CDC Extends Federal Anti-Eviction Order Through June

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (March 29, 2021, 5:35 PM EDT) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday announced a 90-day extension of a national anti-eviction order slated to expire on March 31, drawing criticism from landlord groups and calls from tenant groups for stronger action.

In place through June with minor modifications, the policy effectively extends an anti-eviction order enacted in September under the Trump administration. Tenants must submit a declaration to their landlord saying they meet certain requirements, including "substantial" loss of income and imminent risk of displacement, in order to escape eviction.

Monday's notice from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky emphasized the ongoing seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, and said that the intention of the qualified moratorium is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 that can occur when people become homeless or are forced to move into congregate settings.

"The CDC made the determination to extend the current eviction moratorium based on the public health situation," Walensky said in a statement. "It will provide protection for millions of renters who may be behind on their rent and at risk of eviction."

Modifications to the order announced Monday include some clarifications on eligibility, including that a qualifying renter cannot be evicted if they are found to be trespassing under local law simply because they have not paid rent.

The updated order also clarifies that tenants "may use any declaration form" to prove their eligibility, as long as it includes the required information.

The White House also issued a press release Monday announcing plans for interagency coordination to better enforce the order and educate the public in the wake of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report this month that criticized the CDC's lax outreach.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will distribute resources on the order, according to the White House, and the CFPB will accept tenant complaints about landlords allegedly violating it.

"President Biden remains committed to implementing a whole-of-government approach to addressing the nation's housing challenges," the White House said Monday.

Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, expressed disappointment Monday, telling Law360 that his organization's primary suggestion to strengthen the CDC policy was left out of Monday's announcement.

"The thing that they needed to do is clarify that the order applies to evictions that are motivated by nonpayment of rent even if they are not based on nonpayment notices, and they didn't do that," Dunn said. "That was already a huge way that landlords and courts were circumventing the order. By allowing that to continue it's really going to undermine the protections."

The National Low Income Housing Coalition called Monday's extension "essential" while jurisdictions across the country work to distribute billions of dollars in recently-allocated federal rent relief.

But the organization also expressed disappointment, saying that the administration should take further action to make the moratorium "automatic and universal throughout the duration of the pandemic."

"Under the CDC moratorium, renters are only protected if they know about it and take affirmative steps to be protected," more than 2,000 allied organizations wrote in a March 15 letter to the Biden administration.

The National Multifamily Housing Council and the National Apartment Association, two groups representing the interests of property owners, said they were "deeply disappointed" with Monday's announcement in a joint statement.

"The almost $50 billion that has been allocated for rental assistance will prove critical in helping those in need as the country emerges from the pandemic, and we must shift focus from legally uncertain federal eviction moratoriums to swift distribution and continued rental assistance funding," the groups added.

Although 48 states had their own eviction protections in place at some point during the pandemic, only 15 have protections in place beyond March 1 of this year, according to the GAO. Eviction filings remain lowest in jurisdictions that have additional anti-eviction rules in place.

A December U.S. Census report found that an estimated third of all renters had no confidence or slight confidence that they would be able to make their next rent payment.

"The need for rental assistance and a massive influx of cash to deal with this is really, really great," Syracuse University sociology professor Gretchen Purser, who studies housing and homelessness, told Law360. "The question now is what will happen [after] June."

--Editing by Ellen Johnson.

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