Real Estate

Florida Realtors Bring New Challenge To Federal Eviction Moratorium

The CDC is facing another legal challenge of the federal agency’s nationwide eviction moratorium, this time from the Florida Association of Realtors, which claims the agency lacks the authority to be “the nation’s landlord-in-chief.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are facing another legal challenge of the federal agency’s nationwide eviction moratorium, this time from the Florida Association of Realtors, which claims the CDC lacks the authority to be “the nation’s landlord-in-chief.”

The CDC is already battling Realtor associations representing agents in Alabama and Georgia in court, after they filed suit in November to overturn the moratorium.

On May 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the eviction moratorium, saying it exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The Department of Justice appealed the decision, and on May 14 was granted an emergency stay of the order repealing the eviction moratorium, pending the appeal.

Lawyers representing the Alabama Association of Realtors have filed a motion to vacate the stay and repeal the eviction moratorium, which is scheduled to expire on June 30. In a May 18 bulletin, the National Association of Realtors said it expects a decision on the motion to vacate the stay by the end of the month.

A spokesperson for Florida Realtors declined to comment on why the group is filing another suit against the CDC, when the suit by Alabama and Georgia Realtors is still pending. The spokesperson did provide a written statement from Florida Realtors CEO Margy Grant.

“For more than a year we have endured the COVID-19 pandemic and heard from struggling property owners, many who have gone without any assistance or rent relief under the eviction moratorium,” Grant said in the statement. “In many cases, leases have expired and units cannot be re-rented. Private property rights must be restored.”

The lawsuit, filed Monday by Florida Realtors and R.W. Caldwell Inc., a Gulfport-based realty and property management firm, notes that Florida has approximately 2.7 million rental units, with average monthly rents of $1,200.

“Landlords precluded from evicting tenants who breach their leases by nonpayment thus face thousands of dollars in damages in connection with just a single rental unit,” the May 17 complaint states. “Those damages multiply as a landlord’s number of affected units increases, and the overall losses from the eviction moratorium experienced by Florida’s landlords may easily reach and exceed tens of millions of dollars.”

The lawsuit claims that while the eviction moratorium is “ostensibly predicated on preventing the interstate spread of disease where state measures have failed to do so,” the CDC “has failed to identify any evidence to support its assertion that prohibiting landlords from repossessing rental properties when tenants do not pay their rent stops the interstate spread of Covid-19 or is necessary due to the failings of state or local measures.”

Rochelle Walensky

In a March 29 statement accompanying an order extending the eviction moratorium through June 30, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said “Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

A number of states have also enacted bans on evictions and foreclosures, although many have expired.

Although Congress has appropriated $46 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to help landlords, some landlords have declined the assistance, citing excessive red tape, while others who applied for the funds waited for months to receive them.

The National Association of Realtors often helps state associations pay for legal battles that are of significance to its members as a whole. A NAR spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it’s helping the Alabama, Georgia and Florida associations pay their legal costs.

Realtors who have shared their thoughts with Inman have strong feelings on both sides on both sides of the issue.

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