Eviction Lab updates February 9, 2021

Federal Moratorium Extended, but Eviction Filings Continue

  • Anne Kat Alexander and Alieza Durana
  • The Eviction Lab

What is the CDC temporary eviction moratorium?

In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order that temporarily halts some evictions as a public health strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19. Because eviction and the threat of eviction lead to overcrowded living environments as families "double up" in rental units or enter shelters, eviction is associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 infection, transmission, and death. This order halting some evictions is currently in effect until July 31, 2021.

The Eviction Lab last provided an overview about the CDC order in September 2020. The CDC order went into effect on September 4th, 2020, and originally was set to expire on December 31st, 2020. The CDC moratorium has been extended four times, once by Congress to January 31st, 2021, and again by the CDC to March 31st, 2021, then June 30, and most recently until July 31, 2021.

To be protected from eviction, renters must complete this declaration and provide it to their landlord or property manager. Each adult listed on the lease, rental agreement, or housing contract should complete the declaration.

Get the Tenant Declaration Form (PDF)

Renters must meet certain requirements to be protected from eviction, which are listed on the declaration form.

But this declaration only prevents evictions where the tenant is behind on rent. The order includes multiple exceptions where eviction is permitted.

Why are evictions and eviction filings still
happening during the moratorium?

Local housing courts have interpreted the CDC order differently across the country. In October, the CDC issued nonbinding guidance that landlords could file to evict tenants, as long as other stages of the eviction process, for example issuing a writ of eviction at the end of the case, are halted.

As a result, since September we have seen that various courts are implementing the CDC order differently:

  • In some places, courts are not holding hearings for tenants who have provided a CDC declaration until after the CDC moratorium expires.
  • Some states, like Texas, require landlords to include a blank copy of the CDC moratorium declaration form when they give a tenant a notice to quit.
  • Elsewhere, judges have questioned the validity of CDC declaration forms provided by renters.

Preventing the final execution of an eviction order is important. However, allowing the full eviction court process to play out during the eviction moratorium will cause avoidable harm to tenants. Many tenants may move out before the eviction case concludes, even if they would qualify for protection under the eviction moratorium. Data from before the pandemic show that many tenants leave without the case going to court, perhaps aware that the vast majority of cases end with decisions in the landlord’s favor. At the same time, just the presence of a filing on a tenant’s record can prevent that tenant from accessing safe and healthy rental housing in the future.

Allowing the full case to play out during the moratorium does not benefit landlords, either. The landlord is not able to rent out the unit to a new tenant during the moratorium, and an eviction judgment could prevent tenants and landlords from accessing financial assistance that could address or clear the tenant’s debt, like rental assistance grants.

Despite the fact that this moratorium is federal law and applies to all parts of the country that do not have more comprehensive eviction moratoria in place already, not all renters are equally protected from the harms of eviction filings and eviction.

How could the moratorium be more effective?

To be more effective at preventing renters from getting kicked out of their homes during the pandemic, a federal eviction moratorium must:
  • Prevent all stages of the eviction process, including filing an eviction case. Eviction Lab research has shown that local moratoria are more effective at preventing eviction cases when they block earlier stages of the eviction process.
  • Apply to all eviction cases, not just nonpayment of rent. In some courts, landlords can still evict tenants by refusing to renew a tenant’s lease. Because the pandemic response in the U.S. has been ongoing for nearly a year, many leases are expiring. Landlords should not have the option of allowing a lease to lapse in order to evict a tenant who would otherwise qualify for protection under the CDC eviction moratorium.
  • Provide financial assistance—for example, rental assistance—that ensures landlords receive the rent money that their tenants cannot pay during this crisis, and that renters are not stuck with an unpayable bill at the end of the eviction moratorium. Research from groups like the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Urban Institute indicates that the $25 billion that Congress recently passed for rental assistance will be far too little to keep families housed as this crisis continues.

The Eviction Lab will continue to update our COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard, which tracks statewide housing policies, and COVID-19 Policies Table, which includes information about local orders, to keep renters informed about what policies exist in their states in addition to the CDC moratorium. The National Low Income Housing Coalition and National Housing Law Project will also continue to provide updates on housing amidst the pandemic.

The Eviction Lab will also continue to update and expand the Eviction Tracking System, allowing us to monitor the impact of the new federal moratorium, as well as state and local protections, and observe filings after its expiration.

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