The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are facing another legal challenge of the federal agency’s nationwide eviction moratorium, this time from the Florida Association of Realtors, which claims the CDC lacks the authority to be “the nation’s landlord-in-chief.”
The CDC is already battling Realtor associations representing agents in Alabama and Georgia in court, after they filed suit in November to overturn the moratorium.
On May 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the eviction moratorium, saying it exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The Department of Justice appealed the decision, and on May 14 was granted an emergency stay of the order repealing the eviction moratorium, pending the appeal.
Lawyers representing the Alabama Association of Realtors have filed a motion to vacate the stay and repeal the eviction moratorium, which is scheduled to expire on June 30. In a May 18 bulletin, the National Association of Realtors said it expects a decision on the motion to vacate the stay by the end of the month.
A spokesperson for Florida Realtors declined to comment on why the group is filing another suit against the CDC, when the suit by Alabama and Georgia Realtors is still pending. The spokesperson did provide a written statement from Florida Realtors CEO Margy Grant.
“For more than a year we have endured the COVID-19 pandemic and heard from struggling property owners, many who have gone without any assistance or rent relief under the eviction moratorium,” Grant said in the statement. “In many cases, leases have expired and units cannot be re-rented. Private property rights must be restored.”
The lawsuit, filed Monday by Florida Realtors and R.W. Caldwell Inc., a Gulfport-based realty and property management firm, notes that Florida has approximately 2.7 million rental units, with average monthly rents of $1,200.
“Landlords precluded from evicting tenants who breach their leases by nonpayment thus face thousands of dollars in damages in connection with just a single rental unit,” the May 17 complaint states. “Those damages multiply as a landlord’s number of affected units increases, and the overall losses from the eviction moratorium experienced by Florida’s landlords may easily reach and exceed tens of millions of dollars.”
The lawsuit claims that while the eviction moratorium is “ostensibly predicated on preventing the interstate spread of disease where state measures have failed to do so,” the CDC “has failed to identify any evidence to support its assertion that prohibiting landlords from repossessing rental properties when tenants do not pay their rent stops the interstate spread of Covid-19 or is necessary due to the failings of state or local measures.”
In a March 29 statement accompanying an order extending the eviction moratorium through June 30, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said “Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
A number of states have also enacted bans on evictions and foreclosures, although many have expired.
Although Congress has appropriated $46 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to help landlords, some landlords have declined the assistance, citing excessive red tape, while others who applied for the funds waited for months to receive them.
The National Association of Realtors often helps state associations pay for legal battles that are of significance to its members as a whole. On September 14, NAR’s Legal Action Committee voted to provide $100,000 in funding to support the lawsuit that the Alabama and Georgia Realtor associations were expected to file at that time.
According to a written report provided to NAR’s board of directors in November, NAR was not to be named in the suit, but would “work with outside counsel to ensure the arguments reflect the broader membership interests at stake.” A NAR spokesperson declined to comment on whether the national trade group has provided additional funding to help the Alabama, Georgia and Florida associations pay their legal costs.
NAR provided the following written comments to Inman:
“According to the CDC’s own guidance, the public health situation is improving daily. The economy is also growing, the unemployment rate is falling, and with rental assistance for tenants secured, it is time to restore the housing sector to its healthy, former function. But we also need immediate and absolute clarity from our federal court system on property rights in America to avoid similar financial harm in the future.
“Nearly half of America’s rental housing is provided by mom-and-pop property owners who own four units or less. These providers will be hesitant to pour their sweat and savings into housing if a government entity without oversight can seize their only ability to generate income. Many have struggled for more than a year to pay their bills and maintain their properties as legally required. This future uncertainty will suppress the availability of affordable rental housing in America.”
When the eviction moratorium was extended in March, groups representing the rights of renters, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition, advocated for stronger prohibitions on evictions, saying landlords have exploited loopholes that have allowed them to continue evicting renters during the pandemic.
Realtors who have shared their thoughts with Inman have strong feelings on both sides of the issue.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from the National Association of Realtors, and a report to NAR’s board of directors on a decision to provide $100,000 in funding in support a lawsuit by the Alabama and Georgia Realtor associations challenging the CDC’s eviction moratorium.