On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) placed a ban on eviction through the end of 2020 in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The government agency said the move was necessary to prevent otherwise displaced renters from ending up in crowded living situations (such as shelters) which could worsen contagion. It cited authority afforded the organization by section 361 of the Public Health Service Act to issue the decree, which was spurred by an August 8 executive action by President Trump ordering the agency to study the issue.
The new moratorium steps in for a prior eviction ban designated by the pandemic CARES Act, which expired on July 31 but required that landlords wait 30 days to begin evictions—meaning they could begin to boot tenants in many parts of the country now were it not for the CDC’s last-minute intervention, and tens of millions faced potential displacement. Landlords who violate the new ban will face criminal repercussions, though evictions for reasons other than nonpayment are still allowed.
To qualify for this new protection, tenants must sign a declaration asserting the following: they’ve experienced a significant loss of income and are subsequently unable to meet their rent obligations, or they have “extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses”; they’ve made every effort to obtain government assistance; they will make best efforts to pay some portion of rent on time each month; and they have no other option for housing besides homelessness or otherwise crowded living conditions. Eligibly households include those earning less than $99,000 annually, or double that for joint-filers, those who weren’t required to file taxes in 2019, or those who received a stimulus check through the CARES Act.
While the action offers welcome eleventh-hour relief to broad swaths of the population, there are concerns on both sides. Most notably, it fails to forgive this rent debt, which means that renters will simply owe months and months of back payments once the moratorium expires—with penalties, too, should the landlord choose to impose them. “The CDC action is not rent cancelation—tenants would owe back rent and this move merely extends the due date for new debt that tenants have amassed through no fault of their own,” says Anthony Carfello, a member of the Media Committee for the Los Angeles Tenants Union. And if one month of rent is difficult to procure, nearly an entire year’s worth will be impossible for most, meaning they will hypothetically find themselves without housing in January, winter’s peak.
Plus, Carfello says, similar roadblocks for evictions—which he thinks is a more accurate way of framing these measures than “bans”—enacted locally in Los Angeles already have been violated “left and right” with rare consequences. “The CDC will not prevent working Angelenos from landlords who take advantage of a lack of oversight,” he says.
The CDC’s mandate also fails to provide aid to landlords, who may subsequently struggle to meet their own financial obligations. Deborah Pusatere, co-leader for Under One Roof NY, a coalition of landlords and small business owners, says many like herself are already struggling due to having covered tenants’ costs since the pandemic’s onset. “I’m disappointed in these lawmakers for not doing their due diligence to find out what we could do together to protect the tenant who’s truly financially affected [by COVID-19] and also keep the property owner afloat to ensure that they can pay their bills and so they can keep supporting their schools and their communities [through tax payments],” she says. “[Instead], they’re using landlords as a welfare crutch.” Under so much financial pressure, she explains, landlords could lose ownership of their properties, which wouldn’t do much to help tenants.
Advocates on both sides are therefore calling on those lawmakers in Congress— which has remained at an impasse over further pandemic relief measures in the wake of the CARES Act’s expiration—to legislate financial aid to renters and landlords. Only this would prevent otherwise certain catastrophic financial distress for millions of renters—and landlords—alike.