The Centers for Disease Control extended its moratorium on evictions on Wednesday despite desperate pleas from landlords who are dealing with tenants who can’t or won’t pay rent.
The CDC has justified its eviction bans by pointing to public health rules that say the agency can take measures “reasonably necessary” to deal with the spread of disease. The agency has taken that to mean they can impose eviction bans nationwide because evicted tenants may be forced to move into crowded living arrangements in shelters.
“Every time now the CDC has extended it, it has the feeling of just making excuses. Yes, infection rates are down. Yes, people are being vaccinated. Yet for some inexplicable reason we have to ruin the livelihood of property owners,” says Caleb Kruckenberg, a lawyer at the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA). The group is suing the CDC on behalf of landlords.
The CDC’s new order says that mass evictions would “inevitably” occur if the moratorium is lifted. One commonly cited estimate from last summer put the number of tenants at risk of eviction at 40 million. A recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey found 8.3 million Americans were behind on their rent, and about 17 percent of those people said they were “very likely” to be evicted.
“I think that’s like using the number of drivers to say how many people are at risk of dying in a car accident,” says Salim Furth, a housing researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. “Yes, everyone who gets in a car is at risk of an accident, but that doesn’t give you any sense of the number of people who will actually die in a car accident today.”
There was a need for an eviction moratorium last summer. But with the economy recovering and the pandemic receding, how necessary is a ban on all evictions?
Despite ubiquitous warnings over the past year about a coming wave of evictions, the actual number that have taken place during windows where no moratoriums have been in effect has been lower than average almost everywhere.
The difficulty of finding a new, reliable tenant when so many people are out of work means landlords have little to gain from evicting previously good tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent during the pandemic, says Furth.
An analysis published today by the rental listing website Zillow found that actual evictions have come in far below predicted evictions in states where data are available.
In other words, landlords are human too. They know there’s a pandemic on and have worked with tenants willing to make arrangements to pay. And tenants who engage in criminal activity and those accused of “threatening the health and safety of other residents, for damaging the property, for violating building codes, or for violating lease terms other than not paying rent.”
But even that’s not good enough for the activists.
“While the Biden administration is well aware of the shortcomings in the moratorium order that allow some evictions to proceed during the pandemic, the CDC director did not correct them,” declared the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). “She simply extended President Trump’s original order, leaving the loopholes and flaws in place, a disappointing decision that will result in more harmful evictions during the pandemic.”
Three U.S. district courts—in Tennessee, Ohio, and Texas—have rejected the CDC’s power grab in ruling that the agency’s moratorium illegal. The Tennessee and Ohio decisions argue the agency went beyond the power given to it by Congress in banning evictions. The U.S. district court decision in Texas went further by saying that not even Congress had the power to impose an interstate eviction moratorium.
But none of those decisions has extended nationwide. Unless some federal judge issues a blanket injunction or the Supreme Court rules, the eviction ban will remain in place.