Government Steps Up Enforcement of CDC Eviction Moratorium
On March 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an extension of the federal eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. Before this extension, the moratorium was set to expire March 31, 2021. This recent order is the moratorium’s third extension since it was initially enacted on Sept. 4, 2020. As before, individuals who are unable to pay their rent in full must sign and submit a declaration form to their landlord to invoke the eviction protections and can apply for emergency rental assistance. This time, however, the order comes with greater enforcement of the moratorium’s protections.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will launch efforts to not only increase awareness of the moratorium’s protections but also enforce penalties against owners who violate the order, according to the fact sheet issued by the White House.
The CFPB and FTC issued a joint statement outlining their intent to investigate eviction practices they deem unlawful—including those that may violate provisions under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act.
CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio and FTC Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter said, “Staff at both agencies will be monitoring and investigating eviction practices, particularly by major multistate landlords, eviction management services, and private equity firms, to ensure that they are complying with the law. Evicting tenants in violation of the CDC, state, or local moratoria, or evicting or threatening to evict them without apprising them of their legal rights under such moratoria, may violate prohibitions against deceptive and unfair practices, including under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Federal Trade Commission Act.”
CFPB’s Interim Final Rule
On April 19, the CFPB issued an interim final rule in support of the CDC’s eviction moratorium. Under the FDCPA interim final rule, debt collectors, including attorneys, seeking to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent must provide tenants who may have rights under the CDC order with clear and conspicuous written notice of those rights. The notice must be provided on the same date as the eviction notice, or, if no eviction notice is required by law, on the date that the eviction action is filed.
Debt collectors must provide the notice in writing. Phone calls or electronic notice such as text messages or emails are not sufficient. And the CFPB is providing debt collectors with sample language to satisfy the rule’s disclosure requirements. Failure to provide the required notice to tenants is a violation of the FDCPA. Debt collectors who evict tenants who may have rights under the moratorium without providing notice of the moratorium or who misrepresent tenants’ rights under the moratorium can be prosecuted by federal agencies and state attorneys general for violations of the FDCPA and are also subject to private lawsuits by tenants.
Some states and localities have adopted their own eviction moratoria. Debt collectors may also be required to provide notice of these moratoria. The CFPB’s rule doesn’t preempt more protective state law.
In addition to the FTC and CFPB efforts, the eviction moratorium order specifically authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to initiate criminal proceedings against those who violate the order. Individuals may be penalized with a fine of up to $100,000 and/or one year in jail if the violation doesn’t result in death, and a fine of up to $250,000 and/or one year in jail if it does. Organizations may be penalized with a fine of up to $200,000 if the violation doesn’t result in death and a fine of up to $500,000 if it does.
Clash with Courts
Recent court orders from various jurisdictions have invalidated the CDC moratorium order, but the Justice Department has clarified that these decisions don’t extend beyond the particular plaintiffs in the case and don’t prohibit the application of the CDC’s eviction moratorium to other parties. Accordingly, the CDC’s order remains in effect, and the DOJ is appealing those court rulings and has filed for an emergency injunction preventing them from taking effect.