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Federal judge says CDC 'does not' have authority to issue eviction moratorium order

The moratorium temporarily stays in place after a judge granted a temporary stay
Virus Outbreak Evictions
Posted at 1:59 PM, May 05, 2021

A federal judge ruled Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its legal authority last year when it issued a nationwide eviction moratorium.

The judge ordered the CDC's moratorium be vacated, but paused her order while the court considers federal agencies request for a temporary stay pending appeal.

The initial 20-page order issued by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich says that the protection goes too far, saying “it is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease.”

"The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not.”

Landlords and property owners had challenged the CDC order since it was initially issued at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The Biden administration had continued it until June 30.

The case ruled on by Judge Friedrich was brought by the Alabama and Georgia Association of Realtors, in addition to property management companies.

The plaintiffs argued the order was "arbitrary and capricious" and violated "the notice-and-comment requirement" of the Administrative Procedure Act.

There have been several legal challenges to the CDC’s order. Wednesday afternoon, the Department of Justice confirmed they will appeal Friedrich's ruling.

"The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a notice of appeal to the DC Circuit of this morning’s ruling vacating the CDC’s eviction moratorium. Also we seek a stay of the decision, pending appeal," the agency's director of public affairs tweeted.

It is unclear what will happen now to people being protected by the order.

"Today’s ruling is pretty revolutionary in that it removes the ability for tenants to assert the CDC order as a defense to evictions and not only does it do that but it applies across the country," said attorney Charles Gallagher following the initial ruling Wednesday.

Some are waiting to see what the impact will be in Florida, including landlords.

"It gives us some hope but I don’t really think it’s going to change anything," said Paul Howard, the president of the Florida Landlord Network, pointing to expected challenges to the ruling.

He said since August it's largely been 'business as usual' as evictions outside of the CDC protection have continued in Florida.

"I know landlords that haven’t been paid in a year, that’s not fair," he said, also adding no one wants to see an eviction.

"It is too soon to tell what effect it’s going to have as a whole. There have been other challenges to the CDC and they have been held to only apply to the parties in that particular case not to the nation as a whole. And most importantly that tenants can still assert their rights affirmatively. It’s not an automatic protection and plaintiffs can also challenge it," said attorney Nicole Del Rio with Bay Area Legal Services.

Over the course of the pandemic, Metropolitan Ministries said it helped around 2,000 households with rental assistance, up from around 200.

"There has been a huge impact with so many people needing rental assistance because they were behind on their rents, they lost their jobs, they started really struggling with their housing early on in the pandemic and that has continued throughout this whole year and a couple of months since really so many folks lost their jobs," said Christine Long, the non-profit's chief programs officer.

She said now is the time for people to seek help if they need it, noting it's still available.

"Whether the eviction moratorium goes out soon or several months from now, 2, 3 months from now, it’s going to come and people really have to be prepared and take the situation into their own hands and do the best they can do find the resources now to avoid the evictions hat may be coming sooner or later," said Long.