Reuters – A federal judge on Wednesday threw out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) nationwide moratorium on evictions, a setback for the millions of Americans who have fallen behind on rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said that while there was “no doubt” Congress intended to empower the CDC to combat COVID-19 through a range of measures such as quarantines, a moratorium on residential evictions was not among them.
Friedrich cited the “plain language” of a law called the Public Health Service Act, which governs the federal response to the spread of communicable diseases, even while acknowledging the pandemic as “a serious public health crisis that has presented unprecedented challenges for public health officials and the nation.”
The government is appealing the decision. The White House has estimated that one in five renters were delinquent on payments by January, while the CDC has said more than 4 million adults who were behind feared imminent eviction.
Friedrich’s decision provides temporary relief for landlords, many of whom face growing struggles to pay their own bills because they are unable to collect rent from tenants.
The CDC moratorium began last September and was scheduled to lapse on June 30.
Other courts have been divided over the legality of the moratorium, with some also finding the CDC exceeded its authority.
Friedrich, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, was the first to formally block the eviction ban.
At least 43 states and Washington, D.C., have imposed their own temporary halts on residential or business evictions, though the protections are far from uniform.
A separate eviction and foreclosure moratorium for federally financed housing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expires on June 30.
The CDC moratorium was begun during Trump’s presidency and was extended three times, most recently in March under his successor Joe Biden.
It covered renters who expected to earn less than $99,000 a year, or $198,000 for joint filers, or who reported no income, or received stimulus checks. Renters also had to swear they were doing their best to make partial rent payments, and that evictions would likely leave them homeless or force them into “shared” living quarters.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition advocacy group, urged the government to defend the moratorium, at least until emergency help from Congress “reaches the renters who need it.”
Landlords and real estate groups that challenged the moratorium in court said the CDC lacked the power to impose it, and unlawfully took away their right to deal with delinquent tenants.
The National Association of Realtors welcomed the judge’s decision, saying programs to help tenants pay rent, taxes and utility bills are preferable to banning evictions.
“With rental assistance secured, the economy strengthening and unemployment rates falling, there is no need to continue a blanket, nationwide eviction ban,” the group said.
The group has estimated that 40 million Americans were behind on rent in January, with $70 billion of missed payments by the end of 2020.
Congress approved $25 billion of emergency rental assistance in December and another $21.5 billion in March.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Michelle Conlin in New York, Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal and David Shepardson in Washington and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Will Dunham)