A federal moratorium on pandemic-related evictions doesn’t preclude landlords from starting eviction court proceedings against renters, according to new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) this month.
In a “Frequently Asked Questions” document published on the CDC website, the CDC included new language about what exactly the order—effective through Dec. 31—doesn’t do, and it has caught the eye of consumer advocate groups.
“The Order is not intended to terminate or suspend the operations of any state or local court. Nor is it intended to prevent landlords from starting eviction proceedings, provided that the actual eviction of a covered person for non-payment of rent does NOT take place during the period of the Order,” the document said.
Consumer advocates including the National Housing Law Project say the new document undermines the intent of the order, making it easier for landlords to evict tenants. Plus, local courts have struggled to interpret the CDC order since it first took effect Sept. 4, and this only compounds the confusion, said Judith Goldiner, attorney in charge of the civil law reform unit at the Legal Aid Society, which represents low-income tenants facing eviction in New York City.
“There will only be more questions, more litigation, and more chaos,” Goldiner said. “We think this is pretty inconsistent with procedures during a public health crisis. We want to keep people out of the courts.”
The moratorium, issued by the CDC because homelessness can increase the spread of the disease, does not mention tenants whose leases have expired, which has led to confusion in Goldiner’s practice, she said.
The moratorium applies to renters who are unable to pay rent due to financial hardships including a layoff, “substantial loss” of household income, or “extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.” In order to qualify, a renter must fill out a special declaration form from the agency and submit it to their landlord. Only tenants who expect to earn less than $99,000 in 2020 (or less than $198,000 if a couple filing a joint tax return) are eligible, and the renter must still attempt to make timely partial rent payments during the moratorium.