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Judge puts hold on ruling voiding U.S. moratorium on evicting renters

EconomyMay 06, 2021 12:56AM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A "For Rent" sign is posted outside a residential home in Carlsbad, California, U.S. on January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Jonathan Stempel and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A federal judge on Wednesday threw out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's nationwide moratorium on evictions but agreed to put a temporary hold on her ruling as the government seeks to reverse the decision on appeal.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said that although 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. The ruling was a setback for millions of Americans who have fallen behind on rent payments during the pandemic.

The Justice Department sought an emergency order to put Friedrichs's decision on hold, arguing "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."

Friedrich agreed to temporarily put her ruling on hold and gave the landlord groups that challenged the moratorium until May 12 to file legal papers opposing the delay. She emphasized she had not ruled on the merits of the government's request.

Friedrich's order gives the Justice Department four days to respond after the landlord groups' file legal papers.

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 that the pandemic is "a serious public health crisis that has presented unprecedented challenges for public health officials and the nation."

Evictions "exacerbate the spread of COVID-19," and the moratorium "protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or healthcare expenses," Brian Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the department's civil division, said in a statement.

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 benefits the many landlords struggling to pay their own bills because they are unable to collect rent.

The CDC moratorium began last September and was scheduled to lapse on June 30. Other courts have been divided over its legality, 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 also temporarily halted residential or business evictions, though the protections are far from uniform.

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.

A separate eviction and foreclosure moratorium for federally financed housing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is due to expire on June 30.

HEALTH MEASURE

The CDC began the moratorium during Trump's presidency and it 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.

The National Association of Realtors welcomed Friedrich's decision, saying programs to help tenants pay rent, taxes and utility bills are preferable to the moratorium.

"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.

"We know eviction spreads COVID-19, we know it disrupts access to healthcare and we know it's increasing health inequity among Black and Latinx people," said Emily Benfer, a visiting law professor at Wake Forest University and expert on evictions. "The moratorium stops all of these harms."

Congress approved $25 billion of emergency rental assistance in December and another $21.5 billion in March.

Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition advocacy group, said the moratorium should stay in place at least until the assistance provided by Congress "reaches the renters who need it."

Judge puts hold on ruling voiding U.S. moratorium on evicting renters
 

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Comments (8)
Anthony Anthony
Anthony Anthony May 05, 2021 11:26PM ET
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We all know what group of people don't pay rent, steal from welfare, and vandalize. However, for some sick reasons in this country, we are forbidden to speak out.
Charlie Norton
Charlie Norton May 05, 2021 11:18PM ET
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There is a reason why in capitalism people complain about too many rich people, and with socialism people complain about too many poor people.
Charlie Norton
Charlie Norton May 05, 2021 11:17PM ET
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Socialism, turning first world countries into third world sh.ii,tholes.
YouTube Account
YouTube Account May 05, 2021 10:51PM ET
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Those who shall not work, neither shall they eat.
Alan Rice
Alan Rice May 05, 2021 1:30PM ET
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American Housing : That's what your Miata is for.
Vlad Lozovskiy
Vlad Lozovskiy May 05, 2021 1:06PM ET
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Time to stop it.  There is plenty of jobs needed to be filled.
David David
David9 May 05, 2021 1:06PM ET
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Where do you see the jobs?... I don't see them...
Connecticut Yankee
A_Jaundiced_Eye May 05, 2021 1:04PM ET
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Don't worry, all it will take is one phone call from one of Liberals, AOC or Bernie, and Joey will be issuing an executive order to give tenants Mo' Money, Mo' Money. Joey does what he's told.
Peter Ballsnbush
BoyYeetzWorld May 05, 2021 12:37PM ET
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A victory for FREEDOM
Chris Cummins
Chris Cummins May 05, 2021 12:37PM ET
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Freedom to be homeless?
 
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