U.S. Braces for Evictions Wave as Moratorium End Nears; Some 6M Tenants Owe Back Rent

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on June 24 extended the nationwide ban on evictions from June 30 until July 31, but even with that added time, experts have voiced concern about the estimated 5.7 million to 7 million Americans who owe back rent.

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A banner against renters' eviction reading "No job, no rent" is displayed on a controlled-rent building in Washington, D.C., on August 9, 2020. Millions of Americans could soon face evictions when the federal moratorium ends July 31. Eric Baradat / AFP/Getty

Federal restrictions on evictions for nonpayment of rent took effect soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020. The first moratorium, which came with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, ran from the end of March 2020 to the end of July 2020.

The CDC put its own evictions ban into place in September 2020. It was set to expire on June 31 before CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced last week that the agency had extended it through July 31.

A federal appellate court ruled on May 5, before the latest CDC extension, that the agency had overstepped its authority with its moratorium. President Joe Biden's administration appealed the decision the same day, and the appeal proved successful. However, that legal action shows the difficulty the CDC would face should it try to enact another extension.

Along with the need to curb the possibility of a sudden surge in homelessness throughout the nation, there is evidence showing that housing evictions increase the threat of coronavirus infections spreading, including one lengthy study published in the April issue of Nature.

Meanwhile, landlords across the country have argued against continuing the rent ban. On June 3, the Alabama Association of Realtors sent an emergency application to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

A statement in the application read, "Landlords have been losing over $13 billion every month under the moratorium, and the total effect of the CDC's overreach may reach up to $200 billion if it remains in effect for a year."

Various states across the country have taken steps on their own to prevent evictions. California, for one, recently extended its statewide eviction moratorium. Governor Gavin Newsom announced on June 25 the state's plan to extend through September its evictions ban, which would also cover all missed rent payments to date for low-income individuals. In April, New York state extended its moratorium to August 31.

But different interpretations regarding eviction bans have occurred from county to county in some states. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that in Cobb County, Georgia, the magistrate court at first did not schedule proceedings for nonpayment of rent after the CDC announced its moratorium in 2020. But Cobb began hearing cases again earlier this year. Elsewhere in the same state, all eviction cases have proceeded since July in Fulton County.

One reason evictions have been carried out during the pandemic despite the CDC moratorium is that tenants neglected to properly fill out the paperwork necessary to prevent eviction for nonpayment.

Overall, eviction filings have been around 50 percent below average during the pandemic, according to detailed statistics from the Princeton University's Eviction Lab. The same data shows women and racial minorities are disproportionately more likely to face legal proceedings for nonpayment of rent.