CDC announces new federal eviction moratorium through end of year

The order outlines the potential for mass evictions as a health crisis.
The headquarters for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shown on Friday, March 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
The headquarters for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shown on Friday, March 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. [ RON HARRIS | AP ]
Published Sept. 2, 2020|Updated Sept. 2, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an order Tuesday evening that halts evictions for many tenants unable to pay their rent for the rest of the calendar year.

The order is a broad, sweeping measure that goes beyond even the federal government’s previous moratorium under the CARES Act, which only applied to properties with federally backed mortgages or that accepted federal subsidies and expired in July.

Warning that both the CARES Act moratorium and state measures left too many renters exposed, there was potential for “a wave of evictions” so large it “would be unprecedented in modern times,” the order reads. It framed that threat as a health crisis, saying that forcing evicted tenants to move in with loved ones or into homeless shelters would allow for increased spread of the coronavirus.

The order also stated that it was important for this freeze to be in place through December because the cooler months ahead could exacerbate crowding in homeless shelters, making social distancing impossible at the same time that the seasonal flu is likely to sicken more people.

To fall under the order’s protections, tenants must sign a form that declares, under penalty of perjury, that:

  • They have “used best efforts” to obtain available government assistance for rent
  • They will either earn no more than $99,000 this year (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), or they weren’t required to report any income to the IRS in 2019 or they received a coronavirus stimulus check
  • The renter can’t pay full rent due to a “substantial loss of household income” including loss of wages, being laid-off or “extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses,” which is defined as an unreimbursed expense that exceeds 7.5 percent of a person’s adjusted gross annual income
  • The renter is using “best efforts” to make on-time partial payments that are as close to the full payment as they can afford
  • Eviction would likely render the person homeless or force them to move into close quarters in a new shared living setting

This form, which was included as an attachment to the order and will be available online when it’s published into the federal register on Friday, must be submitted to landlords for each adult listed on the lease.

The CDC clarified that this order does not halt evictions for reasons other than non-payment and it doesn’t cancel rent. In fact, landlords are still allowed to charge late fees or other penalties for missed payments. But any person who violates this order is subject to criminal fines ranging up to $500,000 depending on the specifics of the case.

This new protection for renters was welcomed by National Low Income Housing Coalition president and chief executive officer Diane Yentel, but she warned that it will only be a stopgap measure unless Congress acts. Her group is calling for at least $100 billion to be made available in emergency assistance for tenants who have fallen behind in rent payments.

“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” said Yentel in a statement. “This action delays but does not prevent evictions.”

It’s unclear how the moratorium will effect tenants and landlords in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis in April issued a stay on evictions that he has repeatedly extended, though he has also modified it to narrow its protections.

The CDC’s order states that it would not apply in states that already have a moratorium on residential evictions that ”provides the same or greater level of public-health protection.”

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Related: Gov. Ron DeSantis extends eviction and foreclosure moratorium until Oct. 1

Multiple calls, a text message and an email to DeSantis’ spokesman, Fred Piccolo, were not returned Wednesday. But it appears that at least beginning in October, the federal order will be the prevailing policy in Florida on evictions. Unlike Florida’s moratorium, though, the CDC’s order does not include protections against mortgage foreclosures.

Groups representing property owners said the move amounted to a band-aid rather than meaningful economic help.

“We are disappointed that the administration has chosen to enact a federal eviction moratorium without the existence of dedicated, long-term funding for rental and unemployment assistance,” said Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, which represents the apartment industry. “An eviction moratorium will ultimately harm the very people it aims to help by making it impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents.”

The Florida Apartment Association, a group that represents apartment owners and operators across the state, also warned that landlords “have mounting financial burdens and cannot solve this crisis alone.”

“This shortsighted approach undermines the ability for housing providers, many of whom are already struggling to weather the COVID-19 crisis, to provide quality rental housing for Florida’s 2.8 million apartment residents,” said Amanda Gill, the association’s government affairs director.

The nationwide moratorium was welcomed by Metropolitan Ministries, a Tampa nonprofit that houses homeless people and provides financial assistance to renters in order to prevent them from losing their homes.

Last year, that amounted to about $150,000 in awards. This year, it has been inundated with calls for help from people who have lost work because of the pandemic and has given out about $1.7 million to cover rent and utility bills.

“We’ve been preparing for and worried about a tsunami of evictions,” said president and chief executive officer Tim Marks. “We were preparing to streamline everything we could to meet the demand so I’m glad to see a reprise there.”

Related: Florida’s eviction moratorium was extended again. Is there a longer-term solution?

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