Eviction notice document on tabletop with keys

“No-cause” evictions should be halted under CDC eviction moratorium, legal group says

Photo by ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov

Despite a national moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many local courts continue to hear “no-cause” eviction cases. A review by the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) shows that many renters on month-to-month leases should be protected from losing their homes under the CDC order.

Many local eviction courts around the country have declined to dismiss “no-cause” evictions. These are cases where renters have a lease that is expiring, or they do not have a lease and are in a “month-to-month” arrangement. 

Tenants with month-to-month leases typically can be asked to vacate with 30 days notice. Landlords can ask tenants to leave immediately when leases expire. In both cases, landlords do not have to give a reason for removing the tenants.

The CDC eviction order halts all evictions of eligible renters for nonpayment of rent. Eligible renters are those earning less than $99,000, have been impacted by the pandemic, and have made the effort to find rental assistance. Many local courts have taken the position that “no-cause” evictions do not involve failure to pay rent, and are not covered by the CDC’s order.

NHLP’s review points out that the CDC order does not authorize “no-cause” evictions. It only authorizes evictions for five reasons. These reasons are all related to lease violations:

  1. Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises.
  2. Threatening the health or safety of other residents.
  3. Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property.
  4. Violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety.
  5. Violating any other contractual obligation of a tenant’s lease, other than the timely payment of rent or similar housing-related payment (including nonpayment or late payment of any fees, penalties, or interest). 
National Housing Law Project logo. Image by nhlp.org

The main purpose of the CDC eviction moratorium is to protect public health and slow the spread of COVID-19. Millions of renters at risk of eviction means the threat of rising homelessness. Living in crowded shelters or on the streets has been shown to increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and spreading the disease more widely in the community.

NHLP argues that if the CDC order does not apply in no-cause cases, then landlords have an easy way to get around the national halt on evictions. Landlords can evict tenants who cannot pay the rent during the pandemic because landlords do not have to say why people are being turned out. This runs against the CDC’s goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Even if the CDC order does not stop all no-cause evictions, NHLP says the order should at least prevent evictions that are really based on the inability to pay rent. If landlords are going to give notice on a month-to-month lease, or fail to renew a current lease, they should be able to prove that the eviction is for a cause other than nonpayment of rent.

NHLP says that courts should require landlords to disclose if the tenants facing eviction failed to pay rent at any time since the start of the pandemic. If so, landlords need to provide another reason for the eviction action. Otherwise, the CDC order really provides no protection to many of the most vulnerable renters during this health crisis.