ... has taken few steps to promote awareness and understanding of the moratorium and its requirements," the GAO said. "Without a communication and outreach plan, including federal coordination, CDC will be missing an opportunity to ensure that eligible renters avoid eviction."