In an extraordinary move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is moving to temporarily halt most evictions for Americans struggling to pay their rent due to the pandemic, in a step that’s broader than eviction protections already in place.
But senior administration officials say renters will have to prove a number of things before qualifying, and will still have to pay back any missed rent payments.
The move comes after negotiations on further coronavirus aid have been stalled on Capitol Hill as Republicans and Democrats refuse to budge on topline numbers for what a new relief package would cost.
In a phone call with reporters on Tuesday, officials, speaking on background, said the order will apply to Americans who qualified for direct payments under the CARES Act.
People will also have to prove that they’ve taken “best efforts possible to seek government assistance to make their rental payments,” they 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.”
Landlords 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.
Renters will 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.
“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.
Officials did not answer questions about how that legal action could impact credit or future housing options.
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.
But, “it is not an invitation to stop paying rent,” another official cautioned. “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.”
“We want to be clear that those who benefit from this assistance, are still obligated to pay any accrued rent or housing payments in accordance with their lease or contract,” a senior administration official said.
As for why the move is being made by the CDC, an official says “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.”
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.