Coronavirus

Landlords Sue Trump Administration and CDC Over Executive Order Banning Evictions

The National Apartment Association has joined a lawsuit brought by four individual landlords arguing the CDC's nationwide eviction moratorium is both illegal and unconstitutional.

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The Trump administration's controversial nationwide eviction moratorium, issued through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month, is now the subject of a lawsuit from landlords who argue that the public health agency exceeded its authority when it unilaterally banned landlords from evicting tenants in state courts.

On Friday, the National Apartment Association (NAA), a trade group, added its name to a lawsuit brought by four individual landlords in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, all of whom would move to evict a non-paying tenant but for the CDC's order.

That includes Jeffrey Rondeau, a North Carolina man who, in good times, nets $20 renting out a home that he intended to move into when he retires, according to the lawsuit. Rondeau's tenant has a spotty record of paying rent and hasn't paid since July. Another plaintiff, Rick Brown of Virginia, asserts that his tenant has stopped paying rent for several months, and currently owes some $8,000 in back rent.

These property owners "upheld their end of the bargain. They provided a habitable home to their tenants and continue to pay for maintenance, utilities, and other expenses," reads the complaint. "Plaintiffs should have been able to follow the lawful processes laid down by state law for retaking possession of their homes."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, CDC Acting Chief of Staff Nina Witkofsky, and their respective departments/agencies are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The CDC's eviction ban prohibits property owners from trying to remove tenants for nonpayment of rent, provided the tenant has informed their landlord in writing that they have suffered a loss of income or extraordinary medical bills, have made all efforts to obtain government assistance, and would be forced into homelessness or a crowded living situation if evicted.

The moratorium only protects individual renters earning less than $99,000 a year (or $198,000 for joint filers). Property owners that do try to evict tenants in violation of the CDC's order face criminal penalties of up to a year in jail and fines ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.

The CDC is resting the legal authority for its eviction moratorium on a section of the Public Health Service Act and related federal regulations which give the agency's director the power to take any measures he or she deems "reasonably necessary" to prevent the interstate spread of communicable disease, including "inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of animals or articles believed to be sources of infection."

"If you look at the statute, it has a very clear list of things that it's contemplating. It's talking about quarantining livestock and impounding goods," Caleb Kruckenberg, an attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), which is representing the plaintiffs in this case, tells Reason. "It's a pretty clear indication that Congress was saying [public health authorities] have a pretty limited power here."

An eviction moratorium vastly exceeds those limited powers, Kruckenberg says. Even if the Public Health Service Act could be read so broadly as to give the CDC that power, he says, it would nevertheless be unconstitutional.

The NCLA's complaint argues that the CDC's moratorium, by effectively requiring state governments to administer a federal regulatory program, violates the 10th Amendment. The lawsuit also asserts that landlords are being denied access to the courts in violation of the Fifth and 14th Amendment's due process protections, among other provisions of the Constitution.

Eviction moratoriums have been a common policy adopted by all levels of government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are often justified on the grounds that a wave of evictions would materialize in the absence of these protections.

So far, evictions have remained below historic averages in most cities where data are available, according to Princeton University's Eviction Lab, even in jurisdictions where local or state moratoriums were allowed to lapse.

The CDC's order was followed by a brief spike in eviction filings, but that has since subsided—yet more evidence that the moratoriums themselves could be responsible for the spikes in evictions we've seen.

A prior federal eviction moratorium, passed as part of the coronavirus aid bill, applied to the roughly 28 percent of rental housing units that have federally backed mortgages, and to landlords who benefited from other federal housing programs. It expired at the end of July.

Landlords, in addition to their legal and constitutional claims, argue eviction moratoriums are bad policy.

"Eviction moratoria saddle the apartment industry solely with the responsibility of offering a service without compensation, all while operating at a potential deficit," said Bob Pinnegar, NAA's president, in a press release. "Rental housing works on extremely narrow margins and, though last paid themselves, owners still need to pay extensive bills."

Many housing advocates, while not opposed to the federal government's eviction moratorium, see them as a half-measure since they do not actually relieve tenants of their responsibility to pay rent. It only temporarily protects them from eviction for not doing so. Once the federal moratorium expires in January, tenants with rent debt will be vulnerable to eviction.

The solution that advocates (excluding the far-left "cancel rent" crowd) and property owners have settled on is federal rental assistance. The Democrat-controlled House has twice passed bills that provide $100 billion in emergency funding for renters, although the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to pick up either proposal.

Free marketers have posited a number of objections to expanded federal rental assistance, arguing that the proposal put forward by House Democrats is poorly targeted at those most in need and would require yet more spending from an already fiscally overstretched federal government.

The federal government has two weeks to respond to the amended complaint that the plaintiffs filed on Friday.

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  1. More evidence of Trump’s genius.
    He is looking for a court ruling that eviction moratoriums are unconstitutional, just in case the dems win a few states in November.

      1. 99th Dimensional Interstellar Underwater Chess!

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    1. I think that was the clear intent. The clear results are one or all of the following.
      A: Make Trump look good to leftists by doing something they think is good and is listening to them.
      B: Make the media argue against something they’ve been asking and cheering for, making Trump’s detractors look bad.
      C: Get a ruling in court saying that this sort of thing is unconstitutional, making Trump’s initial policies look good and his opponents look bad.

      It’s not 5-D chess. It’s not a genius move. It’s a simple “heads I win, tails you lose” move. Trump knows he’s not going to lose his base over this, but he may move some independents in key locations.

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  2. Just in case any of our CACLLs are still clinging to the belief that the eviction ban originated from the CDC, not Trump:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-working-stop-evictions-protect-americans-homes-covid-19-pandemic/

  3. Thought about renting out a place until I can retire into it. But no fucking way in this climate. Even the so-called conservatives are now sending landlords to the guillotine.

    I’ve also spent enough time in the building and home repair trades, that I’ve seen what disgruntled tenants can do. I would need far more than $20 a month to be a landlord. At best I would let a relative live at a place I own. But not just any relative. I want fucking references first!

    1. Subtle way of saying you don’t want to rent to brown people. Racist.

      1. The way I understand it, just looking white is being racist. Doesn’t matter what you say or do, it’s built in.

        1. It does matter what you say or do – merely disagreeing with progs labels you a racist.

    2. Never be a landlord. (Except in Arkansas.)

  4. “Many housing advocates, while not opposed to the federal government’s eviction moratorium, see them as a half-measure since they do not actually relieve tenants of their responsibility to pay rent. It only temporarily protects them from eviction for not doing so.”

    Then let them buy houses and apartment buildings, and provide them to tenants rent-free.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Good luck with those tenants ever being able to rent again.

      Oh, that’s my white privilege showing, mentioning credit checks. I own now, but when I rented I had a credit check on me for every place except the first one, a lowlife place subsequently converted to government funded welfare housing.

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  5. I’m trying to understand this. I file in local court for the eviction of a non-paying tenant. The court accepts the filing and serves the various parties. The CDC has mandated the landlord is now subject to criminal penalties for starting the process, rather than just requiring the suit be dismissed as frivolous (or whatever)

    It would be more logically consistent to ban the local and state courts from accepting accept such filings. Or at least give the defendant a positive defense. But, there’s no way any state supreme court would allow that.

    A simple contract dispute, a purely civil action, now turns into a criminal action. We truly now live in “interesting times”.

    1. The CDC cannot dismiss local lawsuits. It can impose penalties for conduct that (supposedly) threatens public health.

  6. It’s a bad order and hopefully will get struck down by the courts.

    But the bad order is made possible by badly written laws that give broad authority to the CDC: “can do anything they reasonably believe necessary, including” simply means “can do anything”. Congress should never pass such laws.

    The reason for the order is obviously politics, and it is win-win for Trump: either, he can say that he did something to protect the people, or it creates precedent that limits CDC and federal authority.

    Note that nobody seems to have been penalized by the law yet.

    1. But of course it can also be Lose-Lose for us. Since if the CDC does win in court, we have given broad powers to the federal government and if the CDC loses, we have continued to advance the bullshit argument that the Federal government- and most importantly, Top Men- should be protecting us from the evil markets, but stupid rules keep that from happening.

  7. Well good. This was a completely ridiculous overstepping of authority by CDC.

      1. At Trump’s instruction, by Executive Order.

        1. It was the state’s governor’s choice as to what they wanted to do with the President’s Emergency Order concerning the virus. The democrat governors led the rush to close businesses and lay off employees. The governor’s are economy challenged or wishing that people will think the prez issued all the mandates. Citizens do not seem to understand “state’s rights”. There are no laws keeping businesses from opening and employers don’t give a whit about public health but are protecting their business licenses only.
          Lack of rentals is already an issue but evicting non-payers will make rentals available to others who cannot pay rent?? Reason is predicting a “crash”! Reason wins another “Golden Duh Award”. Readers have managed to toss racism into the mix and landlords are “poor me” as usual and renting to evil renters. Housing prices have soared but nobody’s wages went up and now the wages have stopped. So evict the bums and rent to …??? Landlords are not paying mortgages for rentals they own, the have business loans or are investment companies. Economics 101. AOC says “print up some more cash”. To her Fiat currency is cash from selling a crappy Italian automobile from ancient history books as read to her by someone who could.
          We all get what we deserve? Banks are offering loans to businesses that are closed with zero interest. I am interested to see how this all shakes out. AOC says fire is coming to Washington DC. Sounds like a death threat then you will see the US Army on DC’s streets, martial law and orders to shoot on sight. I place the blame on China,Walmart and Democrats. It is a good time to be a lawyer or a firearm/ammunition manufacturer. Blacks will back in the projects. Whites will be “privileged” and Latinos will work for food or cigaros. Una mas cervasa por favor. Hod’s here! (only kidding)

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  8. Newsom has an eviction ban in place in CA; it’s also under suit.
    Nothing says ‘taking’ like an eviction ban.

    1. Same in WA State.

  9. So much for any pretense of property rights and Laissez Faire Economics – Trumpism is Fascism repackaged for those who have never read a book.

    The Trumpy the Clown Show’s plot is twisting from idiocracy to autocracy.

    “Free enterprise capitalism exists only when people in the private sector are free to pursue their own interests without direction from government. When politicians start passing laws to tell them what to do, or bureaucrats start issuing edicts to tell them what to do, it is no longer capitalism; it’s fascism.”
    ~ Rick Gaber

    1. “The Trumpy the Clown Show’s plot is twisting from idiocracy to autocracy.

      Why do shitbag TDS victims spend half their lives making up ‘clever’ nicknames which embarrass 1st-graders?
      Well, they don’t; they’re not that smart. It takes all of their lives.
      Stuff your TDS up your ass, so your head has some company, you pathetic piece of shit.

      1. Ooof. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when Sevo calls out your discourse. Gag a maggot indeed.

    2. Yes, and “housing advocates” = anti-property rights advocates. But so does the US Constitution. It proposes to protect rights by creating an elite with a monopoly on violence, limited by itself, e.g., by division into three parts which will “check & balance” each other.
      When this idea was questioned it was justified as an experiment, not a noble infallible ideal, and correctible by popular revolt, abolishment of said system. A less violent solution was secession.
      The latter was illegally stopped by a tyrant who is worshipped as a political saint/savior/liberator. He was none of those things.
      Meanwhile, a revolt against the violent paradigm is advocated by very few, e.g., 2%-5%?

  10. Good, the policy will be overturned, and we’ll be safe from other politicians trying the same thing in the future.

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    1. He’s just trying to break even so he can hold onto the house for when he retires. I’m sure the net includes all kinds of expenses beyond just the mortgage and the taxes, things that if he doesn’t pay don’t matter a whole lot.

  11. If they lost income whether they were employed, self-employed, a contract worker or a gig worker they should have been getting the $600/wk plus state benefits and then recently the $300/wk plus state benefits. Why weren’t they paying their rent?

    The government is talking out of both sides if its mouth here- we’ll give you more money than you were making but we’ll pretend your broke to keep you from being responsible with the money we’re giving you.

    1. Maybe their crystal ball is working and yours isn’t. The future must bright in fantasy land “Home of the Judgemental”. And do not look under their mattresses.

    2. I don’t believe any unemployed person was able to access that $300 from the Feds because it depended upon each State being able to kick in $100 in order for the Feds to fork over their part. As far as I know, state budgets (red & blue) have been decimated by COVID & have been unable to come up with that additional $100 to get the $300 Fed match. Just listened to talk radio & one applicant for that original $600 way back in March has still to see the first unemployment check. Didn’t catch what state it was ….

  12. Why don’t “Reason” writers ever realize how much their efforts support the overreaching state? They lend legitimacy to the state’s encroachments on liberty when they debate fine points about which government regulations will work the best, while failing to do what might really help make a difference: expose and discredit government interference with life, liberty, and property. So long as people debate which regulations will work best, the interests of liberty will continue to decline.

    1. You can always start your own magazine and website.

    2. I don’t know. The basis of the article is the CDC and the Trump administration are overriding established contract law. This seems to me to be a pretty big issue.

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