The moratorium is being enforced differently depending on the state a renter lives in, or even the judge who hears their case.
The federal government issued a new eviction moratorium this month that was supposed to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from getting kicked out of their homes during a pandemic. But in reality, enforcement of the moratorium differs throughout the country and, in some places, from judge to judge.
To qualify, a tenant has to sign a declaration that can be printed from the CDC website. The declaration essentially says the renter would face homelessness or unhealthy, close-quartered living conditions if they are evicted out of their current residence.
If it worked, this would be a simple fix to keep people in their homes and avoid a wave of evictions that experts have been warning about for months. But landlords are still taking tenants to court, and courts are still hearing cases. And there is no uniform judgement across the United States when a renter chooses to use the CDC moratorium option.
According to the New York Times, some judges say the declaration prevents landlords from starting the eviction process, while others say cases can proceed, but have to stop before a tenant is removed. And some judges have simply allowed cases to move forward and have ruled against tenants.
There is also some concern about the constitutionality of the moratorium. The CDC cited a section of the Public Health Service Act to authorize the order, which was largely used before the coronavirus pandemic to implement quarantines and prevent diseases from spreading.
Housing advocates have expressed frustration over the confusing policy, and are concerned about tenants facing eviction who already don’t have enough information about the process. According to the New York Times, many legal aid groups across the country are working to provide additional information to renters facing eviction. Lawyers in Atlanta created a Youtube video with information, in Kentucky another group of lawyers created an online tool to generate the declarations, and in Indianapolis other lawyers are working with the city to publicize the need for renters to sign the declarations.
Housing advocacy groups like the National Low Income Housing Coalition were pleased by the move by the CDC, but said the solution kicks the problem of rent down the road for when, eventually, the moratorium is lifted and people who have been out of work suddenly have to pay thousands in back rent.
“A uniform, national moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent is long overdue and badly needed,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel in a statement. “But while an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed. This action delays but does not prevent evictions.”
The National Multifamily Housing Council said they were “deeply disappointed” with the moratorium because it was enacted without a meaningful rental assistance program. The group says a payment program would help renters in the long run when their rent bills come due.
“Eviction moratoriums do nothing to solve renters’ real financial stress problem,” the group wrote in a statement. “Moreover, they do not address the financial pressures and obligations of rental property owners. Without mortgage forbearance protections and protections from other property-level financial obligations such as property taxes, insurance payments, and utility service, the stability of the entire rental housing sector is thrown into question.”
So far, the imperfect moratorium hasn’t prevented a whole lot of evictions, according to Houston Public Media. Out of about 100 eviction cases they followed, only one renter was able to use the CDC moratorium to block their eviction.