For the past seventeen months, many Oklahoma landlords were prevented from evicting tenants for the nonpayment of rent due to various federal eviction moratoriums. Thanks to a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the latest eviction moratorium has now been declared unlawful and landlords are free to move forward with evictions based on the nonpayment of rent.
Congress initially declared a moratorium on evictions at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. Following the lapse of the first moratorium in July 2020, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed a series of the CDC’s own nationwide eviction moratoriums. As authority to promulgate the moratorium, the CDC relied on §361(a) of the Public Health Service Act, which is a statute originally passed in 1944 and a provision that has rarely been invoked except in the context of quarantining infected individuals and prohibiting the import or sale of animals known to transmit disease. The stated purpose of the CDC’s halt on residential evictions was to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The justification was that housing stability helps protect public health in that homelessness increases the likelihood of individuals moving into congregate settings, such as homeless shelters.
The CDC’s moratoriums applied to only certain evictions – those based on the nonpayment of rent. In order for a tenant to invoke the protections provided by the CDC, a tenant was required to provide the landlord with a CDC declaration form affirming that tenant was in financial need as a result of the pandemic. The last CDC moratorium expired on July 31, 2021. Thereafter, the Biden administration implemented yet another moratorium, which was set to expire on October 3, 2021 but was derailed by the U.S. Supreme Court on August 26, 2021.
In Alabama Association of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Services et al., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the CDC exceeded its authority in imposing nationwide eviction moratoriums. The per curium opinion criticized the CDC’s reliance “on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination” and found that “[i]t strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts.” The Supreme Court concluded its opinion, “[i]f a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.”
Now that the Supreme Court has declared unlawful the latest nationwide eviction moratorium, it is up to states and localities to impose eviction restrictions. New York, California and the city of Boston have imposed restrictions of their own to protect renters from eviction. As of now, there are no eviction constraints in the state of Oklahoma. This means the door is now open for Oklahoma landlords to file evictions to remove tenants who were previously shielded by the federal eviction moratoriums. Landlords may now file suit against tenants to collect past due rent, including all unpaid rent payments that accumulated during the federal eviction moratoriums.
The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Alabama Association of Realtors is significant for both landlords and tenants. If you are a landlord or tenant seeking guidance in navigating evictions in light of recent changes to the law, please call 405-552-2470 or email Ashley M. Schovanec.
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