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Federal judge in Ohio rules CDC exceeded authority with eviction ban

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A federal judge in Ohio has ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority when it banned evictions nationwide.

U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese, who was nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump, sided with a group of property owners that had argued in October that the CDC lacked the power to ban them from evicting their tenants.

Landlords applauded the ruling.

“This decision makes clear that federal agencies can’t exercise power Congress has not given them,” Steve Simpson, a senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the landlords, said in a statement. “Now our clients no longer have to provide housing for free.”

The CDC moratorium has been in place since September 2020 and prohibits evicting renters who are financially struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s scheduled to expire at the end of March.

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Advocates said the decision out of Ohio could put vulnerable renters at risk of homelessness and undermine the country’s fight to control the virus.

“This order could immediately result in a flood of evictions of struggling renters resulting in increased spread of, and potentially deaths from, Covid-19,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The [Department of Justice] should immediately appeal and request a stay on the ruling.”

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Less than two weeks ago, another federal judge in Texas ruled that the CDC’s eviction moratorium is unconstitutional. The Department of Justice quickly announced that it would appeal that decision and said the CDC moratorium remained in effect.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how it would respond to this ruling.

There have also been court challenges to the moratorium in Georgia and Louisiana, though they were unsuccessful.

Law experts are currently undecided on the immediate implications of the Ohio ruling for tenants and landlords within the state and across the country.

Housing advocates pointed out that the decision is especially poorly timed, with more than $40 billion in rental assistance on the way to tenants from the stimulus package passed in December and the other expected to become law this month.

“Eroding eviction protections before rental assistance reaches those most at risk and just as we are approaching a turning point in the pandemic only undermines mitigation strategies and escalates the crisis, making recovery that much more untenable,” said Emily Benfer, a visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.

One study found that 11% of renters in Ohio were at risk of eviction during the pandemic.

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More than 980,000 people in Ohio have gotten the coronavirus, and more than 17,600 people have died from it there, including over 1,800 on Wednesday.

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