The judge believes the moratorium is illegal but argued her ‘hands are tied’ by a previous ruling by a higher court.
Lawyers for President Joe Biden’s administration have asked the US Supreme Court to keep in place a federal prohibition on evictions, designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, while justices consider a constitutional challenge by landlord groups to the ban’s legality.
In a court filing on Monday, US Justice Department lawyers said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acted within its lawful authority earlier this month when it renewed a federal moratorium on kicking people out of their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Groups representing landlords have sought to lift the moratorium, pointing out that even Biden administration officials have conceded it may not be lawful.
The CDC first issued an eviction moratorium in September 2020, with agency officials saying the policy was needed to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic.
Realtor groups in Alabama and Georgia were among those challenging the moratorium.
Roughly 3.5 million people in the US face eviction in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
The CDC ban had lapsed at the end of July but was renewed through October 3 by the Biden administration after an outcry among Democratic lawmakers.
Biden had initially said congressional action was needed to renew the moratorium, but his administration reversed course and issued a narrower rule applying to locales with the highest COVID-19 transmission rates.
Landlords say they have suffered financially due to various state, local and federal moratoriums in place since last year.
“Without rent, we’re out of business,” said Gary Zaremba, an apartment building owner in New York City.
The current moratorium, due to expire in October, covers nearly 92 percent of US counties, but that could change based on COVID-19 conditions.
The US government, meanwhile, is providing $46.5bn in financial aid to localities for distribution to landlords and tenants who have not been able to pay their bills during the pandemic.
A federal appeals court on August 20 said the CDC pause on evictions can remain in place for now, setting up a battle before the nation’s highest court.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected a bid by Alabama and Georgia landlords to block the eviction moratorium reinstated by the CDC earlier this month.
The landlords filed an emergency motion hours later with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to allow evictions to proceed.
“As five Members of this court indicated less than two months ago, Congress never gave the CDC the staggering amount of power it claims,” lawyers for the landlords said in a filing.
A lower court judge earlier this month agreed that the freeze is illegal, but rejected the landlords’ request to lift the moratorium, saying her hands were tied by an appellate decision from the last time courts considered the eviction moratorium.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the rise of the Delta variant made the continuing moratorium “vitally important” and she praised the appeals court decision.