The Volokh Conspiracy

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Eviction Moratorium

The Eviction "Tsunami" that Wasn't

Defenders of the CDC eviction moratorium predicted a "tsunami" of evictions would happen if the policy were rescinded. That hasn't happened.


Defenders of the Centers for Disease Control nationwide eviction moratorium, first instituted under the Trump Administration and later revived and extended by Biden, claimed there would be a "tsunami" of evictions would if the moratorium were lifted. But no such tsunami has occurred after the moratorium was invalidated by the Supreme Court in August. At the 538 website, Yuliya Panfil, Director of housing policy studies at the liberal-leaning New America research institute, and land use expert David Spievack have a helpful article explaining how and why these predictions went wrong:

Since the pandemic began, housing experts (including one of the authors of this article) have been predicting that the pandemic's economic fallout would produce an eviction "tsunami" that could put as many as 40 million people out of their homes.

The experts are still waiting.

When the pandemic first surged in the U.S., the dire predictions prompted federal, state and city governments to enact emergency policies to temporarily ban evictions. Two national eviction moratoriums lasted nearly uninterrupted for about 17 months, until August 2021, and some states and cities still have eviction and other tenant protections in place today.

When the national moratorium lifted, housing experts, renter advocates and policymakers braced for a surge of evictions. Now, four months later, evictions have increased, but data suggests that a tsunami has yet to materialize. Some still think one is coming, as courts begin working through a backlog of eviction filings, but according to Eviction Lab, the country's most comprehensive tracker of eviction data, evictions in most places are nearly 40 percent below the historical average.

As the authors explain later in their article, tsunami predictions were influenced by a combination of flawed studies and assumptions. For additional critiques of the studies relied on by moratorium advocates, see this Reason article by Aaron Brown and Justin Monticello.

By no means did all land-use and housing experts predicted there would be a "tsunami." In my critique of the initial establishment of the moratorium in September 2020, I pointed out some reasons to be skeptical of such claims,  such as evidence that the Covid pandemic had not led to an increase in evictions to that point, including in areas that had not enacted state or local eviction moratoria.

Even if the federal moratorium did not actually forestall an eviction tsunami, it could be argued it was justified, at the time, by the mere possibility of one. Better safe than sorry! But even if you set aside the severe infringement on landlords' property rights, eviction moratoria are not a free lunch. Research by economists indicates that they lead to increases in the cost and declines in the availability of housing. If landlords fear that governments will impose eviction moratoria during economic downturns and other crises, they will be less willing to rent in the first place (especially to poorer and otherwise marginal tenants) or only willing to do so at a higher price.

None of this by itself proves that the Supreme Court was right to rule against the CDC moratorium. Perhaps the agency had the authority to enact this policy, even if it was a bad idea. However, I do think there were was a strong legal case against the moratorium, and a Supreme Court ruling upholding it would have set a dangerous precedent. I summarized the issues involved in my post about the Supreme Court decision in the case, and earlier writings linked there.

NOTE: The plaintiffs in some of the lawsuits against the eviction moratorium (though not the one the Supreme Court ruled on) were represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, where my wife works. I myself played a minor (unpaid) role in advising PLF on this litigation.

NEXT: Anti-Riot Act Prosecution Over August 2020 Looting Messages Can Go Forward

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  1. "Better safe than sorry" is a terrible way to run a society. Every precaution has costs. A rational person weighs the risks against the costs. But then, if we're talking about politicians and government officials we're mostly not talking about rational people.

  2. The federal ban was only one layer of this offensive smelling onion.

    The second layer was the various states which had (and still have in some form) eviction bans in place.

    But, the third layer is perhaps the most putrid - the local courts infested with regressive judges and staff.

    Here is a story of a guy who lives in my town that still has some freeloaders squatting in his property.
    1. Tenants violated their lease and haven't paid rent for 16+ months.
    2. Landlord has lots of evidence that they are still working, getting paid, but seem to be spending what would be their rent money on home electronics, computers, and a new car.
    3. New car is easy to prove as it is sitting there in the driveway. Pictures of the latest inspection this Fall show many new expensive televisions mounted on walls and boxed, still in wrap, electronics in plain view.
    4. Landlord files for eviction on the first day permitted in his jurisdiction (represented by counsel).
    5. Court administrator "slow walks" the eviction for months even though they usually get listed within weeks.
    6. Hearing day finally comes and the tenant doesn't show. Rules are that it should result in a default judgement and that is that. But local judge, who ran on a regressive platform, instead enters a continuance because (insert reason a regressive would use to ignore rules).
    7. Another month goes by ad the second hearing date arrives. The tenants show and have a legal aid attorney. They present an "offer" before the hearing of one months rent and move out at the end of that calendar month (which is still three weeks away). Landlord refuses.
    8. At the hearing, the legal aid attorney (who is just doing her job) makes a big deal over the "unreasonable" landlord turning down her offer to settle. Landlord's lawyer says setttlement represented a paltry 3-4% of the total owed and was wholly unreasonable. They want to proceed to a hearing and make their case.
    9. Judge latches on to this settlement offer and scolds the landlord for wasting the court's time. Tell him that he ought to take the offer and orders another continuance so they can engage in mediation. His lawyer objects and asks to proceed to hearing. Mediation is not supported by law or local rules. Landlord has already suffered significant and ongoing injury.
    10. Judge doesn't care and tells him if he doesn't like it she will dismiss the petition, he can appeal and that is "how it will be handled..."
    11. Landlord really just wants his property back so he can sell it, doesn't want to drag it out for another 6-12 months, so just accepts the settlement.

    And the media is surprised that rental housing inventories are shrinking by the month and rent prices are skyrocketing....These people have no clue do they?

    1. The Chief Judge in Allegheny County has ordered that they proceed with evictions pretty much how you said that it happened to the guy in your town.

    2. Reporting the eviction will ruin the squatter's ability to ever rent again.

  3. Pretty much like how the climate alarmist act though, every decade has its predictions of doom that are quietly ignored when the date passes. The predictions in the eighties and nineties have come and gone with no islands lost or NYC flooded nor 200mph hurricanes being common. Even Gore's and a certain NASA predictor apparently are miffed the arctic is still filled with ice.

    All these fear campaigns are designed to do is scare people into giving up their rights and provide politicians even more power which translates into their personal wealth increasing

      1. Whatever you want to say, there is no two ways about it. The claims were explicit in the 80s. "Our children will not know what snow is". The often-mocked congressional snowball was brought in on the day of the prediction, and people completely (and in many cases, willfully) misunderstood to call him a denier.

        The actual studies were more restrained, but the claims in media were that we would be in apocalyptic situations over a decade ago.

  4. “Why did we have to wear seat belts Mommy? We didn’t get into a crash!”

    Fortunately adults don’t think that way.

    1. Why dont we were bicycle helmets when walking the dog?

      Fortunately, most adults make a rational assessment of the risks

      1. It was a rational assessment. Ilya admits as much.

        1. captcrisis
          January.12.2022 at 9:38 am
          Flag Comment Mute User
          It was a rational assessment. Ilya admits as much."

          No - the assessment that the eviction mortatorium would have a positive effect on reducing spread of covid was due to an irrational understanding of how the virus spreads, flawed studies and an irrational fear of covid.

          Again - wearing a bicyle helmet when walking the dog is a much better analogy.

          The risk of serious injury in a car crash is significantly higher than the risk of serious negative consequences of catching covid. Further, the risk of auto fatality, based on time spent in the car is approx 4x-5x greater than the risk of covid fatility using total time potentially exposed to covid. The risk of serious adverse consequences / injury lasting more than 4-5 days from car wreck is 10x-20x greater. in terms of gross numbers covid would appear to have greater risk, but based on time, the auto is significantly higher risk.

  5. “[T]sunami predictions were influenced by a combination of flawed studies and assumptions.”

    That describes the entire course of the “Pandemic” to a tee.

  6. Defenders of the CDC eviction moratorium predicted a "tsunami" of evictions would happen if the policy were rescinded. That hasn't happened.

    In that case, it doesn't sound like the moratorium did all that much harm either.

    1. Did you read any of the posts above yours?
      One landlord lost over a years worth of rent.
      Multiply that by the literally millions of small time landlords.
      How many of those landlords were able to continue to pay the mortgage on the property after the renters stopped paying rent?
      How many were able to pay the property taxes after the renters stopped paying rent?
      How many are going to lose their properties to bank foreclosure or tax sale?
      How many are going to continue renting to anyone at all?
      The foreseeable effect of this eviction moratorium is to raise the cost of rent as the risk of renting has greatly increased.
      If the government did this once, it’s very likely to do it again

  7. Of course, the fact that there wasn't a huge wave of evictions also shows that all the alarmist hand-wringing about how this is taking money out of the hands of landlords and infringing on their property rights was wrong also.

  8. I think the long term harm to renters is that this, and other renter rights kind of things that are intended to help renters have the downside of making being a landlord less attractive. In our days of renting we were always happier when renting from small scale landlords - the kind of people who buy a duplex as part of their retirement savings or whatever.

    Those small scale landlords are getting pretty skittish, both about current law and the general 'landlords are evil' tone of some advocates. Having the rental market have fewer small landlords and more large corporate landlords will, IMHO, likely not be good for renters (less competition; more lobbying money).

  9. You just can prove predictions wrong with reality. The Fall of Democracy, Wild West/Blood in the Streets, etc. Just wait long enough and the sun will supernova - then who’s wrong?

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