Judge Rules Against Eviction Moratorium, DOJ appeals

Judge strikes down federal moratorium on evictions; Biden administration says it will appeal
Michael Collins and David Jackson, USA TODAY 

WASHINGTON – A federal judge has thrown out a national moratorium on evictions enacted last year to help Americans who have fallen behind on their rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the District of Columbia ruled Wednesday the federal government overreached in enacting the ban.

“The court recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious public health crisis that has presented unprecedented challenges for public health officials and the nation as a whole,” Friedrich wrote in a 20-page decision. “The pandemic has triggered difficult policy decisions that have had enormous real-world consequences. The nationwide eviction moratorium is one such decision.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the authority under the Public Health Service Act to impose a national moratorium, Friedrich said.

The Justice Department “respectfully disagrees” with the ruling and has filed a notice to appeal, Brian Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Division, said in a statement.

“The CDC’s eviction moratorium … protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses. Scientific evidence shows that evictions exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than half a million Americans, and the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone,” Boynton said.

The Justice Department has also asked the judge keep the ruling from going into effect until the appeals process is over. In a motion filed late Wednesday, the agency argued that putting the ruling on hold would prevent evictions that could cause COVID-19 to spread.

At the White House, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is reviewing the ruling.

“We recognize, of course, the importance of the eviction moratorium for Americans who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic, she said.

Congress enacted a 120-day eviction moratorium last spring as part of the CARES Act, which provided relief for American families and workers suffering from financial hardship because of COVID. When the moratorium expired, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the CDC, issued a broader eviction moratorium that applied to all rental properties nationwide.

In March, President Joe Biden extended the moratorium despite objections from landlords, real estate agents and others who argued it was causing them financial hardship and infringing on their property rights. The Alabama Association of Realtors sued to stop the eviction ban.

The current moratorium is scheduled to expire June 30.

With Friedrich’s decision, “there are now numerous conflicting court rulings at the district court level, with several judges ruling in favor of the moratorium and several ruling against,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The Biden administration “should immediately appeal the flawed ruling” and “continue to vigorously defend and enforce the moratorium, at least until emergency rental assistance provided by Congress reaches the renters who need it to remain stably housed,” she tweeted.

Contributing: Kristine Phillips

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.