The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government lockdowns caused widespread destruction as millions of people lost their jobs, businesses, and livelihoods. Beginning in March 2020, the federal government and dozens of states and local agencies barred landlords from evicting tenants, allowing tenants to stay in their homes even if they stopped paying rent.1 In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control expanded this at the federal level, banning evictions for individual tenants making $99,000 a year or less and couples making $198,000 or less who self-certified that they were struggling financially as a result of COVID-19.2
Many find these bans appealing as the thought of someone losing his home due to loss of income from government-imposed lockdowns is gut-wrenching. Many people supporting the bans do so on the grounds of wanting to prevent such tragedies. But is banning evictions an appropriate solution to such a situation? And what have these eviction bans actually done?
As part of its response to the pandemic, the U.S. government instituted many programs purportedly aimed at helping those who had been harmed by its restrictions. These programs included stimulus checks, unemployment boosters, and interest-free loans. Eviction bans, however, force some people (i.e., landlords) to take on the financial responsibilities of others. Shifts in financial burdens are, unfortunately, common in America, but this is an instance that, as we will see, has been particularly and obviously devastating.
A common error underlying these policies is to focus only on benefits to one set of individuals over a short period of time while ignoring both the consequences to others and the long-term consequences for all. Although calls to “cancel rent” may imply that the government can simply wipe out these costs, or as one news outlet put it, “shield people from the financial fallout of the pandemic,” the burden is actually being shifted to the shoulders of landlords, who are still responsible for their mortgage, property tax, insurance, and other financial obligations.3 By instituting eviction bans, governments, which are supposed to protect rights and enforce contracts, systematically violate the rights of one party to such contracts. . . .
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1. Annie Nova, “CDC Issues Sweeping Temporary Halt on Evictions. Here’s What That Means for Renters,” September 2, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/02/heres-what-the-cdcs-nationwide-eviction-ban-means-for-renters.html.
2. Nova, “CDC Issues Sweeping Temporary Halt on Evictions.”
3. Devin Fehely, “East Bay Renters Lose Home Despite Statewide Eviction Moratorium,” CBS, April 30, 2021.
4. Anna Bahney, “Unpaid Rent Is Piling Up. Landlords Can’t Hold On Forever,” CNN, February 27, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/09/success/eviction-moratorium-landlord-plans/index.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=fbCNN&utm_content=2021-02-27T19:33:14&fbclid=IwAR3I-_dED2IK63YZ5w9Me77cTNHMgHXDGqyXXM31ScUW1ZjoSblHXgB06bU.
5. Bahney, “Unpaid Rent Is Piling Up. Landlords Can’t Hold on Forever.”
6. Noni Richen, “Even in Times of Crisis, Politicians Don’t Miss an Opportunity to Stick It to Landlords!,” Apartment Owners Association of California Inc. Newsletter, August 1, 2020.
7. Michael Gartland, “NYC Small Landlords Say New Eviction Moratorium Gives Tenants Excuse to Skip Rent,” NY Daily News, January 10, 2021, https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/new-york-elections-government/ny-eviction-moratorium-covid-landlords-tenants-foreclosure-20210111-ubph4grdcjd65actdujugfoydu-story.html.
8. Gartland, “NYC Small Landlords Say New Eviction Moratorium Gives Tenants Excuse to Skip Rent.”
9. Diane Olick, “Some Landlords Sell Properties as CDC Extends Eviction Ban,” CNBC, March 29, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/29/covid-eviction-ban-forces-some-landlords-to-sell-properties.html; Karah Rucke, “Tenants Owe $17,000 in Rent, Landlord Sells with Renters inside at Significant Loss,” Your Central Valley, February 26, 2021, https://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/tenants-owe-17000-in-rent-landlord-sells-with-renters-inside-at-significant-loss/.
10. Jim Epstein, “The Victims of the Eviction Moratorium,” Reason, February 23, 2021, https://reason.com/video/2021/02/23/the-victims-of-the-eviction-moratorium/.
11. Laura Wenus, “Tenants and Landlords Alike Begin April Fearful of Coronavirus Fallout,” San Francisco Public Press, April 3, 2020, https://www.sfpublicpress.org/tenants-and-landlords-alike-begin-april-fearful-of-coronavirus-fallout/.
12. Joe Fitzgeald Rodrigues, “Landlords Sue to Block San Francisco’s Eviction Moratorium,” KQED, June 29, 2020, https://www.kqed.org/news/11826617/landlords-sue-to-overturn-san-franciscos-eviction-moratorium.
13. Rodrigues, “Landlords Sue to Block San Francisco’s Eviction Moratorium.”
14. Abby Vesoulis, “How Eviction Moratoriums Are Hurting Small Landlords—and Why That’s Bad for the Future of Affordable Housing,” Time, June 11, 2020, https://time.com/5846383/coronavirus-small-landlords/.