Low-income renters are still protected by the national eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even though a Texas judge made a ruling last week that the CDC order was unconstitutional.
As stated by National Housing Law Project (NHLP) in a review of the lawsuit, the decision only applies to the landlords who sued the government. It is also being appealed by the Department of Justice, which could change the judgement.
U.S. District Judge J. Campbell Barker, a Trump appointee, issued his ruling in the case of Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plaintiffs in the case are a group of Texas landlords who claim they have been harmed by an order the CDC did not have authority to issue.
Lawyers for the landlords argued that Congress lacked the authority under the Commerce clause to prohibit evictions. They claimed the eviction process is a strictly local matter, and is therefore under state control. Judge Barker agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the CDC order halting evictions goes beyond the federal government’s power to regulate commerce between the states.
Judge Barker’s ruling was issued as a “declaratory judgment,” applying only to the parties in the case. The judge did not include an injunction to halt the CDC order, writing that he, “anticipated that [defendants] would respect the declaratory judgment.”
An injunction would force the CDC to withdraw the eviction moratorium order until the court case is fully settled. Judge Barker left open the possibility the plaintiffs could seek an injunction at a later time. The Department of Justice has appealed the decision.
What This Means for Renters
According to the NHLP review of the Terkel case, the most important thing for low-income renters is that the Terkel judgment only applies to the parties in the case. It does not apply to renters facing eviction anywhere except the properties owned by the landlords who sued the government.
Three other federal courts have already ruled that the CDC order is constitutional under the Commerce clause. NHLP points out that the pandemic’s economic impacts include, “extensive business closures and event cancellations, travel restrictions, job losses, and so on. COVID-19 has disrupted interstate economic activity to a degree arguably more extensive than any other event in living memory.”
The most important thing for low-income renters is that the Terkel judgment only applies to the parties in the case.
Evictions certainly promote the local spread of COVID-19. Low-income renters faced with eviction often end up staying with relatives, in crowded shelters, or out on the street. But 15% of evictions involve interstate moves. Responding to pandemic needs is also affected by interstate activity, as medical and food supply chains are affected by pandemic-related closures.
Even though the Texas ruling does not apply nationwide, it can still harm low-income renters. NHLP writes that the decision, “is all but certain to deter and confuse tenants from relying on the CDC order, embolden landlords to pursue evictions with renewed vigor, and confound many advocates and tribunals.” State judges who have opposed the CDC eviction limitations may use the decision as legal cover.
Low-income renters are still protected by the CDC eviction moratorium until March 31 of this year. The Biden administration is working to extend the eviction protections past that date, but no further action has yet been taken.