Appeals court rejects bid by landlords to resume evictions

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday denied a request by a group of landlords to resume evictions, leaving the temporary nationwide eviction moratorium intact for now.

The ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest twist in a multifront legal challenge to the eviction freeze that was enacted by federal public health officials as a way to keep financially distressed renters in their homes and out of crowded homeless shelters during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move follows a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium after finding the agency had overstepped its authority. But Friedrich, a Trump appointee, agreed to block her ruling from taking immediate effect to allow time for the Biden administration to appeal.

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This produced a mixed result for the challengers in the case, a group of landlords that includes the Alabama Association of Realtors and a number of co-plaintiffs. 

The coalition of landlords then asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift Friedrich’s stay, which a three-judge panel on the appellate court denied Wednesday in an unsigned order. The court also said that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had “made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed” in its appeal.

“HHS has demonstrated that lifting the national moratorium will exacerbate the significant public health risks identified by the CDC because, even with increased vaccinations, COVID-19 continues to spread and infect persons, and new variants are emerging,” the court wrote.

Enacted in September as a public health measure, the CDC order was designed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by helping cash-strapped tenants avoid homeless shelters or other crowded living spaces. The eviction pause was later extended through June.

Renters can demonstrate their eligibility for CDC eviction protections by signing a sworn declaration under penalty of perjury, attesting that they would face overcrowded conditions if evicted and certifying that they have made partial rent payments to the best of their ability.

A number of other judges across the country have ruled on the eviction ban’s lawfulness, with landlords holding a slight advantage in their win-loss record against the federal government.

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Corporate landlords filed more than 56,000 eviction actions since the eviction pause took effect last September, with almost half of those filed this year, according to a study by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project of seven states.

Those notices, which don’t always lead to evictions, are being sent even as billions in rental assistance authorized by Congress continues to make its way from Washington to tenants in need of aid.

—Updated at 3:43 p.m.