Federal Judge Rules Against the National Eviction Moratorium
On Wednesday, May 5, 2021, a federal judge in Washington D.C. ended the national moratorium on residential evictions originally enacted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) in September 2020. The moratorium, which applied to all residential rental properties nationwide, was initially scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020. However, Congress temporarily extended it until January 31, 2021, and the CDC thereafter extended the eviction moratorium until June 30, 2021 without the approval of Congress. The Alabama Association of Realtors sued the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to stop the moratorium.
U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich set aside the CDC’s extension, finding that although the pandemic “is a serious public health crisis that has presented unprecedented challenges for public health officials and the nation as a whole,” the CDC does not have the legal authority, under the Public Health Service Act, to create or extend a nationwide eviction moratorium.[i] Judge Friedrich’s ruling effectively halted the freeze on evictions.
The Court joins a list of courts that have handed down varying rulings on the national moratorium’s validity. However, this Court’s decision differs from previous rulings because it vacates the moratorium in its entirety, as opposed to applying the vacation solely to the parties involved in the lawsuit.
The Justice Department has filed a notice to appeal Judge Friedrich’s decision, stating that it “respectfully disagrees” with the ruling,[ii] and the Biden Administration is reviewing the Court’s finding. An appeal by the Justice Department could result in the decision being stayed while the appeal is pending, thereby effectively reinstating the moratorium while the matter is on appeal.
Notably, the Court’s ruling does not apply to moratoriums enacted by state governments. Landlords affected by the moratorium should be aware of the moratorium laws and ordinances enacted in their state, as they may still be bound by those local enactments. As one example of this, the State Court Administrative Office in Michigan has stated that despite Judge Friedrich’s ruling, there will be no changes to the moratorium or the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (“CERA”) program enacted in Michigan.
Because of the nuance involved in navigating national and local ordinances and the possibility of an appeal or superseding legislation, landlords should consult with their attorneys before attempting to pursue any eviction proceedings.
[i] Alabama Ass’n of Realtors v. United States Dep’t of Health and Human Services, -------- F.Supp.3d --------, -------, 2021 WL 1779282, at *10 (D.D.C. May 5, 2021).
[ii] John Kruzel, Justice Dept. to appeal judge’s order vacating CDC eviction moratorium, The Hill (May 5, 2021), https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/551967-justice-dept-to-appeal-judges-order-vacating-cdc-eviction-moratorium.