A second federal judge ruled the eviction moratorium currently in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is unconstitutional.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), nearly 20 percent of renters in the United States are behind on rent payments due to the financial stress of COVID-19. It is estimated that renters owe tens of billions in back rent, which will require several months to pay back.
“More than 5 million renters say they have lost employment income and expect to be evicted soon,” the CBPP reported. “Struggling renters are disproportionately households with children and people of color, particularly people who are Black or Latino.”
In order to combat mass homelessness that could increase the spread of COVID-19, the CDC released a nationwide COVID-19 eviction moratorium.
A moratorium is a temporary prohibition of an activity or a legal authorization to postpone payment. The CDC released their moratorium Sept. 4, 2020, and was set to extend it through Dec. 31, 2020. However, the moratorium was extended twice now through March 31, 2021.
The CDC outlined the goals of the moratorium in their statement of intent and referenced other unprecedented acts the government has taken such as border closures, restrictions of travel and stay-at-home orders.
“In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” according to the CDC.
However, the eviction moratorium has gone on for almost seven months and some landlords are pursuing court cases against the CDC.
A Texas suit was looking to end the eviction moratorium in Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Seyfarth Shaw LLP. in their article on eviction cases, the Terkel plaintiffs, who are landlords, challenged the moratorium by saying the CDC exceeded the federal government’s authority under Article I of the Constitution.
The court evaluated whether the CDC moratorium was justified by regulating “activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce,” but found that real estate was inherently local.
On Feb. 25, the Texas court released their summary judgment for the plaintiffs. They found that the CDC moratorium was unenforceable and unconstitutional.
On Feb. 27, the government appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals.
“[The court’s decision] does not extend beyond the particular plaintiffs in that case, and it does not prohibit the application of the CDC’s eviction moratorium to other parties,” the government released in their statement regarding the appeal. “For other landlords who rent to covered persons, the CDC’s eviction moratorium remains in effect.”
However, the decision in the Terkel case is still impacting other decisions. On March 10, Judge J. Philip Calabrese of the Northern District of Ohio struck down the moratorium in Skyworks Ltd. v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The court found that the CDC exceeded the authority given to them by Congress and the moratorium was ruled unconstitutional. This court decision was the second to strike down the moratorium, but lawyers at Seyfarth Shaw LLP warn that these court decisions still have a limited effect.
“These are only lower court decisions that did not impose injunctions and have no binding precedential effect,” they wrote. “The appeals may eventually result in appellate decisions that could be binding upon the federal courts in those circuits, or everywhere in the United States if this issue is ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court.”
The lawyers also confirmed that everyone except for the plaintiffs in Terkel and Skyworks who wish to challenge the CDC must file their own lawsuits to mount their own challenges.
With the moratorium set to expire at the end of the month, there are several questions about whether the Biden administration will extend the moratorium. The CDC has a chance of losing the court fights that extending the moratorium would bring, but some people are worried about increased eviction rates without decisive federal action.
Sophie Adams, a sophomore in global resource systems, believes the CDC was within their rights.
“It’s unrealistic for landlords to expect everyone to magically have enough money to pay their back rent right away,” Adams said. “Also homeless shelters are crowded and already struggling. By increasing homelessness, it endangers more people. The CDC was right to place a ban on evictions and they should continue to until more people are vaccinated."