By David Pendered
Affordable housing, LGBTQ rights and pediatric health are among the issues that have emerged in a federal lawsuit in Atlanta that pits landlords of millions of rental homes against the CDC’s efforts to prevent evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The landlords’ effort to overturn the moratorium is not surprising. The support for the moratorium brings together advocates for a wide array of causes.
Landlords filed their initial lawsuit, later amended, in Atlanta on Sept. 8. That was four days after the Sept 4 effective date of the CDC’s temporary halt on residential evictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The moratorium suspends through Dec. 31 the landlords’ ability to evict tenants who contend COVID-19 has disrupted their ability to pay rent on time. Full rent, fees and interest are due when the moratorium expires.
Landlords are represented by James Hawkins, of Cumming, and the New Civil Liberties Alliance. The NCLA was founded by Philip Hamburger, of the Columbia Law School, and its board is chaired by former U.S. Circuit Court Judge Janis Rogers Brown, nominated by then President George W. Bush and confirmed in 2005 to the D.C. Circuit.
Landlords are opposed by the Justice Department, plus 24 organizations and individuals that have filed court papers to intervene in the landlord’s lawsuit. The group of opponents includes Southern Poverty Law Center; American Medical Assoc.; American Academy of Pediatrics; GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; National Hispanic Medical Assoc.; and National Medical Assoc.
In one paper identifying this group as friends of the court, or amici, their affiliations and perspectives are described as:
- “[N]ational association and organizational amici that represent medical professionals who strive to advance the health of children, adolescents, adults, and disadvantaged and minority populations; and individual amici who are sociologists, epidemiologists, and public health, law, nursing, and medical school faculty. They are the nation’s foremost authorities on eviction, housing, and health.
- “Based on their extensive research and work in this area, all amici recognize that housing is critical to protecting public health and ensuring health equity during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta was filed on behalf of two disperate groups: Four individual landlords who say the CDC moratorium prevents them from collecting rent; and the National Apartment Assoc., which says it represents 157 state and local apartment associations that manage more than 9.7 million rental units in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom.
The claim made by the two plaintiffs is the same: The CDC order has prevented landlords from evicting non-paying tenants, and from replacing non-paying tenants with tenants who would pay rent.
According to the landlords’ amended lawsuit, the CDC’s actions are “not authorized by statute or legislation,” and are an “affront to core constitutional limits on federal power,” according to the amended complaint.
The Justice Department, on behalf of the CDC, responded in a filing that the moratorium is a “reasonably necessary” measure to protect public health at a time COVID-19 continues to spread “Despite drastic measures by federal, state, and local government entities….”
In a document not cited in the case, the federal Department of Health and Human Services noted that Congress delegated authority to the CDC through the Public Health Service Act, under provisions of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution regarding powers over isolation and quarantine.
The 24 organizations contend that the pandemic worsened conditions facing renters, who were under extreme financial distress before the pandemic. One filing observed:
- “Without government interventions like the CDC order, the downward fall will be immediate and precipitous for millions of Americans. During this severe economic downturn and the long-term negative consequences of housing instability, eviction may represent a death-knell of financial stability, housing security, and health for many families and communities.”