CHARLOTTE — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority when it imposed a federal eviction moratorium.
The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., meaning there won’t likely be any immediate impact on the ban, which in March was extended through the end of June.
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“I think there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of fear, a lot of stress,” said Issac Sturgill, Legal Aid of North Carolina.
He said that while he received a lot of panic calls after the ruling, the situation is a lot better than it appears to be for renters in North Carolina.
“That court has no direct authority over North Carolina courts,” Sturgill said.
(WATCH: Federal judge says the CDC had no authority to put eviction moratorium in place)
The Justice Department announced it plans to file an immediate appeal.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order considers that a judge could rule that the CDC moratorium is unconstitutional. In this case, it was Alabama and not the Tar Heel State.
“Unless it’s one of our courts that strikes it down, the moratorium will stay in effect,” Sturgill said. “I think the moratorium still is in effect.”
Cooper’s office sent Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke a statement:
“Yesterday’s ruling has no impact on the governor’s executive order providing protection from residential evictions for nonpayment of rent. The governor’s executive order remains in effect and the protections of that order will continue through June 30, 2021. North Carolina recognized the need for rental and utility assistance last year and the state continues to work to help people stay in their homes during the pandemic.”
That gives relief to many, including Union Count renter Melissa, who asked not to use her last name. “Every day I’m just thinking, every day I’m trying to figure out a way so, just to make it,” Melissa said.
She said the pandemic caused her to lose her job.
She told Stoogenke she managed to pay rent for a few months after that, because she had savings and money from unemployment.
That has since run dry.
“I don’t know whether the sheriff is going to knock on my door. Am I going to get an eviction letter in the mail saying, ‘You got to go to court’ or whatnot?” Melissa said.
In the meantime, North Carolina’s HOPE Program continues to help people pay rent. The organization last told Stoogenke it paid $129.4 million and is expecting to reopen the process in the upcoming weeks.
Many people, including Melissa, said the state approved them for that money months ago, but that they’re still waiting for it.
“This is the major worry that I have right now,” she said.
Stoogenke said the bottom line is that the eviction moratorium remains in both North and South Carolina, which means landlords can’t evict you for not paying rent until June 30.
However, they can still kick you out for other reasons.
Melissa and other renters worry that even though the rulings don’t impact the Carolinas directly, it could give people who are against the ban more motivation to go after the moratorium in courts that do have jurisdiction.
Opponents of the moratorium, including the National Association of Realtors, welcomed the decision and said the solution was rental assistance, not a ban on evictions, the Associated Press reported.
The Alabama and Georgia associations of realtors were among the plaintiffs in the case.
The eviction ban, initially put in place last year, provides protection for renters out of concern that having families lose their homes and move into shelters or share crowded conditions with relatives or friends during the pandemic would further spread the highly contagious virus.
Proponents of the ban argue it is necessary since the pandemic is still a threat and so many people are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. Nearly 4 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
The eviction moratorium “protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses,” Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement announcing the department’s decision to appeal the court ruling.
“Scientific evidence shows that evictions exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than half a million Americans, and the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone,” he added.
Congress has allocated more than $45 billion in rental assistance, but much of that hasn’t reached needy tenants.
Eric Dunn, the director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project, said most of the rent relief programs only started in late March and early April. “It feels like the pandemic, at least in the U.S., is coming to an end but it’s not over yet. If we have a wave of mass evictions, it could really set us back.”
The ruling Wednesday is just the latest court decision on the moratorium.
(WATCH: CDC to impose moratorium on evictions amid COVID-19 pandemic)
Cox Media Group