With many Americans behind on their rent during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is extending an order aimed at preventing evictions through June.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation's public health," says CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19."
Studies have found that evictions spread COVID-19 and result in more deaths from the disease since people are forced into more crowded living situations. The moratorium was set to expire in just two days at the end of March.
More than 8 million American households are behind on their rent, according to the Census Bureau. And housing groups have warned that allowing the CDC's protection for renters to lapse would set off a tsunami of evictions.
"The extended moratorium and its enforcement are essential to help millions of families remain in their homes," says Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She says states and local communities need the time to distribute billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance approved by Congress to help renters catch up.
Landlord trade groups have been opposed to the moratorium. They say landlords need to have control of their properties.
"Though politically popular and well-intentioned, eviction moratoria push renters and their housing providers closer to the brink of financial ruin," said Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association.
Legal aid attorneys working with renters facing eviction argue the CDC order isn't strong enough and has too many loopholes. They complain that it's not automatic. Renters have to know about it and take steps to invoke the protection by getting a form from the CDC website, signing it under penalty of perjury, and giving it to their landlord.
Even if they do that, landlords and their lawyers can often find ways around the order and evict people anyway. For example, if a renter's lease has come to an end, landlords can argue they are evicting the renter because they don't want to renew the lease, not because of nonpayment of rent. And courts and judges are treating the order differently from state to state and even county to county.
But in extending the order, the CDC does not appear to be addressing those issues. "It's disappointing that the administration didn't act on the clear evidence and need to also strengthen the order to address the flaws that undermine its public health purpose," Yentel says. "That will result in some continued harmful evictions during the pandemic."
"The CDC did the bare minimum," says Shamus Roller the executive director of the National Housing Law Project. "And that will mean many more renters will lose their homes before the pandemic is over."
Still, many landlords are going along with the order from the CDC and not evicting people who are behind on their rent. So the extension of the order should continue to offer protection to those renters.
Meanwhile, renters in many states are now able to apply for federal rental assistance money, upwards of $50 billion. Application portals opened in March and the money is beginning to flow.
And now, with the economy improving, fewer people say they owe back-rent. A census survey from March 3 to March 15 finds that 1.2 million fewer households report being behind on their rent, compared to the month before.