DOJ Appeals Federal Judge's Eviction Moratorium Ruling That Could Put 4 Million at Risk

The Biden administration is appealing a federal judge's ruling that strikes down the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's moratorium on evictions.

The nationwide moratorium was imposed by the Trump administration last year to help Americans struggling to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the CDC announced an extension of the measure until June 30.

The moratorium was enacted under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which gives the federal government the power to impose quarantines and other measures to combat public health emergencies.

On Wednesday, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority when it extended the moratorium.

"It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic," she wrote. "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."

Cancel rent protest
Tenant rights activists hold a demonstration on February 28 in the East Village neighborhood of New York City. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The Department of Justice has appealed the ruling, a spokesman has confirmed.

The New York Times reported that Judge Friedrich has agreed to put her ruling on hold until May 12, to give landlords time to file legal papers opposing a longer delay.

The eviction moratorium "protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses," said Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, in a statement announcing the appeal.

"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."

Supporters of the eviction moratorium have argued that it is necessary because the pandemic has not ended and millions of Americans are still threatened with eviction or foreclosure.

Almost 4 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.

Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, has pointed out that there are now numerous conflicting rulings on the moratorium at the district court level.

As a result, she told the Times, Friedrich's ruling could have a more limited application "impacting only the plaintiffs who brought the case or, at most, renters in the district court's jurisdiction."

The Alabama and Georgia associations of realtors were among the plaintiffs, who argue that the ban on evictions simply shifts the financial burden from tenants to landlords.

The National Association of Realtors welcomed the ruling, saying the moratorium was no longer needed because Congress had allocated almost $50 billion for rental assistance in December.

In a statement, the association's president Charlie Oppler said the "best solution for all parties" was financial assistance to cover rent, taxes and utility bills for struggling tenants.

"This decision prevents two crises—one for tenants and one for mom-and-pop housing providers who do not have a reprieve from their bills. With rental assistance secured, the economy growing and unemployment rates falling, there is no need to continue a blanket, nationwide eviction ban."

However, much of the rental assistance hasn't been disbursed to struggling tenants yet.

Most of the rent relief programs started in late March and early April, Eric Dunn, director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project, told the Associated Press.

"It feels like the pandemic, at least in the U.S., is coming to an end but it's not over yet," Dunn said. "If we have a wave of mass evictions, it could really set us back."

Newsweek has contacted the CDC for comment.