U.S. Supreme Court extends CDC eviction ban by one month. Here's what to know

by David Sherfinski | @dsherfinski | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 1 July 2021 14:04 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Makeshift sheets displaying messages of protest contesting the ability to pay for rent hang in the window of an apartment building, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Columbia Heights neighbourhood of Washington, U.S., on October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

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What to know about the residential eviction ban after the Supreme Court allows an extension

* U.S. Supreme Court allows eviction ban to continue

* Renters, landlords scramble ahead of July 31 deadline

* CDC: Latest extension 'intended' to be final one

By David Sherfinski

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cash-strapped tenants can sleep a little easier now the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a pandemic ban on landlord evictions - but the federally-backed breather only lasts another month.

The ban - first enacted last September by the Trump administration - aimed to stave off the triple threat of renters becoming infected, jobless and homeless, all due to COVID-19.

Here is a rundown on the federal ban, despised by landlords and lauded as a lifeline for millions of renters living in the shadow of a deadly disease and struggling to make ends meet.

What happened this week?

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a federal ban on eviction for renters that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had extended through July 31.

The eviction moratorium, which the CDC first announced in September 2020, has kept a roof over the heads of many Americans hit by COVID-19, though it hasn’t staved off every eviction.

Landlords and realtors groups had challenged the ban in court, saying the CDC exceeded its authority in unilaterally enacting such a sweeping policy.

A federal judge in May ruled that the CDC did overstep its bounds, but an appeals court allowed the ban to stay in place as the case played out in lower courts.

What does the ruling mean?

Renters now have another month where they're not supposed to get evicted from their homes for failing to pay rent.

They must swear to meet certain conditions, like actively trying to obtain financial assistance and make partial payments.

The ban had been due to expire in June but was extended to end-July. The Biden administration said the most recent extension is "intended" to be the final one, after the CDC had extended the ban multiple times since September.

The health agency enacted the ban to try and contain the spread of COVID-19 and combat homelessness during the pandemic.

What happens after July 31?

Nearly 7 million Americans reported being behind on rent in the second half of April, according to the Treasury Department, and the eviction ban doesn’t cancel back rent that’s still owed.

The administration is working with community groups to streamline the process for getting more than $46 billion in federally-authorized rental aid out to tenants.

“All of us have an obligation to pitch in and help to do whatever we can to keep families in their home[s],” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said on Wednesday. “The federal government stands ready to help.”

Gupta has urged judges to consider making landlords apply for rental assistance before filing for evictions.

What's its impact?

The rules have helped keep millions in their homes, according to affordable housing and renters advocacy groups.

“The federal eviction moratorium has literally been a lifeline for tens of millions of renters who stayed stably housed during a global health emergency because of its protections,” Diane Yentel, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Landlords still filed for hundreds of thousands of evictions under the moratorium, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which has been tracking the issue.

Caleb Kruckenberg, litigation counsel at the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said he has a client who hasn’t been able to obtain rent from a tenant since February 2020 – before the pandemic took hold – and that they had little recourse.

“I think it caught a lot of localities by surprise, and they didn’t know what to do,” he said in an interview. “Some of my clients had courts tell them that they thought it was a federal crime under the order for them to even file eviction paperwork.”

What have U.S. states done?

Various U.S. states have approved their own eviction bans, some of which stretch beyond this month.

California has extended its ban through September. New York's lasts until the end of August.

Some states, including Washington, Connecticut and Maryland, took action to ensure tenants had access to legal representation to guide them through new and unfamiliar court proceedings.

John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, estimated that 81 percent of landlords have had legal representation, compared to 3 percent of tenants.

“Rights are only meaningful if you know that they exist and you know how to enforce them,” he said in an interview.

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(Reporting by David Sherfinski. Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)