The eviction moratorium initiated by the Centers for Disease Control in July of 2020 had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court twice before it was halted in September. But local and state eviction moratoriums are going strong and in some states, the pause in evictions has been extended well into next year.
What began as a pandemic emergency measure has morphed into a permanent fixture in landlord-tenant relations. And the question for many landlords is how much longer they will be forced to carry deadbeats on the books.
An industry that already has skinny margins has seen profits nearly disappear for small-to-medium-sized landlords. These are property owners who may own one or two rentals that they can manage and maintain on the weekends. Then there are individuals who might own two or three small apartment complexes. Not only do these smaller landlords need every unit occupied, but they also need everyone to pay their rent every month. The pandemic has endangered the livelihoods of these small-business owners.
Even with the moratorium, landlords could evict tenants if they proved they were dealing drugs or engaging in other criminal activity, or could be employed but refuses employment. It’s usually a lengthy process to evict a tenant for any reason, pandemic or not. The moratorium has just made it harder.
How did we get in this mess?
Two other factors enabled the rapid spread of such moratoriums. The first was that mayors and governors had claimed sweeping emergency powers, which meant they could unilaterally make policy without the traditional need to whip votes or logroll support. So moratorium opponents had to depend on the courts, which have proved broadly deferential to emergency power claims. “The thing that catches the courts’ attention is [governments’ argument] that ‘this is a pandemic, you should defer to our judgement on how to resolve the serious health crisis here,'” says Ethan Blevins, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, who says courts have uniformly ruled in favor of local and state moratoriums.
Second was the lack of a direct price tag. Eviction moratoriums cost the government nothing—at least not right away. Instead, they shift the financial burden of nonpaying tenants onto landlords, who largely don’t have the option of taking their product out of circulation.
There are more than eight million people still unemployed. There are also roughly ten million jobs available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The question is why there is there an “emergency” that justifies an eviction moratorium.
Not only that, the “wave” of evictions that was predicted once the moratoriums ended never materialized. In fact, there’s so much cash flying around the country — $47 billion — that was appropriated months ago and has yet to be spent, that it’s a wonder anyone needs to get evicted.
New York’s handling of the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) was surreal. “New York State is a typical example. Apparently, Governor Cuomo was too busy chasing skirts to get rental assistance to New York citizens. The state had sent out no federal rental assistance through June despite having the largest number of renters in arrears.”
Bill Neidhardt, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesperson, said, “The main reason is that the application was f***ing impossible.”
“I think it’s strategic incompetence,” he said. “That’s why they delayed it, and that’s why they rolled out a mind-bogglingly unusable interface. Both those things show they didn’t want people to get the money.”
You didn’t have to be an expert in government back in 2010 to predict that Obamacare would never be repealed. It will probably be that an eviction moratorium — in some form or another — will also be with us forever. These are government goodies that are so popular they can withstand the partisan ebb and flow of government at the state and national levels. It won’t matter which party is in power. Government benefits, like cockroaches, can survive anything.
Getting used to it is another question.