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Federal Judge Vacates National Eviction Moratorium

[Slava Dumchev / Shutterstock]
A hand pinning an eviction notice to a door.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped last year when it issued a national moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision could impact thousands of Clevelanders – and millions of Americans – who were already struggling more than a year after the coronavirus first struck.

“While it is true that Congress granted the Secretary broad authority to protect the public health, it also prescribed clear means by which the Secretary could achieve that purpose,” the ruling reads. “The Public Health Service Act authorizes the Department to combat the spread of disease through a range of measures, but these measures plainly do not encompass the nationwide eviction moratorium set forth in the CDC Order.”

Eviction moratoria are the subject of debate across the country, the ruling said. Accepting the moratorium would mean giving the CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the ability to decide the answers to those questions, it said.

“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,” the ruling reads. “The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grand the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not.”

But the moratorium has provided much-needed assistance to renters during the pandemic, said Hal Martin with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, along with other federal assistance programs that have helped Cleveland avoid a wave of evictions.

“In some places, courts are seeing evictions filings similar to their pre-pandemic levels. But in others, the filings remain below where they were before the pandemic began,” Martin said. “In general, we have not seen a big wave of evictions yet.”

The Cleveland Fed also highlighted Cleveland’s recent decision to provide counsel to people facing eviction as an important part of preventing evictions in the last year. That initiative, as well as access to financial aid, have provided much-needed protections during the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“When they’re struggling to pay their rent, renters just don’t have the same protections that property owners do when they’re struggling to pay their mortgages,” Martin said.