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A Judge Vacated CDC’s Eviction Moratorium, But Some Protections Remain in Maryland

After a federal judge vacated the Centers for Disease Control’s nationwide eviction moratorium Wednesday, Maryland fair housing advocates are calling for stronger state-level eviction protections — and urging tenants in the state not to panic.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friederich ruled Wednesday that the CDC doesn’t have the authority to impose such a sweeping nationwide moratorium under the Public Health Service Act. The agency’s stay on evictions, which provided eviction protections for tenants who filled out an affidavit, had been in effect since last year.

“It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic. The question for the Court is a narrow one,” Friederich wrote. “Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not.”

In the wake of Friederich’s order, Matthew Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, urged Maryland tenants to remain calm. He noted that a Maryland order by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) still allows tenants to avert eviction if they can prove a substantial loss of income due to COVID-19. Hogan’s order is tied to his declaration of a state of emergency in Maryland, which was most recently renewed on April 16.

Losak and other fair housing advocates have long contended that neither the CDC’s nor Hogan’s orders are true moratoriums, but rather allow certain tenants to present a defense in court. Losak noted that, under both the CDC and Hogan’s eviction orders, tenants could still be evicted for tenant-holding-over actions, which can be filed if a tenant remains on a property after a lease ends.

With courts working through a backlog of eviction filings, Maryland tenants will now have to rely on Hogan’s order to raise a defense, Losak said. Estimates from the Chicago-based consulting firm Stout show that between 109,000 and 204,000 renter households and Maryland could currently be at risk of eviction.

“In light of the Maryland General Assembly’s failure to enact emergency renter protections during the 2021 session, it is even more important that the Governor’s eviction order remain in place and be strengthened to eliminate THO eviction filings,” a Wednesday release from Renters United Maryland, of which Losak is a co-founder, reads.

A variety of tenant relief efforts failed to pass the General Assembly during the 2021 legislative session, leading advocates to call on Hogan to institute a 90-120 day moratorium on all evictions while local governments stand up rental relief programs using federal relief funding.

“There’s no sense of the kind of long-term planning that tenants need in order to manage the rent subsidy programs, which are not instantaneous,” Losak said. “They take weeks and months for tenants to get a subsidy.”

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