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Judge declines to halt COVID-related eviction moratorium

October 29, 2020 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge in Atlanta declined Thursday to put on hold a Trump administration directive that halts the eviction of certain renters through the end of the year in an effort to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

The moratorium was issued last month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Individual property owners from four states — Georgia, New Jersey, South Carolina and Virginia — and a trade association representing owners and managers of rental housing in all 50 states filed a lawsuit challenging the order.

The lawsuit argued that the property owners were suffering irreparable harm because they can’t evict tenants who aren’t paying rent. They asked the court to prohibit the enforcement of the order while the lawsuit is pending.

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“Although this pandemic has adversely affected Plaintiffs’ rental businesses — as it has much of the nation’s economy — Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the standards necessary” to have the order halted, U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee wrote in his order.

A lawyer for the property owners did not immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment.

The moratorium took effect Sept. 4, as other coronavirus-related bans on evictions were expiring, and it runs through the end of the year.

To be eligible for protection, renters must have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate they’ve sought government help to pay rent; declare that they can’t pay because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm that they are likely to become homeless if evicted.

The lawsuit, filed in Atlanta where the CDC is located, is one of several across the country challenging the agency’s order.

The question at issue is whether the CDC, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, had the authority to temporarily suspend evictions for certain people covered by its order, Boulee wrote.

Congress gave the Secretary of Health and Human Services “broad power to issue regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases,” Boulee wrote. And because the moratorium “is necessary to control the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC was authorized to issue it,” he wrote.

The lawsuit argues that the CDC’s order wasn’t supported by sufficient evidence or relevant data and was, therefore, arbitrary and capricious. Boulee disagreed, saying the order “explains, in detail, why a temporary eviction moratorium is reasonably necessary” to keep people from becoming homeless or having to move into group settings.

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The lawsuit also argues that the ban unconstitutionally impairs the property owners’ ability to access the courts because they can’t use the process provided for by law when tenants don’t pay rent. But the order is temporary and doesn’t apply to every renter or every reason for an eviction and also doesn’t eliminate a tenant’s obligation to pay rent, Boulee wrote.

In weighing the interests at stake, “the Court finds that the public’s interest in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in not outweighed by Plaintiffs’ interests in preventing the constitutional violation and economic harm alleged here,” Boulee wrote.

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