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Supreme Court Overrules CDC on Issue of Eviction Moratoriums

Health and Gender Policy Brief # 127 | By: S. Bhimji | September 1, 2021

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Policy Summary

During the 2020 Covid pandemic millions of people lost their jobs and hundreds of thousands of businesses had to close; this led to a fear that if tenants did not pay their rent, mass evictions would follow. By Sept 2020, there were close to 22 million renters at risk for eviction and a separate census in July 2021 indicated that at least 7 million households had difficulty paying rent and were at risk for eviction.

The Federal Cares Act did include an eviction moratorium for all federally backed rental property but this expired in July 2020. This was followed by many states passing a broad range of temporary eviction moratoriums but as these moratoriums expired, there was again fear of mass evictions.

On Sept 4, 2020, the CDC issued a Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to prevent the further spread of Covid 19. Then again on Aug 3, 2021, the CDC issued a new eviction moratorium in areas of high transmission of Covid 19. For most renters, it was an early Christmas gift that has already lasted for over a year. 

Despite many of the residential renters also getting other state and federal assistance, a significant number did not pay rent- and the landlords suffered enormously. Over the past 12 months, there have been countless reports of landlords not being able to pay their utilities and mortgages because they had lost rental income. For much of this year, landlords have pleaded with their state governments to rescind the ban on residential evictions but met with no success. 

Policy Analysis

Finally, on Aug 27, 2021, the US Supreme Court opened the floodgates for mass evictions in the US. For landlords, this news was most welcoming. Many tenants had shown no responsibility or obligation to their landlords. They were fully aware that federal law prevented them from being evicted and there was nothing a landlord could do.

Well, the renters better start packing and call the moving trucks; there will soon be a tsunami of evictions in many states.

The CDC had released a moratorium on banning evictions in counties with high levels of Covid 19 just recently but the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) was not having any of that. By a vote of 6-3, SCOTUS struck down the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) federal eviction moratorium. 

What this means is that the CDC’s moratorium is ineffective, unenforceable, and not legal. It is important to note that this recent SCOTUS ruling only applies to the CDC’s federal eviction order, it does not affect any moratorium imposed by local counties or the state.

The Supreme Court did not weigh in on the policy of eviction moratorium or whether it was a good idea or a good policy for the nation. Instead, SCOTUS ruled, “that the statute on which the CDC relies does not grant it the authority it claims.” What that means in simple English is that the CDC did not have the legal power to impose the moratorium- that job belongs to Congress.

Photo taken from: Daily Mail

Without approval from Congress, the CDC cannot impose any federal moratorium as it lacks legal power. According to SCOTUS, “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” 

So what does this mean for the landlords? There are at least 10-18 million tenants at risk for eviction and with this Supreme Court ruling, the landlords who have been waiting a long time are no doubt already at the lawyer’s office to initiate the evictions.

So will Congress impose its own eviction moratorium? Most likely not. With all the havoc in Afghanistan and the deadly flooding in Louisiana, the nation has many other priorities. Even if there is time and opportunity, the divided senate just can’t get anything done. 

Most likely The Supreme Court will leave the decision on eviction moratorium to the individual states because the landlord-tenant relationship falls under the domain of state law. 

For tenants; they have two choices, pay back what they owe the landlord ASAP or start looking for another place to stay.

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