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In 2 Georgia counties, CDC order doesn’t stop evictions

February 8, 2021 GMT

CARROLLTON, Ga. (AP) — Judges in at least two Georgia counties are refusing to acknowledge a federal order meant to protect most tenants from eviction because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Radio station WABE-FM reports that magistrates in Carroll and Coweta counties are not halting evictions despite an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says losing housing may cause the spread of COVID-19.

“The CDC, as far as I know, has no control over Georgia courts,” Carroll County Chief Magistrate Alton Johnson told WABE-FM.

Katie Duren said her family fell behind on rent at a townhome south of Villa Rica after she and her husband lost work during the pandemic and neither was approved for unemployment.

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Duren’s landlord later filed for eviction. She said her family tried to argue the CDC order protected them from evictions, but that Johnson refused to accept the form they had filled out.

“He should have just ripped it up and threw it in the trash because that’s how I felt when he said that,” Duren said.

Johnson said he doesn’t believe the CDC’s authority overrides state law, even though most other Georgia judges are honoring the moratorium.

“I think that if the federal government wanted to do this correctly, they would have done it by passing a law,” Johnson told the station, “and properly compensate those that are out of resources or money.”

The judge said the eviction moratorium violates landlord rights.

“When you have somebody who owes a mortgage, is it fair for that individual to bear the burden of what should be a government’s responsibility?” Johnson asked. “That’s the way I look at it.”

Johnson said it would be helpful if state judicial officials would send further instructions to judges.

The Georgia Supreme Court earlier instructed magistrate courts to only allow evictions if a landlord swore that their housing was not subsidized by government loans.

The state Supreme Court said it would be improper to discuss a judge’s interpretation unless someone appeals a case to the state high court. Johnson said he has invited tenants to pursue such appeals.

Susan Reif of the Eviction Prevention Project at Georgia Legal Services said it’s impractical to expect most tenants to appeal because state law requires they pay rent while an appeal is pending, or still face eviction.

“Most of our clients, when they realize they’re not going to be able to remain in possession, have to focus their energies on finding housing and alternative arrangements for their family,” Reif told WABE-FM.

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There also isn’t an easy way for tenants to seek federal enforcement. The CDC order said violators could face fines of up to $100,000, but that would require U.S. Justice Department enforcement.

Johnson ordered Duren’s family to vacate the property and pay back $5,000 that they owed in rent. Duren and her husband tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days later.

The family’s landlord did not want to speak to the station for the story. But the landlord did allow the Durens to remain in their house for another two weeks because of the illness. The six family members, some still sick with the virus, then lived in their SUV for two nights before scraping up enough money to move into a Villa Rica hotel. They’ve been living there for a month.

“The CDC, which is federal, said that if we did all of these things that we couldn’t be evicted,” Duren said. “But this one county decided that they could make their own rules.”

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In a story published February 6, 2021, The Associated Press reported that two Georgia counties were still allowing evictions despite a CDC moratorium on evictions. The story credited a quote in the story to radio station WABE but should have made clear that the rest of the story came from the radio station.