Effective in March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) prohibited evicting tenants from certain residential properties for 120 days. Specifically, the moratorium applied to rental properties that participated in federal assistance programs or properties that were subject to federally-backed loans.
When that statutory moratorium expired, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) imposed a broader eviction moratorium that applied to all rental properties nationwide. After the moratorium had been extended multiple times, the Alabama Association of Realtors, along with other plaintiffs, sued to enjoin the CDC’s Moratorium, claiming both that the CDC lacked legal authority to ban evictions and that the moratorium exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The plaintiffs were successful and obtained a Judgment from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacating the moratorium. The CDC appealed, and the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In implementing the moratorium, the CDC had relied on § 361(a) of the Public Health Service Act for authority to promulgate and extend the eviction moratorium, reasoning that the eviction moratorium helped to facilitate isolation and quarantine for those individuals infected, further limiting the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, §361(a) gives the CDC broad authority to take whatever measures it deems necessary to control the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, but illustrates the kind of measures that could be necessary – inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of contaminated animals and articles. When taking these examples into consideration, it is a stretch to maintain that §361(a) gives the CDC the authority to impose the continued eviction moratorium.
However, on August 26, 2021, The U.S. Supreme Court nullified the CDC’s nationwide residential eviction moratorium, which had been in place for over a year. The Court ruled that if the federally imposed eviction moratorium were to continue, it must be authorized by Congress. Accordingly, the Court vacated the stay of moratorium, finding that the CDC’s stay of eviction exceeded its statutory authority.