The White House threw another lifebuoy to tenants this week. But many could still drown in a sea of legal trouble, despite the best efforts of the Biden government.
On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue a new moratorium about evictions that should last until the beginning of October. The measure is aimed at tenants who live in areas of the country that are experiencing higher levels of transmission of COVID-19.
“This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people out of their homes and meeting places where COVID-19 is spreading,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC. “It is imperative that health officials act quickly to curb such an increase in evictions that could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass displacement and the associated public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse. “
Throughout the pandemic, public health experts have warned that the associated clearance crisis could hamper the country’s efforts to fight the coronavirus. Research has shown that higher eviction rates encourage the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, as people who live in life often live in more cramped conditions when forced out of their own homes.
However, consumer advocates argue that the Biden government’s new moratorium continues to fail to adequately protect troubled tenants across the country.
“It will only introduce a new level of uncertainty,” said Eric Tars, legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center, of the new moratorium.
Existing gaps in the moratorium were not addressed
An ongoing concern among consumer advocates since the CDC’s first statewide eviction moratorium in September under the Trump administration has been that There were gaps in the order that landlords could take advantage of.
In particular, the new moratorium, like the previous one, only prohibits evictions due to non-payment of the rent. Evictions prosecuted for other reasons, including criminal activity or other lease violations, can continue as before under the new CDC regulation.
“Landlords are just very adept at finding ways to take advantage of this loophole, work around it, and still drive people out of their homes.”
“What we found with the last moratorium is that landlords are just very clever at finding ways to take advantage of this loophole, work around it, and still evict people from their homes,” said Sarah Saadian, vice president of public order for the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
For their part, landlords have already taken up trouble with the new moratorium.
“It’s a shame for me that I assumed the moratorium would not be extended after the president announced that he had no legal powers to do so and that Congress was unable to legislate,” said David Howard, executive Director of the National Rental Home Council, emailed MarketWatch. “Meanwhile, rental homeowners have lost billions of dollars that they will never get back.”
Another major concern is that the arrangement did not address the problems of tenants after their leases had expired. Since the pandemic has now lasted well over a year, many households threatened with eviction could find themselves in this situation. These problems were not taken into account by the new order.
Determining who is qualified is not easy
The moratorium is still not automatically protected. Instead, tenants must sign statements to their landlords that they cannot afford the rent and try to get help. And now they must also certify that they qualify due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their area.
The new moratorium is more targeted than the blanket ban previously in place, according to the details released late Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It only applies to counties experiencing “significant and high rates of transmission in the community” of the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC said.
A CDC spokesman noted that information on whether a county’s COVID-19 risk of transmission meets the CDC’s threshold for the moratorium is available on his website. However, some proponents pointed out that the tool isn’t foolproof.
The CDC has a map of COVID-19 rates by county on their website that tenants can use to find out if they qualify for the new moratorium.
“Already, some advocates have told me that the CDC map is incomplete and some areas are shown as gray ‘no data’ zones. National Housing Law Project litigation. This was the case from Friday, for example, for the Valdez-Cordova district in Alaska.
Proponents say that the burden on tenants initially poses considerable challenges. To make matters worse, only a few tenants manage to hire a legal representative before attempting an eviction procedure. There are only three states and a handful of cities where renters have the right to legal assistance so eviction procedures can be carried out anywhere else, even if the tenant does not have a lawyer.
“We are very grateful for the moratorium, but its effectiveness is often only as good as its enforcement,” said John Pollock, coordinator for the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. “And without a lawyer, enforcement is very, very spotty.”
Throughout the pandemic, evictions have been going on when other moratoriums were in place, including the moratorium set by the CARES Act, which was supposed to ban all evictions for tenants living in federally funded properties. But without a lawyer to educate them about their rights, tenants may not get the protection they deserve.
The pandemic is a moving target
Some consumer advocates argue that the new restrictions on qualifications lack logic. The new moratorium penalizes Americans who live in areas of the country with lower levels of COVID transmission, even though those residents are not necessarily in a better financial position.
The pandemic is also a moving target. “The fact that the number of cases is lagging behind the actual infection rate shows how problematic this approach will be,” said Tars.
If a tenant could live in an area where transmission is so low that the moratorium does not apply, they could face eviction. But the nearest county could have a higher transmission. The tenant could then be forced out of their apartment and move with their family to a district where the risk of contracting the virus is greater, which primarily undermines the purpose of the moratorium.
Similarly, a tenant could be evicted for not qualifying for a week given her county’s COVID situation, only for the situation to worsen a week later.
Will the moratorium exist in court?
Since the CDC passed its moratorium in September, the strategy has been subjected to legal tests by property owners who found the move unconstitutional. Some federal judges have sided with these landlords in the past.
In June, the Supreme Court held back the CDC’s ban, with judges citing the imminent end date of the moratorium as the main reason. However, the court warned that a renewed extension of the moratorium may not do so. Before the new moratorium was enacted, the Biden government referred to this decision as a justification for not extending the previous ban.
By imposing a new moratorium on the CDC, Biden was taking a huge risk. The move could backfire, as Ben Koltun, research director at Beacon Policy Advisors, warned before the new moratorium came into force. “Not only because the courts have deviated from the order, but also that future public health emergency orders will be restricted,” said Koltun.
A federal judge who ruled against the previous moratorium has already signaled that she will take action against the new procedure.
A federal judge who ruled against the previous moratorium has already signaled that she will initiate proceedings against the new proceedings initiated by the Biden government.
For the tenants, their fate rests in the hands of the local judges – and how receptive those judges are to the Biden government’s approach. A judge could choose to heed the Supreme Court warning and proceed with an eviction, even if the CDC supposedly forbids it.
But Biden seems to be aware of this risk. The White House has proposed that the new moratorium should give tenants time to receive the billions of dollars in emergency rent pending months after Congressional appropriation.
Consumer advocates criticize the design of the measure, but believe that the moratorium serves a purpose. “Ultimately, it will provide stable housing for millions of tenants, and we appreciate this deeply, given the rise of the Delta variant and the fact that state and local governments have simply not spent their emergency aid on rent.” Saadian said.