The federal government and several counties, cities, and states across the country have taken protective measures to protect citizens against the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these include barring late rent fees, prohibiting the shut off of utilities due to nonpayment, and placing moratoriums on eviction for rent nonpayment.
A recent Supreme Court ruling might change all that.
Can I be evicted during COVID? Here’s everything you need to know about the federal eviction moratorium and its legality.
The Federal Moratorium on Evictions
As millions of Americans across the country continue reeling from the effects of the pandemic amid repeated shutdowns and re-openings, the federal government instituted an eviction moratorium which had been in place since March 2020. It made it illegal for landlords to evict their tenants for rent nonpayment, giving them much-needed relief and peace of mind knowing they would have a roof over their heads until they got back on their feet.
The first eviction moratorium was issued as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Once this relief period expired on January 1, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stepped in with its own eviction protection order, which has been extended several times in the past year. First, it was extended to January 31 and then to March 31.
When Congress passed the American Rescue bill in early March, it did not include an extension on the federal eviction protection order. It did provide additional funding worth $21.55 billion to go toward emergency rent relief programs. On May 29, 2021, the CDC eviction moratorium was extended through June 30, 2021.
When Does the Eviction Moratorium End
On June 24, the CDC issued a statement saying that it would give one final moratorium extension up to July 31, 2021. However, due to intense lobbying by Congressional Democrats, the CDC yielded to pressure and issued yet another extension, slated to expire on October 3. The new extension applied to all counties across the country, particularly those with high reported levels of COVID-19 infections.
An August 26 Supreme Court ruling on eviction moratorium overturned the latest CDC order. According to the court’s majority opinion, the CDC had overstepped its statutory mandate with regard to the powers granted to it by the decades’ old Public Health Service Act of 1944. The Court expressed that the statute allows the CDC to implement measures such as pest extermination and fumigation, and not the “sweeping authority” it purports.
The opinion further stated that if the federal moratorium on evictions is to continue, Congress has to expressly authorize it. The Supreme Court deemed the moratorium unlawful and would not support further extensions without new legislation’s congressional approval.
The CDC defended its position stating that the 1944 statute gives them the authority to issue eviction protection orders. Further, the agency stated that people who are unable to fulfill their rent obligations shouldn’t be forced to move to congested homeless shelters or crowd in with friends and relatives.
The CDC asserted that evictions would lead to a spike in new COVID-19 infections. The 1944 law gives it “unqualified power” to take any measures it deems necessary to curb the spread of infectious diseases.
Irrespective of the agency’s perspective on the issue, the fact of the matter is – the August 26 Supreme Court ruling effectively renders the latest CDC eviction protection order null and void. This means you can be evicted during COVID if your state has no other eviction moratorium in place.
State Eviction Moratoriums
Following the controversial court ruling, several states and localities have instituted their own moratoriums to give tenants an added layer of eviction protection. For instance:
- California has extended the state eviction moratorium to September 30, 2021. It has also set aside funds to offer rent assistance to tenants.
- New York has extended the state eviction moratorium to January 15, 2022. All qualifying tenants are also exempt from the various pre-eviction stages they would ordinarily have to go through.
- Oregon has passed a new law that provides as follows: That, if a tenant is unable to meet their rent obligations for the month of July or August, they cannot be evicted by their landlord for 60 days, on condition that they provide evidence that they have filed an application for rental assistance.
- Washington has instituted an “eviction moratorium bridge” that allows tenants to transition to a state-implemented eviction resolution program. A landlord cannot evict a tenant who resides in a location with an operational resolution program.
Additionally, some judges have vowed to slow-walk cases and increase their reliance on eviction diversion programs, given the looming potential of a large number of renters being put out on the street.
Other Federal Protections for Tenants
Mortgage buyers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, both of which are backed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), have issued a notice to multifamily property landlords, barring them from evicting tenants. The directive is effective until September 30, 2021.
The Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program also gives tenants additional relief beyond the eviction moratoriums. Two separate programs were established.
- ERA1 provides $25 billion worth of funding under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The law was enacted in December 2020.
- ERA2 provides $21.55 billion worth of funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. The law was enacted in March 2021.
The funds are disbursed directly to US states, territories, and local governments. ERA1 is also available to (where applicable) Tribally Designated Housing Entities, including Indian tribes and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The entities that receive the funds can distribute them to eligible households through newly-formed or existing rental assistance programs.
Tenants can use the ERA funds for up to 12 months to pay overdue rent and utility payments that accrued from the beginning of the pandemic or for future bills.
To qualify for rental assistance, applicants should meet the following criteria:
- The household income should be less than 80% of the median income in the area
- One member of the household should be at risk of experiencing housing insecurity or becoming homeless
- One member of the household should have experienced financial hardship directly or indirectly due to the pandemic or should qualify for unemployment insurance benefits
For more information on the current status of evictions in your local area, visit your state governor’s or judicial system’s website.
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