Under a Second Federal Moratorium, Eviction Filings Plummet

Less than two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed new restrictions on landlords, eviction filings have fallen sharply.

The second federal eviction moratorium, which lasts through the end of the year, went into effect on September 4. During the second week of September, with the new rule on the books, eviction filings declined in 16 cities where Princeton University’s Eviction Lab is currently tracking data.

Eviction filings typically shoot up after the first week of the month, since grace periods are common in lease agreements. Instead, for September, several cities saw a steep drop-off. In Cincinnati, for example, filings fell 79% for the week of September 6–13. In Richmond, Virginia, where evictions had returned to pre-pandemic levels in recent weeks, eviction filings dropped by 89%, from nearly 300 in the first week of September to just over 30 the following week. And in Cleveland, there were zero eviction filings last week.

“New filings did drop in all sites, in some cases dramatically,” says Peter Hepburn, assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University-Newark and a research fellow at Eviction Lab, in an email. “With that being said, we’re still seeing a larger number of new filings in several cities. So clearly some effects of the guidelines are being felt, but there’s also significant variation in how they’re being implemented, which is leaving a large number of families potentially unprotected.”

The scale of the threat is potentially enormous: According to an Aspen Institute analysis, between 30 million and 40 million Americans face the risk of eviction — one in five American renters. Pandemic job and wage losses have magnified an existing housing crisis, with eviction risks falling disproportionately on communities of color. Eviction filings alone can’t fully convey the scope of the problem, since many landlords turn to lockouts, harassment and other illegal tactics to remove tenants without the courts. Landlords and market-oriented skeptics argue that the prospect of an eviction “tsunami” is overstated. Thanks to assistance and prevention efforts at the federal, state and local levels, evictions are down overall so far compared to prior years.

Under the new CDC moratorium, tenants who meet the criteria for income must provide a declaration about their circumstances to their landlord to be shielded from eviction. Corporate landlords filed several hundred eviction cases during the first week of September, just before or as the protections were coming online. Still, in Houston, Pittsburgh and other cities where landlords have already filed hundreds of eviction suits in September, they filed substantially fewer once the CDC moratorium went into effect.

Unlike the first federal moratorium, which covered only renters living in properties with rental subsidies or federally backed mortgages, the new order by the Trump administration covers the vast majority of renters across the country. But it does not provide blanket protections by default. Some landlords may be betting that tenants won’t know about it or understand how to file the declaration — a potential asymmetry in information that could help landlords proceed with evictions for nonpayment. And as with the first federal moratorium, landlords themselves may misunderstand it and file anyway. 

So far, the White House has been silent on the new protections, even after President Donald Trump crowed about an earlier executive order that by itself did not prevent evictions.

Advocates and attorneys are scrambling to get the necessary documents into tenants’ hands. While renters do not have to prove that they qualify for protection with pay stubs or other paperwork — which can add up to a significant administrative burden for social safety net users — tenants do need to make a declaration that they qualify in order to benefit. The success of the CDC moratorium may depend on these mobilization efforts, says Mike Bare, director of the Healthy Housing Initiative at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute in Milwaukee.

Last week, evictions fell in Milwaukee to their lowest levels since the state-level moratorium expired in late May. Emergency rental assistance from the CARES Act, the state, the county and the city have done the most to keep people in their homes, Bare says. By itself, the new federal eviction moratorium is an incomplete solution: Tenants will be liable for all the overdue rent come January 1. Without another injection of federal stimulus from Congress, the moratorium may just wind up setting a move-out date during the heart of winter.

“It’s too soon to judge whether the new federal moratorium has had a widespread impact,” Bare says. “But the clients we are working with are being made aware of what they need to do to prevent an eviction and we are here to help them.”

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