A Federal Judge in Texas has ruled the CDC Eviction Moratorium is unconstitutional. Matt was interviewed to give his take on how this affects Michigan landlords.
Judge: CDC Moratorium On Evictions Unconstitutional; Experts Disagree On MI Effect
A Texas federal judge’s ruling that the government overstepped its authority in imposing a broad moratorium on evictions is unconstitutional — a decision attorneys disagree as to whether it impacts Michigan.
The Centers for Disease and Prevention Control (CDC) said its interpretation of the Constitution would allow a federal eviction moratorium for any reason — even after the pandemic ends, but U.S. District Judge J. Campbell BARKER in Texas’ Eastern District disagreed, saying the CDC overstepped its authority.
“The order itself criminalizes the use of state legal proceedings to vindicate property rights,” Barker’s Thursday opinion reads. “…Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution.”
Barker opted, however, against issuing an injunction blocking a federal ban on evictions. Instead, he expects the CDC to withdraw the moratorium, but on Saturday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) disagreed, instead filing its notice of intent to appeal.
“The CDC’s eviction moratorium, which Congress extended last December, protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. BOYNTON said. “By preventing people from becoming homeless or having to move into more-crowded housing, the moratorium helps to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The CDC’s order — which allows tenants to submit a declaration verifying they meet certain criteria to avoid eviction for lack of rent payments — was in effect through December and extended through January. After President Joe BIDEN took office the moratorium was extended through March 30.
But legal experts disagree as to the potential effect in Michigan.
Matthew PALETZ, CEO of Paletz Law who specializes in landlord-tenant law, said the federal court’s opinion has a “monumental amount of authority” that sets a path for the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) to take notice and guide themselves accordingly.
Honigman partner Matthew SCHNEIDER, a former U.S. Attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District, said the Texas decision doesn’t extend beyond the Texas plaintiffs.
“It does not prevent the CDC’s eviction moratorium being applied to others, including landlords in Michigan,” he said.
Barker’s ruling notes the federal government’s eviction moratorium exceeded its power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives the power to “regulate commerce… among the several states.” Rather, the judge held, the power to regulate foreclosures and evictions is a state power.
Paletz said the MSC administrative orders mirroring the CDC order are “unconstitutional” and “completely overreaching.” The latest MSC order outlines priority treatment and new procedures for handling landlord/tenant cases.
Paletz said no one expects restaurants to feed customers for free, but landlords can’t evict renters for lack of payment.
That action, he said, will result in landlords being unable to pay their mortgages on the rental property or pay their employees, which will lead to a recession and rental properties becoming bank-owned. Reversing the moratorium is a matter of restoring landlords’ property rights and restoration of their contract rights, he noted.
“This is the first judge who got it right,” Paletz said about Barker. “The CDC has no authority to intercede in housing. We’re not dealing with some sort of medieval times where people are dead in the street.
“Yes, the pandemic is destructive and it’s deadly — there’s no question about this, but it’s not to the level where they had to take this kind of extreme control with an agency who has no business interceding in housing,” Paletz added.
Michigan State Court Administrator Tom BOYD agrees with Schneider’s position, noting that a different federal judge reached the opposite position of Barker’s ruling.
“Neither of those decisions affect Michigan, and until the question is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, they are not relevant to landlord/tenant cases in Michigan courts,” Boyd said.
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