Federal appeals court finds CDC eviction moratorium unlawful

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeded its authority by temporarily halting evictions amid the pandemic.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the agency had overreached with its eviction moratorium, which is set to expire at the end of July.

The CDC order, originally enacted in September 2020 and subsequently extended by Congress and President Biden, aims to protect cash-strapped tenants who would face overcrowded conditions if evicted.

But in its Friday ruling, the court rejected the CDC’s two-pronged argument that the eviction freeze was within its authority, or that Congress authorized the measure after-the-fact as part of its COVID relief legislation.

It was not immediately clear what practical impact would result from the ruling, which affirmed a March decision by a federal judge in Tennessee in favor of a group of landlords. That lower court ruling, by U.S. District Judge Mark Norris, a Trump appointee, blocked enforcement of the eviction freeze throughout the Western District of Tennessee.

The latest development comes after the Supreme Court last month voted 5-4 to reject an emergency request from a separate group of landlords who also sought to have the eviction ban lifted, arguing it amounts to unlawful government overreach at a cost of some $13 billion each month to property owners.

The federal moratorium allows tenants who have lost income during the pandemic to protect themselves from eviction by declaring under penalty of perjury that they have made their best effort to pay rent and would face overcrowded conditions if evicted, threatening public health.

The extended protections come as landlords and property owners have sought to evict tens of thousands of financially distressed renters from their homes and as federal rental aid continues to make its way to needy tenants. Some state governments, which bear responsibility for distributing more than $45 billion in federally funded rental assistance, have been slow to make those disbursements.

The eviction pause has faced numerous legal challenges, leading to a patchwork of legal interpretations nationwide on the moratorium's lawfulness.

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