The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unlawfully placed a temporary hold on tenant evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that the government agency overstepped its authority by ordering the eviction moratorium to protect tenants about to lose their homes, an order that is set to expire at the end of July.
The moratorium was first issued in September during the Trump administration at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Biden administration has continued to renew it in the following months. It prevents landlords from evicting tenants behind on their rent while the order is enforced.
A panel of three judges unanimously rejected the CDC’s claim that the Public Health Act of 1944 gives it authority to issue an eviction pause.
In its argument, the government highlighted a statute that allows the secretary of health and human services “to take ‘other measures’ he deems necessary to stop the spread of disease — [including] measures that are similar to inspection, fumigation, destruction of animals and the like.”
The judges found that “an eviction moratorium does not fit that mold.”
“What’s more, even if we construed the phrase ‘other measures’ more expansively, we cannot read [the statute] to grant the CDC the power to insert itself into the landlord-tenant relationship without clear textual evidence of Congress’ intent to do so,” the 13-page ruling states.
The decision affirms a March ruling by a federal judge in Tennessee who found in favor of a group of landlords and halted enforcement of the ban in parts of the state.
It is not immediately clear what ramifications the latest ruling will have, since the Supreme Court ruled last month that the CDC would need congressional authority to extend the moratorium. Friday’s decision also comes as the Biden administration is scrambling to prevent a flood of evictions when the freeze ends in just over a week.
As of June 7, nearly 3.2 million people nationwide said they are grappling with a looming eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, in part of a reflection of job losses and hard times brought on by the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the White House hosted an eviction prevention webinar. Federal officials urged local leaders to use the more than $46 billion in rent relief approved by Congress in recent months, much of which hasn’t been unallocated.
“We have to do everything we can to prevent heartbreak for families and economic distress for landlords,” said Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to the president.