CDC directs halt to renter evictions to prevent COVID-19 spread

The order prevents any US landlord from evicting some renters from residential properties for failure to pay rent.

The Trump administration has issued a directive (PDF) halting the eviction of some renters in the United States through the end of 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Federal, state and local governments have approved eviction moratoriums during the course of the pandemic for many renters, but those protections are expiring rapidly.

A recent report from one think-tank, the Aspen Institute, stated that more than 20 million renters live in households that have suffered COVID-19-related job loss and concluded that millions more are at risk of eviction in the next several months.

The administration’s action stems from an executive order that President Donald Trump issued in early August. It instructed federal health officials to consider measures to temporarily halt evictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up on Tuesday by declaring that any landlord shall not evict any “covered person” from any residential property for failure to pay rent.

Senior administration officials explained that the director of the CDC has broad authority to take actions deemed reasonably necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease.

Renters covered through the executive order must meet four criteria: have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments; affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

Officials said local courts would still resolve disputes between renters and landowners about whether the moratorium applies in a particular case.

Brian Morgenstern, a deputy White House press secretary, said Tuesday’s announcement means that people struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19 would not have to worry about being evicted and risking the spread of the disease or exposure to it.

But while an eviction moratorium is essential, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed.

This action delays but does not prevent evictions.

Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, called on August 1 for Congress to enact a “broad emergency housing support program” to prevent evictions and shore up landlords. Congress enacted an unprecedented $2.3 trillion pandemic rescue package in March that paused evictions in most federal subsidised housing, but that moratorium has expired and Congress and the White House have been in a months-long deadlock over new relief legislation.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the order would provide relief for millions of anxious families, but added that the action delays rather than preventing evictions.

“While an eviction moratorium is essential, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” Yentel tweeted.

The president of the  National Multifamily Housing Council, which represents landlords, said policymakers should “negotiate a strong rental assistance program”, and that protections are better left to state and local officials.

“A protracted eviction moratorium does nothing to address the financial pressures and obligations of rental property owners,” Doug Bibby said in a statement. 

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