CDC bans evictions through end of 2020 to curb spread of COVID-19, but ‘it could fall apart’

Homeless woman. Credit: YouTube.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned evictions and foreclosures for the rest of the year, in an order issued Tuesday citing evictions as a health hazard during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawyers for people facing evictions expressed relief Wednesday but predicted the order will be challenged in court by housing property owners.

“This is unprecedented. We kind of expect litigation on it,” said Stephanie Johnson, senior attorney with Legal Services of North Florida. “It could fall apart.”

The CDC order says a moratorium on evictions will protect public health, while evictions in the millions would accelerate the transmission and mortality of coronavirus. It doesn’t address provisions to help landlords and lenders pay their own bills without collecting rent and mortgage payments.

“COVID-19 presents a historic threat to public health,” the CDC order says. “In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease.”

The order continues: “In the absence of state and local protections, as many as 30-40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction. A wave of evictions on that scale would be unprecedented in modern times.”

Johnson said she and her colleagues are still evaluating the order, which itself acknowledges the potential that parts may be deemed invalid. It remains to be seen whether the CDC’s authority over public health extends to authority over housing, she said.

The moratorium order cites five criteria to qualify, summarized here:

  • Unable to pay the full rent or housing payment due to significant income loss or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  • Make best efforts to make partial payments
  • Make every effort to get government assistance to pay overdue rent or housing;
  • Expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income (or $198,000 if filing jointly)
  • Evictions would likely force the resident into homelessness or into unsafe shared housing.

The CDC moratorium does not interfere with the Florida executive order issued Aug. 31 by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Florida moratorium bans evictions and foreclosures through the end of September for tenants and homeowners who convince courts they are delinquent in their payments because of wage loss, job loss or household illness directly due to COVID-19.

The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida estimates that 800,000 Floridians are “cost-burdened renters” at risk of being evicted for overdue payments.

The Trump administration announced the move on Tuesday, saying it would temporarily halt residential evictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disclosed during a Congressional hearing that the CDC executive order would be issued. It runs through Dec. 31.

“I think you’ll be quite pleased with the impact that it will have,” Mnuchin told Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, at the hearing.

The order does not relieve people of obligations to pay rent or preclude the collection of fees, penalties or interest as the result of the failure to pay rent or make timely housing payments.

Congress passed a ban on evictions earlier this year, but it expired at the end of July.

Allison Stevens, a reporter for States Newsroom’s Washington bureau, contributed to this report.