State courts issue guidance on new CDC eviction moratorium

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

The state group that oversees local courts late Thursday afternoon issued a summary to Michigan judges of a new federal moratorium on evictions that could keep renters who qualify in their homes through 2020. 

The guidance includes frequently asked questions about the new national ban through Dec. 31, which surprised lawyers, judges and housing advocates when it was announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Tuesday. 

To qualify, renters have to fill out a "declaration document" that they meet the CDC order's criteria, which include lost income due to Covid-19, according to the memo sent by the State Court Administrative Office. 

Kathryn Nowinski, 29, of Detroit drives around Cadillac Place as part of a caravan protest organized by Detroit Eviction Defense in Detroit on May 13, 2020. The group calls for extending the eviction ban until at least 60 days have passed after the end of the current state of emergency.

John Nevin, a spokesman for SCAO, said Michigan Legal Help is creating a sample document to be released soon for renters to submit to landlords and judges. 

The memo also said that local courts will have to decide on their own whether the CDC directive means that they won't accept new eviction filings or whether they will accept new cases, but just not act on evictions under the ban, Nevin said. 

"Some courts will stop proceedings altogether; others will continue processing filings depending on how they interpret the order," Nevin wrote in an email. "The outcome, however, is the same. Landlords cannot evict tenants who fill out the declaration until the moratorium expires."

Many judges paused eviction cases Wednesday as they waited for state guidance on how to implement the CDC directive. The Michigan Supreme Court has administrative oversight of state courts through the State Court Administrative Office.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted Michigan's eviction ban on July 16. Detroit's 36th District Court extended the ban but its moratorium ended Aug. 17. 

The moratorium started with an executive order President Donald Trump issued in early August instructing federal health officials to consider measures to temporarily halt evictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up Tuesday by declaring that any landlord shall not evict any “covered person” from any residential property for failure to pay rent.

Renters covered through the executive order must give a statement to their landlord that they meet certain criteria including:

►Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.

►Demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments.

►Affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships.

►Affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

They also have to declare that they are "making best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit."

Officials said local courts would still resolve disputes between renters and landowners about whether the moratorium applies in a particular case.

Magistrate James McGrail in Clinton Township's 41-B District Court said on Thursday that several of the eviction cases he heard were adjourned to next week so they could wait "to see if SCAO gives any direction on how to process."

The moratorium doesn't take effect until it's published in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to happen Friday.

Landlords still can evict tenants for factors other than nonpayment of rent, like violation of a lease, criminal activity or damaging the home. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.