CDC directs halt to renter evictions to prevent virus spread

Kevin Freking
Associated Press

Washington — The Trump administration has issued a directive halting the eviction of certain renters through the end of 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Federal, state and local governments have approved eviction moratoriums during the course of the pandemic for many renters, but those protections are expiring rapidly. A recent report from one think tank, the Aspen Institute, stated that more than 20 million renters live in households that have suffered COVID-19-related job loss and concluded that millions more are at risk of eviction in the next several months.

Heather Mahoney of Ferndale marches with a small group to protest home evictions at 36th District Court on Aug. 17.

The administration’s action stems from an executive order that President Donald Trump issued in early August. It instructed 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.

Senior administration officials explained that the director of the CDC has broad authority to take actions deemed reasonably necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease.

Renters covered through the executive order must meet four criteria. They must:

  • 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.

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

Brian Morgenstern, a deputy White House press secretary, said Tuesday’s announcement means that people struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19 would not have to worry about being evicted and risking the spread of the disease or exposure to it.

In Michigan, officials were surprised by the news and still reviewing its impact Tuesday night. Michigan lifted its eviction ban July 16. Detroit's 36th District Court extended the ban longer but its moratorium ended Aug. 17. 

Tom Boyd, state court administrator, said Tuesday night that he would review the CDC directive Wednesday and communicate with local courts. 

"This is a good step; it's a positive step," said Ted Phillips, executive director with United Community Housing Coalition. "But there certainly needs to be a whole lot more (financial aid) because we are still going to have problems in January."

James Abbott, a landlord attorney in Detroit, said he was also reviewing the decision but said he was surprised by the move. 

At least 6,700 eviction cases had been filed in Michigan since the ban lifted, according to state data as of Aug. 21. Not all local courts have submitted data so the numbers are an underestimate, officials said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the $50 million Eviction Diversion Program in July to pay landlords to keep renters in their homes in the midst of the pandemic. But many advocates worry the money will run out quickly.

As of mid-July, 21% of Michigan residents reported they missed last month's rent or mortgage payment or had "slight or no confidence" they'd be able to make next month's payment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, called on Aug. 1 for Congress to enact a “broad emergency housing support program” to prevent evictions and shore up landlords. Congress enacted an unprecedented $2.3 trillion pandemic rescue package in March that paused evictions in most federal subsidized housing, but that moratorium has expired and Congress and the White House have been in a monthslong stalemate over new relief legislation.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the order will provide relief for millions of anxious families, but added the action delays rather than prevents evictions.

“While an eviction moratorium is essential, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” Yentel tweeted.

Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.