CDC order expected to halt evictions in Colorado through end of 2020

Colorado officials and eviction defense advocates say they believe that an unexpected order Tuesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will halt most evictions in the state starting this week.

The CDC announced it plans to suspend the eviction of tenants earning no more than $99,000 a year from Sept. 4 until Dec. 31. In a draft order, the agency said it’s taking the action to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. The policy has the support of President Donald Trump, the White House said.

“President Trump is committed to helping hardworking Americans stay in their homes and combating the spread of the coronavirus,” White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern said in a statement. “Today’s announcement from his Administration means that people struggling to pay rent due to coronavirus will not have to worry about being evicted, and risk further spreading of or exposure to the disease due to economic hardship.”

The order from the Republican administration blindsided Colorado officials and advocates. The governor’s office, state lawmakers, attorneys and representatives for both the state Division of Housing and Judicial Branch scrambled Tuesday afternoon to first read the order and then to understand how and when Colorado might implement it. As of 4:30 p.m., no state official was able to affirmatively state to The Denver Post that evictions will be halted here for those who qualify under the order.

“Our administration is currently reviewing this recent federal action to see if it will really help Coloradans or is just empty words,” said Conor Cahill, spokeswoman for Gov. Jared Polis, in a statement.

But Jon Sarche, a spokesman for the Judicial Branch, said his office believes the order will effectively end most evictions by prohibiting landlords from seeking eviction for anyone protected by it. Individuals with incomes above $99,000 and joint filers with incomes above $198,000 are not protected.

“It looks like courts can continue to accept filings, but that unless all the conditions in the CDC order are met, nothing really could happen,” Sarche said, stressing that the Judicial Branch had only done an initial review of the order.

Colorado, unlike many other states, is no longer under a statewide pandemic-related eviction moratorium. The governor, Democrat Jared Polis, banned evictions early in the pandemic but let his moratorium lapse in June, and evictions have since restarted here. Several Democratic state senators sought in May to ban evictions through the fall, but they couldn’t get enough support in the chamber they only narrowly hold.

The CDC typically would not be involved this way in a housing issue, but the agency argues that a big spike in evictions would constitute a public health crisis.

“In short,” the order states, “evictions threaten to increase the spread of COVID-19 as they force people to move, often into close quarters in new shared housing settings with friends or family, or congregate settings such as homeless shelters.”

Under the CDC order, those seeking eviction relief will still be required to pay as much rent as they can afford. The order also requires that tenants show that they are incapable of paying their rent or are likely to become homeless if kicked out of their property. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that the actions taken by the administration could impact “close to” 40 million renters. Attorneys in Colorado have for months warned that more than 300,000 people here could be vulnerable to eviction by the end of 2020.

So far in the pandemic there has been no major eviction wave in Colorado, but eviction defense advocates have been worried that could change soon, as people start to feel the effect of the recent end to the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit.

Said one advocate, attorney Zach Neumann, “If this order is implemented and upheld, it will buy tenants the time they need to get back on their feet.”

He also said it’s not enough, and called on Congress to provide more rent relief.

The CDC order does not freeze or forgive anyone’s rent, which means that for some the policy will simply delay eviction until after it expires. That expiration could come just weeks before a potential Joe Biden administration takes over.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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