The Supreme Court on Aug. 26, 2021, ended the Biden administration’s ban on evictions, putting millions at risk of losing their homes. The ruling, by a divided court, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in continuing a moratorium on evictions after Congress failed to pass new legislation. We asked legal scholar Katy Ramsey Mason to explain what the ruling means, who will be affected and what happens next.
1. What is the CDC’s eviction ban?
In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which, among other protections and economic stimulus measures, included a moratorium on evictions and a ban on landlords filing evictions against tenants in rental properties that received federal funding or had federally backed mortgages.
Those protections expired in July 2020, and Congress didn’t extend them. Then, on Sept. 4, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection issued a more expansive order prohibiting evictions from most rental properties across the country as long as tenants submitted a declaration to their landlords stating that they qualified for the protections.
To be eligible, tenants had to earn US$99,000 or less ($198,000 for joint filers); be unable to pay full rent because of a substantial loss of income, reduced work hours or wages, or extraordinary medical expenses; try their best to make timely partial rent payments; and, if evicted, be at risk of homelessness.
The CDC’s moratorium was extended briefly by Congress and then three times by the Biden administration. Outcry over its expiration on July 31, 2021, prompted the CDC to once again take responsibility for the eviction ban. The agency argued that it had the authority to do so because of how the ban’s lapse might affect the ongoing pandemic, particularly the raging delta variant.
The CDC narrowed its scope to only counties where COVID-19 transmission is considered particularly high – currently 95% of the country.
2. What does the Supreme Court ruling do?
When the original CDC order was issued in September 2020, numerous landlord groups around the country sued the federal government, claiming that the order was unconstitutional.
Several courts agreed with the landlords, who argued that the CDC had exceeded its statutory authority by issuing such a broad moratorium. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allowed it to stay in force during the appeal process, and in June 2021 the Supreme Court affirmed that decision in a 5-4 ruling. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who cast the deciding vote, wrote that he did so only because the moratorium was set to expire in a matter of weeks and suggested he’d regard as unconstitutional any further extension without Congress’ authorization.
Kavanaugh and the high court did just that on Aug. 26, 2021, after landlords sued once more. Its 6-3 unsigned order invalidated the CDC’s eviction ban. As a result, landlords across the country – except in cities or states that have issued their own bans – can evict any tenant who has not been paying rent.
3. How many people are affected?
Nearly 8 million households told the Census Bureau in August that they were behind on rent, while 3.5 million said they fear eviction.
But estimates of the total number of people at risk of losing their homes are closer to 15 million, who collectively owe about $20 billion in rent.
While most of the people who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns and other restrictions in early 2020 have now returned to work, many still struggle to pay the debts – including back rent – that accumulated while they were unemployed.
There’s also concern that the surge in coronavirus cases due to the delta variant – including among children – will lead to school shutdowns. This may drive up unemployment among women working low-wage and hourly jobs who are unable to go to work because they have to take care of their children.
4. What happens next?
Tenants in a handful of states and cities, including New York and California, are still protected by local eviction bans that remain in effect. Most of them are set to expire within weeks, however.
But the vast majority of tenants who have struggled to pay rent are now at risk of eviction. Even during the moratoriums, many states and cities have allowed eviction cases to proceed through the courts – as long as they don’t actually evict tenants. The end of the ban means those evictions will likely take place quickly.
And despite the moratoriums, evictions have continued throughout the pandemic – though at half the typical pace.
Congress previously allocated about $46.5 billion in stimulus funds to state and local governments intended to assist tenants who are behind on rent, but only about $5.1 billion had been paid out as of August 2021.
In recent weeks, the White House and housing advocacy groups have been pushing for the speedier distribution of funds, which will be essential to keeping tenants from losing their homes.
Katy Ramsey Mason is Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic at the University of Memphis.
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Good! Now maybe some of these people will return to work! They are killing the employers! It’s hard to run a business when people only need to show up a day or 2 a week for food and utility money!
It is about time. Small landlords are suffering the most, as they have mortgages to pay with no rent coming in. Read that one landlord lost his house due to no rents coming in. He is now homeless and can’t even move into one of his rental properties be she’s they can’t be evicted. I’m sure many are able to pay but are not because they don’t have to pay. Now they will move out and leave the rent bills behind. Only on America can you unlawfully take someone’s property with no compensation.
Deborah Coffey says
The problem is the federal government depending on Republican states to do their jobs. Naturally they would not give the money to renters out of disdain for them. And, Republican governance has become so incompetent, they wouldn’t know how to get this done even if they wanted to.
TV Trey says
This must be stopped. We can start right here in this county, For people like me that wasnt paying rent there should be a special tax on those that do own their homes. So that we dont have to pay rent and then be equal to people that own their own homes. I bet a small amount like 500 or 1000 dollars each year added to tax bills would be enough to cover us from having to pay any rent ever again.
TV TREY Why on earth do you think that home owners should be taxed so you and other renters wouldn’t have to pay rent!? Do you think we live in our homes for free or something? Sure we don’t pay rent, but we pay mortgages, property tax, home insurance and the like. Homeowners paying a special fee to go to renters would not make renters “equal to homeowners” as you stated. All it would do is make the renters freeloaders and resented by the rest.
TV Trey says
Free housing for people that don’t want to pay for houses is an American right. Think of it as part of repatriations that are being talked about by our leaders in government. You don’t have to agree with it but thats ok. Housing and money will be handed out in bigger amounts as it should be. We finally have people in power that will make those moves. We worked hard enough in the past. Read the history books.
Mary Fusco says
TV Trey, I sure wish I had some of whatever you are smoking. I own my home and just received my homeowners insurance and proposed tax bill. They will have to be paid. Last I heard, when one went to the grocery store, they had to pay or they would not walk out with anything. Maybe, according to your theory, paying customers should be taxed extra for those that do not care to pay but will still feel equal. SMH.