Landlord Sues to Block CDC Ban on Evictions During Pandemic

ATLANTA (CN) — A Virginia landlord sued the Trump administration Tuesday seeking to block the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus-based ban on residential evictions. 

Landlord Rick Brown and his attorneys at New Civil Liberties Alliance called the CDC’s eviction ban an “affront to core constitutional limits on federal power,” adding the agency’s nationwide moratorium during the pandemic is unlawful.

Specifically, Brown complains the order violates his right to access the courts to evict tenants who stop paying rent.

“When Mr. Brown’s tenant breached her agreement, he should have been able to follow the lawful process laid down by the Virginia General Assembly for retaking possession of his home,” Brown says in his complaint.

“Mr. Brown failed to anticipate, however that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a federal agency, would issue a sweeping unilateral order suspending state law under the flimsy premise that doing so was ‘necessary’ to control the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says.

According to the complaint, Brown’s tenant fell behind on her $925 monthly rent and cited “economic stress arising from the Covid-19 pandemic” as the cause. 

But Brown says he has a mortgage on the property and makes monthly payments of about $400 for the mortgage principal, interest and taxes. 

His lawsuit comes in response to a declaration signed by CDC Director Robert Redfield last week that evictions of tenants could be detrimental to public health control measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

“Under this order, a landlord, owner of a residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or possessory action, shall not evict any covered person from any residential property in any jurisdiction to which this order applies during the effective period of the order,” the CDC said in a statement accompanying the order.

Redfield had issued the order under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act to temporarily halt residential evictions effective Sept. 4 through Dec. 31, 2020.

“In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” the CDC said.  

But Brown says he upheld his end of the rental bargain and shouldn’t be punished by the CDC.

He seeks a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order blocking the ban.

His complaint names the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary Alex Azar as defendants as well as Nina Witkofsky, the acting chief of staff of the CDC. 

According to the CDC, moratoria like this “also allow state and local authorities to more easily implement stay-at-home and social distancing directives to mitigate the community spread of Covid-19,” and gives homeless shelters the ability to safely accommodate people.

The agency said the move furthers public health efforts by helping to facilitate the self-isolation of people who are ill or who have underlying conditions and are at risk for severe illness from Covid-19.

“Furthermore, housing stability helps protect public health because homelessness increases the likelihood of individuals moving into congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, which then puts individuals at higher risk to Covid-19,” the agency said.

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