President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, speaks at a March 16 White House press conference. Photo by D. Myles Cullen | White House Photo

The Trump administration has issued a directive halting the eviction of certain renters though the end of 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the action has met a mixed reception among both housing advocates and real estate industry groups.

Federal, state and local governments have approved eviction moratoriums during the course of the pandemic for many renters, but those protections are expiring rapidly. A recent report from one think tank, the Aspen Institute, stated that more than 20 million renters live in households that have suffered COVID-19-related job loss and concluded that millions more are at risk of eviction in the next several months.

The administration’s action stems from an executive order that President Donald Trump issued in early August. It instructed federal health officials to consider measures to temporarily halt evictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up Tuesday by declaring that any landlord shall not evict any “covered person” from any residential apartment properties for failure to pay rent.

“It gives full cover to the governor to extend our state ban another 90 days into January,” MassLandlords Executive Director Doug Quattrochi, whose group has called for a state guarantee of rental housing payments, said in an email to Banker & Tradesman. “In either case, eviction moratoria only kick the can down the road. Small housing providers can’t provide free housing indefinitely. We will exit the business permanently, the new owners will purchase only to ‘condoize’ or gentrify, and every renter with arrears will still be evicted in the end. It’s a man-made disaster because our leaders don’t understand housing, markets, or best practices in housing stability (e.g., guarantees).”

Senior administration officials explained that the director of the CDC has broad authority to take actions deemed reasonably necessary to prevent the spread of a communicable disease. The order is slated to be published Friday in the Federal Register.

Renters covered through the executive order must meet four criteria:

  • Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.
  • Demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments.
  • Affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships.
  • Affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

Officials said local courts would still resolve disputes between renters and landowners about whether the moratorium applies in a particular case, with renters facing perjury penalties if they misrepresent their situation. Individual landlords violating the order will face up to a year in prison and maximum fines of between $100,000 and $250,000 and organizations would face fines of $200,000 to $500,000, depending on whether an attempted eviction leads to someone’s death from COVID-19. The order does not apply in states with similar or stronger eviction moratoria, although the order does not list which jurisdictions meet that definition.

Brian Morgenstern, a deputy White House press secretary, said Tuesday’s announcement means that people struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19 would not have to worry about being evicted and risking the spread of the disease or exposure to it.

Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, called on Aug. 1 for Congress to enact a “broad emergency housing support program” to prevent evictions and shore up landlords. Congress enacted an unprecedented $2.3 trillion pandemic rescue package in March that paused evictions in most federal subsidized housing, but that moratorium has expired and Congress and the White House have been in a months-long stalemate over new relief legislation.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the order will provide relief for millions of anxious families, but added that the action delays rather than prevents evictions.

“While an eviction moratorium is essential, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” Yentel tweeted.

The National Multifamily Housing Coalition said it was “disappointed” by the administration’s action and the National Association of Realtors joined the criticism, with its 2020 President Joe Malta saying Congress must act immediately to provide rental assistance to prevent small landlords from going under.

“While NAR appreciates and is supportive of administration efforts to ensure struggling Americans can remain in their homes, this order as-written will bring chaos to our nation’s critical rental housing sector and put countless property owners out of business,” said Malta, a broker at Malta & Co. in San Francisco.

Banker & Tradesman staff writer James Sanna contributed to this report.

Industry Groups: Federal Eviction Ban Will Drive Small Landlords Under

by The Associated Press time to read: 3 min