Coronavirus

Landlords Are Suing To Overturn State Eviction Moratoriums. State Legislators Want To Extend and Expand Them.

What started as a largely uncontroversial emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic has now become subject of intense legal and policy battles.

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Eviction moratoriums were one of the first policies cities, states, and the federal government adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic under the largely uncontroversial logic that people couldn't shelter in place without any shelter.

As the crisis has dragged on, however, these temporary protections have become the subject of intense legal and policy battles as landlords sue to overturn them, state legislators scramble to extend them, and Congress mulls imposing a blanket eviction policy on the whole country.

On Monday, California landlords Peggy Christensen and Peter Martin filed a lawsuit in the Kern County Superior Court challenging a blanket, indefinite suspension of evictions issued by the California Judicial Council, the rulemaking body for the state's courts, in early April.

That policy went beyond many of the eviction protections adopted by local California governments, which have typically been limited to protecting those who had lost jobs or income because of the pandemic.

In contrast, the Judicial Council's Emergency Rule One—one of 11 such rules issued by the council in response to the pandemic—suspended all evictions until 90 days after the end of the state's declared emergency (whenever that will turn out to be), unless a court decides they are necessary to protect public health and safety.

The rule has prevented both Christensen and Martin, who own an 8-unit housing complex and a 27-unit mobile home park, respectively, from evicting some tenants.

Christensen, according to the lawsuit, has been unable to evict a tenant who hasn't paid rent since February, and who has reportedly damaged the property. Martin hasn't been able to evict a tenant who has failed to pay rent since January, and who has attracted complaints from other tenants and been the subject of a drug raid.

According to their complaint, both Christensen and Martin have had to turn away people inquiring about vacant units.

"They have both turned people away in need of housing, people who would be respectful tenants, good neighbors," says Michael Poon, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which is representing the two. "Emergency rule 1 forces them to keep people who destroy the property, harass tenants, create a nuisance, appear to be engaged in illegal activity on the premises, and who don't pay."

The PLF lawsuit argues that the Judicial Council's eviction ban is a substantive policy decision that goes beyond its authority to set administrative rules for state courts. By doing so, it has usurped powers the California Constitution reserves for the state legislature.

On the other side of the country, a group of landlords is suing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, over an executive order he's issued suspending all evictions until June 20, and evictions for those who qualify for unemployment or who've lost income because of the coronavirus until August 20.

This federal lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in late May, argues Cuomo's eviction moratorium violates New York state law, as well as the U.S. Constitution's protections against uncompensated takings of property.

New York's "landlords are precluded from asserting their rights and obtaining relief to protect their property, all the while remaining obligated to pay all of their own carrying costs and other expenses, including taxes," reads that lawsuit.

Even as these lawsuits mount, state legislators are taking action to preserve emergency eviction moratoriums for the foreseeable future.

The same day that the lawsuit against Cuomo's eviction moratorium was filed, New York's legislature passed their own bill suspending evictions for as long as restrictions on business openings and mass gatherings remain in place. Like Cuomo's order, this bill's protections would be limited to unemployed people or those who can prove they lost income because of COVID-19. The governor has yet to sign this bill.

In California, state Sen. David Chiu (D–San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would prohibit evictions for nonpayment of any renters until 90 days after the end of the state's declared emergency. It would also give tenants a full 15 months after the end of the state's emergency to pay back rent they owed before a landlord could sue to collect it.

Chui's bill passed the California Assembly in May unanimously. It's currently working its way through the state Senate. Should it pass there too, it would seemingly make the PLF lawsuit—which target's the near-identical Judicial Council policy on separation of powers grounds—moot.

These state-level legal and policy battles are being mirrored at the federal level.

At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, federal housing authorities suspended foreclosures and evictions for two months at some properties that had mortgages backed by the federal government.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed Congress in late March expanded the number of properties covered by these eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, and extended them until the end of July.

The Democrat-controlled House, at the urging of low-income housing advocates, included a blanket yearlong suspension of evictions and foreclosures in their $3 trillion HEROES Act. That bill passed the House in May, but stands little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate.

There's no denying the rental housing market is in crisis. According to a nationwide survey conducted by listing website ApartmentList, 20 percent of renters made no June rent payment and 12 percent made only a partial payment. A survey of property owners released by New York City's Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a small landlord trade group, found that 24 percent of renters made no payments in June.

Eviction moratoriums are designed to address this crisis. They are also contributing to it by removing tenants' most immediate consequences for not paying their rent. The longer these emergency policies are extended, the less likely landlords will be unable to pay their own bills, whether that be a mortgage or property taxes.

That, in turn, could produce liquidity problems for the banks who lent money them money and revenue shortfalls for local governments. Over time, it could also disincentivize people from renting out their properties at all, shrinking an already inadequate supply of housing.

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  1. It ought to be real simple: if the government wants to prevent evictions for non-payment of rent, then it needs to pay the rent. If this is supposed to be for the good of everybody, then everybody (ie, taxpayers via representatives) needs to pay for the good.

    To dump the burden on one subset of the people is how you get classism and is about the only thing Progressives are at all good at — divisiveness.

    1. Landlords are some of the first ones lined against the wall in the workers utopia. They hoard the people’s property for themselves.

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      2. I do hope you are speaking tongue in cheek.

        1. From FoE, that’s sarc.

  2. Michael Poon

    He had to change his name from Michael Hunt.

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  3. At the very least, eviction moratoriums should come with property tax suspensions, utility payment suspensions, free maintenance, and full mortgage forgiveness. For the children.

    1. Property tax suspensions? That’s just crazy talk.

      1. Why should landlords have to pay anything at all if they are ordered by Govt to not collect rent? (effectively)

  4. I suppose the link got lost somewhere in the edit process where democrats explain why people who got unemployment to make up lost wages need eviction suspension.

    1. Cuz capitalist landlords are evil?

      1. Pretty much. If the landlords fall behind on utility payments that are included in rent or on their property taxes, the state or local housing authorities can seize the properties and operate them as public housing. Now the tenants are even more dependent on the government, and the former landlord is out of the picture

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    2. Esp. those who are making more on unemployment due to the federal subsidy than they were making while working.

  5. “Emergency rule 1 forces them to keep people who destroy the property, harass tenants, create a nuisance, appear to be engaged in illegal activity on the premises, and who don’t pay.”

    Sounds like someone’s itching to have their property seized for public nuisance violations.

  6. New York state law, as well as the U.S. Constitution’s protections against uncompensated takings of property.

    Good luck with that. Not sure when the government telling you what you could or could not do with your property constituted a ‘taking’. If that were the case, there’s a whole body of law that could be wiped from the books in one shot.

    1. Quite a while ago. Controlling what is done with your property is one of the benefits of it to being your property. Telling you what you can/can’t do with it infringes this. Or are you going to argue that the government can change the law to prohibit you from living in your house and that isn’t a taking?

      1. You’re talking about an ideal, I’m talking about reality.

        Both are contested, but the greatest outrage is generated by the clearing and grading ordinance, which requires that 50 to 65 percent of land that has not been cleared be left in natural vegetation. Unlike earlier environmental regulations that, even when controversial, were passed by large bipartisan majorities, the CAO ordinances are approved on 7 to 6 party line votes with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The approval triggers demonstrations and a host of legal challenges.

        […]

        Property-rights activists collected signatures calling for a referendum to overturn the CAO, but the courts, citing a 1994 state Supreme Court ruling that ordinances adopted to implement the GMA are not subject to referendum, rejected the effort. Longtime property-rights activist Maxine Keesling appealed the ordinances to the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB), which upheld the CAO in a July 2005 order. Some rural residents revived talk of seceding from King County.

        That CAO law still stands. “You can no longer use 50-65 percent of your property.” If that’s not a taking, then I would submit that blocking evictions is well within a similar legal framework. No one took the property from you, just can’t do with it what you want.

        1. False equivalence. You can still use that 50-65% of the property. You can still walk on it, play on it, picnic on it, setup a swing-set on it. You just can’t clear it of natural vegetation.

          When you rent out a property, you’re leasing out some rights to the person doing the renting. A landlord cannot reuse that property for anything while a tenant is in it. They can’t go in there except for temporary inspections with multiple days notice. Additional restrictions apply. You might as well try to argue that the police impounding your car is “no one took the property from you, you just can’t do with it what you want”.

          1. I guess we’ll see how the courts see it. but I don’t see much difference. Anything which deprives you of the use of your property feels like a taking to me. Legally being prevented from evicting a tenant indefinitely seems very similar to me. I’m not saying the’re 100% equivalent, but both laws deprive the owner of the use of his property.

          2. Further, in the CAO ordinance, you’re still responsible for paying property tax on 100% of the value of your property.

    2. Leases are contracts. Wouldn’t rent/eviction suspensions be a violation of the contracts clause of the constitution?

      1. I would think so, you would think so, but I don’t see much interest in property rights from SCOTUS, as we have thousands of examples of property owners being deprived of their right to develop or use their property as they see fit, but no sweeping SCOTUS decision seems to have been made on them.

        For instance, did anyone win those court battles when hotel owners would check their mail in the morning and find a letter from the city that essentially read “Dear Property owner, 40% of your hotel units are now low income housing. Details to follow.”?

  7. There’s no denying the rental housing market is in crisis.

    Fast forward: “In the pre-COVID era, there was something known as ‘rental housing’.”

    1. In the era before the Peoples’ Republic, enabled by the skillful manipulation of public panic induced by the corona virus, BLM riots, and disruption of the 2020 presidential election voting, there was something known as private property. Now, of course, the righteous workers of the Republic have glorious common ownership of all things.

      –From the secret Handbook for the Leadership of the Peoples’ Republic

      1. From the secret Handbook for the Leadership of the Peoples’ Republic

        AKA the democratic party platform

    2. In the pre-COVID era, there was something known as the free market.

  8. How is this not a taking? The state is effectively seizing rental property and demanding it be given rent free to the residents. If you can’t evict someone, then you can’t collect rent. The state owes all of these landlords compensation.

    1. Obviously the solution is to move the residents to the jails freed up by COVID-prevention releases.

    2. This is my opinion, but I’m guessing it won’t stand a chance in court.

    3. If it’s not 100%, it’s not a taking. Since the landlord has the option of selling (the buyer would have to have a serious mental deficiency), it is not a taking.

      1. Pretty sure ‘takings’ includes reduction in value.

    4. “How is this not a taking?..”

      How is rent control not a taking?

  9. It seems that California is trying to guarantee that no one in their right mind will ever invest in rental properties.

    1. At this point, I’m not sure why anyone in their right mind would ever invest in anything in California.

  10. Housing is a right you see, so, it should be free see. These landlords should be ashamed of themselves. They treat theses deadbe, uh, people like serfs. They even call themselves ‘lords’.

  11. >>state legislators scramble to extend them

    come, sit under our table.

  12. “What started as…” is about as much as you have to say when you’re telling a story about government. It’s about like starting a story “This one time when I was really drunk…” – you know where it’s headed even if you don’t know the details of the route it’s going to take getting there.

  13. Cuomo: “There is a higher law than me? Inconceivable!”

  14. Man, if you make a living renting out property you must be an idiot. You may think you own what you are lending but you don’t.

  15. Landlords should just eschew any upkeep…at all.

    Your electricity is out? Sucks for you. I’m doing nothing.
    Water down? Man, sounds rough.
    Appliance on the fritz? Sounds like a you problem.

    1. There are laws against that. Those haven’t been repealed. Only your right to evict has been repealed.

      1. We should just keep making laws that give anyone to have any incentive to create rental units. Make it illegal to get rid of a dead beat? Check. Make it so tenants don’t have to pay indefinitely whenever the gov’t dictates? Check? Still leave the landlord on the hook for all repairs and liabilities despite basically make it illegal to collect income? Check.

        When everyone who rents is living in gov’t run projects in 20 years because no one in their right mind would take on the risk of renting property, will there be a single ounce of reflection about what policies got us here? I have my doubts.

        1. Oh, and you’re late on your property tax bill, and no one called for defunding SWAT, so…

        2. Go tell it to Atlas. He will probably just shrug.

      2. Time for them to stand up and say if the government is altering the contract without my approval, then the contract is nullified. Sure, Roberts will side with the government, like he always does, but it will make the tenants miserable for a while.

      3. As the tenants are not paying rent, there is no money for maintenance, repairs, or property taxes. Do you expect to get blood from a stone?

        1. _I_ don’t, but I’m not a Democrat!

  16. What started as a largely uncontroversial emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic

    Fuck you, prog.

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    2. ^1
      “[U]ncontroversial” to those who think property rights are a figment of imagination.

  17. If someone is receiving generous unemployment benefits why should there be a rent moratorium? If someone still has a job why should there be a rent moratorium?

  18. Relax, it’s not like liberals will take advantage of short term covid measures and racial hysteria to remake society in their image. Government takeover of real estate / housing, that’ll never happen in places like CA. “Evicting black people in the name of profit is racist, down with capitalism” will be not uttered by the left.

    The Floyd protest was largely a Trojan horse. Those who seek police reform while safeguarding society and constitutional rights of the opposition is teeny minority. Several states have implemented race based healthcare and other policy, which will be a stepping stone for further nationalization and centralization – all in the name of racial equity. Every thought, image, expression, joke and statues that don’t conform with the new norm will be cancelled and rebranded.

    Where is the alarm from libertarians? Koch industry funds Reason magazine. Ron Paul edited a kooky newspaper. You’re potential targets, we all are.

  19. Eviction moratoriums are designed to address this crisis, but over time, it could also disincentivize people from renting out their properties at all electrician alexandria va

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