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Federal judge overturns CDC eviction ban

DOJ appealed the ruling, seeks emergency stay

A federal judge has overturned the Centers for Disease Control eviction moratorium, ruling that the agency does not have the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium.

The reversal may be short lived. Even if it stands, it may not grant much relief to landlords already subject to state and local eviction bans.

Unlike previous rulings, which found the September order unconstitutional without knocking it down, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s decision vacated the federal ban. The Department of Justice quickly filed a notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit of Wednesday’s ruling. Late Wednesday night, Friedrich granted an emergency stay of the decision.

Brian Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, condemned the ruling in a statement.

“Scientific evidence shows that evictions exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than half a million Americans, and the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone,” said Boynton. “In the department’s view, that decision conflicts with the text of the statute, Congress’s ratification of the moratorium, and the rulings of other courts.”

A White House official said the Biden administration disagrees with the District Court’s decision. She added that the Biden administration is focusing on getting rental assistance to those who need it most.

Groups representing rental landlords — who hope to rid themselves of non-paying tenants — cheered the ruling. They have a compelling reason to do so: a Moody’s Analytics analysis of Census Bureau data in January estimated that 10 million renters owed about $57 billion in back rent.

But the ruling may not allow landlords to immediately evict their delinquent tenants. In many cities and states, local eviction bans are much more comprehensive than the CDC’s moratorium.

Friedrich’s ruling notes that at least 43 states and the District of Columbia have enacted local bans during the pandemic. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that in cities and states with local protections, eviction filings were 91% lower in December 2020 than in December 2019. In areas without additional local protections, filings were only down 36%.

Even before the court ruling, some large single-family rental landlords have continued evicting. Invitation Homes topped a list of rental landlords who have collectively filed 57,000 evictions since September 2020, research group Private Equity Stakeholder Project found. Invitation Homes, which owns 80,000 single-family rental homes, filed 710 evictions in seven states.

Even with Wednesday’s ruling, which vacated the CDC eviction ban, large landlords who file evictions during the pandemic could instead draw fire from federal consumer protection agencies.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Trade Commission issued a joint statement in late March that it would launch a probe into evictions. The two agencies vowed to focus on “major multistate landlords, eviction management services, and private equity firms, to ensure that they are complying with the law.”

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