The CDC Took an Important Step to Halt Evictions Because of COVID-19. But That’s Only Half the Battle.
Evictions have been stalled for months as many cities, states, and courts have adopted moratoriums on evictions related to job loss and other economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But when these moratoriums expired, eviction filings started flooding in, and many courts have started processing them. When rent became due on September 1, millions of families were on the brink of eviction and were worried about losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic and facing a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. Some estimates predicted between 30 million and 40 million people could face eviction in the next several months.
That’s when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stepped in.
Referencing its broad authority to stop the spread of disease, the CDC took unprecedented action on Wednesday and issued a national moratorium on evictions (PDF). The moratorium applies to nonpayment of rent (tenants can be evicted for other lease violations), and the CDC order does not forgive rent or prohibit landlords from charging late fees. Unlike the CARES Act, which expired in July, the moratorium protects all 43 million renter households nationwide and stays in effect through December 31, 2020.
But an eviction moratorium goes only so far. It offers a temporary reprieve from eviction, but rent payments will still pile up and be due down the line. That’s why large-scale federal rental assistance is critical to keep renters in their homes in the long term.
Why the CDC’s order is a needed short-term step
The CDC order does not supersede state and local governments that have stronger protections in place. For example, the California legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, legislation to protect millions of people from losing their homes. Under the new state law, renters will be protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent, as long as they pay 25 percent of their rent and let their landlord know they are suffering a pandemic-related hardship. A critical difference in California’s law is rent arrears, accumulated from March 1 to September 1 (as well as any additional accrued after), will be treated as consumer debt and cannot be grounds for eviction when the moratorium ends on January 31, 2021.
But the CDC moratorium is essential for states that do have not protections in place. According to the Eviction Lab, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia have no state measures or moratoriums to stop evictions. And even states that do have protections in place are usually for only 30 to 60 days.
Some states have let moratoriums lapse and then suspended evictions again, but extensions are for only a short period. Virginia’s eviction moratorium, for example, expired on June 22. On August 7, the Virginia Supreme Court froze evictions until September 7. The courts evicted thousands of families during the lapse, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center. This start-and-stop approach allows tenants to be evicted, is confusing for tenants and landlords, and doesn’t provide stability for tenants. Virginia’s renters will now be protected under the CDC moratorium.
Federal rental assistance is a critical long-term solution to keep renters in their homes
States are facing severe financial shortfalls and do not have the resources to respond and provide enough rental assistance. As we and others have written, a federal commitment (by our estimates, $14 billion a month for rental assistance (PDF)) is needed to address the eviction crisis. Congress did not enact rent relief before leaving town in August, so renters and landlords still need a major influx in rental assistance. Anything else is just kicking the can down the road.
The CDC order is likely to be challenged in court, and it may be some time before we know if it will go into effect or for how long. But regardless of how successful these legal challenges are, the urgency remains, and the federal government shouldn’t wait to provide sorely needed rental assistance at scale.
Community members protest against evictions outside the Bronx housing court on August 10, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)