By now you've likely heard of the ruling "declaring the CDC Moratorium unconstitutional" from Judge J. Campbell Barker, U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Texas. The media has reported it as either as a ruling which will unleash the pent-up tsunami of tenant evictions or a gross overreach of the judiciary. The question that is likely on the minds of most landlords is: "does this mean I can move forward again on evicting a tenant who has provided a CDC Declaration prior to March 31, 2021?"
If your tenant has provided a valid CDC declaration, it is likely that your case still cannot proceed. However, if your eviction falls outside the scope of the CDC rules, you can proceed as usual.
The Opinion and Order for the case in question, Lauren Terkel, et al. v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al., which is Case No. 6:20-cv-564-JCB, was a summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs (the landlords in this matter) and is only applicable to those specific landlords. At this time, Judge Barker did not enter any type of injunction to prohibit the application of the CDC Order to either the specific landlords or attempt to expand it beyond the Plaintiffs of the immediate case. Furthermore, the Department of Justice has already filed an appeal to the case to the United States Fifth Circuit court of appeals.
Beyond the specifics of this case, we are located in the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for Western District of Pennsylvania and our local District Court is under no obligation to take the orders of an equal District Court into consideration. To boil it down, (1) the ruling in the case itself did not attempt to extend beyond the Plaintiff landlords, (2) even if it did, the local District Court doesn't have to give it any consideration, and (3) the U.S. Government has already appealed the ruling.
The good news for landlords in Erie County, PA is that there is a formal process in place where a landlord has the ability to challenge a tenant's CDC Declaration for truthfulness. The process is set forth in the Fifth Amended Judicial Order dated November 12, 2020. To view our previous blog post about this click here.
Furthermore, the even better news is that Pennsylvania passed legislation which created an Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program that may be even better for landlords than simply trying to evict. The program is designed to cover rent in arrears and forward for a period of 12 months provided the tenant makes 80% or less of the Area Median Income and was either directly or indirectly impacted by Covid-19. More information on this is expected to be rolled out March 2021.