A federal district court judge in Washington, DC, ruled on May 5 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not have the authority to issue a federal moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. Within hours of the decision, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a notice of appeal of the decision and announced its intent to seek an emergency stay of the order. The judge in the case granted a temporary administrative stay and gave plaintiffs until May 12 to file a response to DOJ’s request for a full stay pending appeal of the ruling. For now, eligible tenants struggling to catch up on rent in the wake of the pandemic are still protected under the CDC moratorium.
The plaintiffs in the case, the Alabama Association of Realtors, argued the CDC exceeded its authority under the Public Health Service Act in issuing the moratorium. While the Public Health Services Act permits the CDC to issue and enforce regulations necessary “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases,” the presiding judge ruled the CDC does not have the “legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium.”
There are now numerous conflicting rulings at the district court level, with several judges ruling in favor of the moratorium and others ruling against. While this latest ruling is written more starkly than previous ones, it likely has equally limited application, impacting only the plaintiffs who brought the case or, at most, renters in the district court’s jurisdiction.
The CDC moratorium has kept millions of renters from being evicted from their homes during the pandemic. Recent research from Eviction Lab estimates there were 1.55 million fewer evictions filed in 2020 compared to 2019, thanks in large part to local, state, and national eviction moratoria. More than 8 million renters are currently behind on rent because of the economic crash that accompanied the pandemic. In response to this urgent crisis, Congress enacted $46 billion in emergency rental assistance, and state and local governments are working diligently to set up emergency rental assistance programs and distribute aid to households in need.
If the CDC moratorium is overturned, millions of renters will be at immediate risk of losing their homes and could face eviction before they are able to access federal assistance. The result would be a historic wave of evictions, with tremendous, harmful consequences to individuals, communities, and our nation’s public health. Evictions risk lives, push families deeper into poverty, and further strain our public health systems working to vaccinate as many people as possible to contain the virus. The impact would be felt immediately and for years to come, as evictions harm everything from physical and mental health to economic mobility. Because evictions predominantly harm people of color – largely Black women – overturning the CDC moratorium could deepen and exacerbate racial disparities.
NLIHC continues to call on the Biden administration to vigorously defend and enforce the moratorium, at least until emergency rental assistance (ERA) provided by Congress reaches the renters who need it to remain stably housed. Read NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel’s Twitter thread to learn more.