A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked the legal authority to impose a national eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling could potentially impact millions of households that have fallen behind on rent.
While other federal judges have issued conflicting rulings on the moratorium, this ruling, by Judge Dabney Friedrich, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017, was the first to overturn the rule on a national basis, The Wall Street Journal reports. The moratorium, first imposed in September, was slated to last at least until the end of June, in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
It’s unclear so far if the Biden administration will appeal the judge’s ruling, which could lead to the ruling being overturned and potentially to a stay keeping the moratorium in place in the meantime. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that the Justice Department would likely issue a statement by the end of the day.
Even if the federal moratorium is overturned, renters in some jurisdictions will still be protected by additional state and local eviction moratoriums, but these don’t apply nationwide. “Researchers estimate that, in 2020, federal, state, and local eviction moratoria led to over one million fewer evictions than the previous year,” according to the CDC. But some landlords have argued that the programs have forced them to effectively subsidize tenants who are unable or unwilling to pay rent.
The Biden administration is also in the process of rolling out $50 billion in rental aid designed to help tenants who’ve fallen behind in rent (and their landlords). The eviction moratorium doesn’t exempt tenants from the obligation to pay rent, and officials and housing advocates have expressed concerns that many could face a massive back rent bill—and potentially eviction—whenever the ban expires. More than 10 million households are behind on payments, The Washington Post reported last month, citing data from Moody’s.