In an unprecedented move on Tuesday, with Congress unable to reach a common ground on virtually any stimulus extension, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled today it would temporarily - at least through the end of 2020 - suspend most rental evictions for Americans struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic, in a step which CNN dubbed was "broader than eviction protections already in place." The move comes as negotiations on further coronavirus aid have been stalled as Republicans and Democrats refuse to budge on topline numbers for what a new relief package would cost.
In a phone call with reporters, officials said the order will apply to Americans who qualified for direct payments under the CARES Act.
To be sure there are some hurdles: renters will have to prove that they’ve taken "best efforts possible to seek government assistance to make their rental payments," and will have to "declare that they are unable to pay rent due to Covid financial hardship," and must show they "will likely become homeless or move into congregate housing settings if they are evicted", but that should not be a problem for anyone willing to live rent free indefinitely.
Renters will also have to fill out several forms, found on the CDC’s website, and give them directly to their landlords to qualify for the program.
"This will be a declaration presented to the landlord, if that landlord approaches a tenant with an intent to evict,” an official said. Because the move is federally mandated, it “would become a criminal offence” if the landlord chose to ignore the declaration. But it could still end up in courts, possibly leading to legal actions that could show up on background checks or credit reports.
And while landlords are being effectively stripped of most if not all of their rights with this extraordinary intervention, they will still be able to remove tenants for "committing criminal acts, threatening the health and safety of other residents, damaging property or other health and safety considerations," an official added although good luck getting through to the local police station and reporting a crime in a country where defunding the local law enforcement is seen as the pinnacle of progressive thought.
"To the extent that there is a dispute between the landlord and the renter about whether or not an eviction protection is in place here, it can be filed, and that would be for the local courts, which are not federal to adjudicate,” an official said, without clarifying how long before defunding the local courts becomes the next progressive ideal. On the other hand, in places like Portland they won't even have to do that: after all, everyone arrested for rioting is released the next day with the blessing of the judicial branch so they can resume rioting post haste.
Under the CARES Act, only renters in federally-backed rental units were protected from eviction. “This covers any rental unit in United States, so long as the renter meets those requirements, where they've demonstrated that they are at risk of becoming evicted,” an official said. There’s also currently a moratorium on evictions for federally-backed, single family home mortgages.
Realizing that this was nothing short of an invitation to stop paying rent, a CDC official said pointblankthis "is not an invitation to stop paying rent." It was unclear how many in the audience laughed. "The order makes clear that a renter who cannot pay his or her full rent should pay an amount that is not unduly burdensome, and as close to payment as possible."
The landlords are surely holding their breath (their best and only recourse... although if they hold it long enough they will surely get a Fed bailout too).
As for those asking just why on earth a decision to halt evictions is being made by the CDC and not say... Congress, an official said "the CDC director has authority to take measures that he's reasonably necessary to mitigate the spread of communicable disease."
“Congress has delegated broad authority to HHS, the Surgeon General and CDC, to take reasonable efforts to combat the spread of communicable diseases, and frankly I think it makes sense for those authorities abroad because we don't know for any given situation or scenario what steps will be needed to stop the spread,” an administration official said. “I think, in this particular order, the CDC has made a very compelling case that it is quite problematic at this particular time. It's focused on this particular pandemic, which is obviously the uniquely powerful grasp in the nation's entire history in terms of the effect it's had that for a bunch of reasons in particular, that the home has been sort of the focal point of people social distancing and building, sort of a safe space themselves over the past few months, and also the fact that if people get kicked out, they may end up in overcrowded congregated living facilities or homeless shelters, and that is a potential recipe for a big spread of COVID-19.”
Asked why that authority wasn’t being used to enact a federal mask mandate, officials refused to answer because the question didn’t "have to do with the call at hand."
Finally, confirming the political nature of the decision, deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said the action “means that people struggling to pay rent due to the coronavirus will not have to worry about being evicted and risk further spreading of or exposure to the disease due to economic hardship,” and attacked Democrats on the hill.
Officials did not answer questions about how that legal action could impact credit or future housing options.
And with that, we now wait for the CDC to start sending unemployment benefits and buying Apple bonds.