Federal Judge Strikes Down CDC Eviction Halt

The new ruling vacates the public health agency's nationwide order, which was due to expire at the end of June.
Image by James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A federal judge has vacated the nationwide eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leaving the fate of the policy in doubt as the apartment industry calls for an end to the temporary ban.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich argues that the CDC lacks the authority to impose the eviction freeze, which applies to virtually all rental housing providers in the country.

In a further twist, Friedrich granted a temporary stay late on Wednesday after the U.S. Justice Department filed to appeal the decision. The plaintiffs will have until May 12 to file any opposition to the delay, and the Justice Department will four days to respond to such a filing.

The sweeping CDC policy, originally issued on September 4, was due to expire on June 30, 2021, after being extended multiple times. Intended to slowing the spread of COVID-19 by helping individuals to self-isolate, the measure halts eviction of apartment residents for failure to pay rent. The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) found that 79.8 percent of apartment households had paid rent as of April 6.

The plaintiffs in the ruling, who filed their action last November, challenged the CDC moratorium on a variety of statutory and constitutional grounds, alleging violations of due process, the right of access to courts, the Takings Clause and the Administrative Procedure Act, among other issues.

“The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not,” Friedrich concluded in the ruling. “Because the plain language of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. § 264(a), unambiguously forecloses the nationwide eviction moratorium, the Court must set aside the CDC Order, consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act.”

Industry responds

The NMHC welcomed the news with a statement reiterating its months-long opposition to the CDC order and suggesting that measures such as government rental assistance are more appropriate. Congress has passed nearly $50 billion in rent relief, the industry trade group noted.

“Nationwide, long-term eviction moratoriums only serve to place insurmountable levels of debt on households and jeopardize the stability of housing providers who have been damaged by revenue losses over the past year and who may be struggling to pay their mortgages, finance property operations and meet their own financial obligations,” the NMHC said.

The National Apartment Association (NAA) issued a blunt statement on the ruling, saying that it “further demonstrates the unlawful nature of this policy and reinforces just how far the CDC overstepped their authority—the CDC does not have the authority to dictate operations of state courts.”

The association added: “Eviction moratoriums are dangerous, detrimental policy that harm housing affordability, housing providers and our residents.”