Since the beginning of the pandemic, landlords have essentially had their property taken from them by the government. Oh, it’s still theirs — they just can’t collect rent or evict a person who refuses to pay it.
In the first stages of the COVID-19 crisis, when unemployment claims were reaching record highs and the risk of homelessness and further infection were serious issues, yes, there was a case to be made for an eviction moratorium.
Now, however, when vaccines are available to anyone who wants them and jobs are plentiful, the moratorium is needlessly killing both large-scale landlords and mom-and-pop renters.
In June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled by a 5-to-4 margin that the eviction ban could continue, according to Reuters. However, in a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh made it clear that any extension beyond the end of July would require “clear and specific congressional authorization.”
The Biden administration didn’t get it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the moratorium on Tuesday anyway, changing it only slightly so it appeared to be targeted to areas with “substantial” and “high” levels of community transmission of COVID-19. According to NPR, this definition covers 82 percent of the counties and 90 percent of the population in the United States.
Outraged landlords are fighting back.
On Wednesday, according to Politico, the Alabama and Georgia chapters of the National Association of Realtors filed suit in federal court, alleging the White House “caved to political pressure” and reinstituted the moratorium “without providing any legal basis for its action.”
“The CDC appears to have acted in bad faith,” the lawsuit said.
In a statement Wednesday, an alliance of 11 housing industry organizations said “the administration itself noted it lacks the legal authority for a more targeted eviction moratorium.”
National Apartment Association President and CEO Bob Pinnegar said the new moratorium has landlords “irate,” with property owners saying they feel they were disregarded by the administration.
“We were really just a pawn in this process,” Pinnegar said of landlords’ reaction to the back-and-forth.
“Looking back at it, it appears to me that this was more about keeping together the Democratic caucus in the House for the upcoming infrastructure bill than anything else,” he said. “And so definitely, there’s a lot of frustration on the part of the industry.”
The industry isn’t just a bunch of cigar-chomping billionaires with massive portfolios of properties.
“About half of all housing providers are mom-and-pop operators,” said Charlie Oppler, president of the National Association of Realtors. “Without rental income, they cannot pay their own bills or maintain their properties.”
Keep in mind, the White House knows full well the indefensibility of its position. Biden said on Tuesday that “the courts … made it clear that the existing moratorium was not constitutional; it wouldn’t stand” and that “any call for a moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles.”
When asked by CBS Radio’s Steven Portnoy about the legal issues the new moratorium would face and whether there were those disappointed that the president is signaling that he doesn’t respect the rule of law, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded that “I’m not sure there are Americans evaluating it to that degree.”
FANTASTIC question from @CBSNewsRadio‘s @StevenPortnoy about the legality of extending the eviction moratorium: “What’s the White House’s message, then, to Americans who…are now disappointed the President is signaling that he doesn’t respect the rule of law.” pic.twitter.com/ymci5wkWVl
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) August 4, 2021
“Maybe there are some you have talked to, I don’t know. What the president has … his message to the American people, especially those who are concerned about losing their homes, being kicked out of their homes, is that he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure they can stay in their homes as long as possible,” she said, adding the White House was trying to use the extended moratorium to get money out that would purportedly compensate landlords.
Whether or not this would succeed, this is the White House explicitly admitting it’s not bothered about whether it’s violating the law because it doesn’t think “there are Americans evaluating it to that degree.”
Consider what this augurs beyond just the eviction moratorium before we get back to Psaki, who faced further questioning from Portnoy.
More Portnoy: “He speaks often about democracy versus autocracy. He’s issuing or overseeing this order from the CDC in the face of doubts about its constitutionality…He didn’t call Congress back. He asked Congress to act. It didn’t How do you square all that?” pic.twitter.com/fOXZxuoeST
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) August 4, 2021
“But the president is a lawyer — spent 36 years in the Senate, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, eight years as vice president, half a year as president,” Portnoy noted. “He speaks often about democracy versus autocracy. He’s issuing or overseeing this order from the CDC in the face of doubts about its constitutionality, which he seemed to echo yesterday.
“If there’s no inconsistency here, the president is — I mean, there are many people out there who say that the president is essentially not giving voice to the ethic that he campaigned on. He didn’t call Congress back. He asked Congress to act; it didn’t. How do you square all that?”
“You know I’m going to ask you who’s saying that,” Psaki responded.
When Portnoy noted many commentators had said this, and “they are not just Republicans,” Psaki dismissed the concern.
“I’ll leave that to others to figure out. But I think what’s important to note here, is that the president would not have moved forward with a step where he didn’t feel comfortable and confident in the legal justification,” she said.
Except he wasn’t. Biden said “the courts … made it clear that the existing moratorium was not constitutional” and the primary difference between this moratorium and the last one is that it covers 10 percent less of the population.
At the very least, the industry groups have a favorable draw in terms of the courts; their motion will be heard by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who ruled against the CDC in May.
Until then, however, the Biden administration continues to hold the property of mom-and-pop landlords hostage as part of their agenda.
For over a year, they’ve borne the brunt of eviction moratorium.
If the Biden administration and the CDC won’t ease the mammoth burden shouldered by landlords with deadbeat renters, the courts need to do so.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.