The U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently called on Heritage Foundation research fellow Joel Griffith to testify on the constitutionality and possible ripple effects of COVID-19 eviction moratoriums.
The July 27 hearing focused on pandemic-era evictions and rental assistance. Griffith discussed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s extension of bans on evictions and how they allowed many people unaffected financially by the pandemic to live rent-free without consequences. He emphasized that these measures allowed politicians to shirk the responsibility for permanently shuttering businesses and livelihoods.
“Eviction moratoria allowed many who were not impacted financially to live rent-free. The near complete eradication of evictions coinciding with only a slight rise in delinquent rent payments (2.2 percentage points in July 2020 vs. July 2010) strongly suggests the moratorium allowed many who were neither impacted by COVID-19 nor experiencing financial hardship to live rent-free with no immediate personal consequences,” argued Griffith.
In discussing these measures, Griffith noted multiple harmful ripple effects of the eviction moratoria. He stated that “landlords may need to increase rents to mitigate the heightened risk of future moratoria and to recoup losses. Prospective renters may find themselves subject to increased security deposits and tighter credit checks. Ultimately, fewer affordable housing units may be constructed. Quality of life for other tenants is impacted as well—with landlords unable to evict for disorderly conduct, illegal drug use, or criminal activity.”
Griffith emphasized the constitutional and legal issues with the eviction moratoria. The moratoria may violate the Takings Clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments as well as the Contract Clause. Additionally, he argued, Congress does not have the authority to authorize the CDC to take such actions.
Griffith previously testified on eviction moratoria on June 14 to the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. He writes and speaks regularly on free-market economics, specifically on topics such as taxes, federal spending choices, and welfare. One of his reports from the past year focused on the same topic as his House testimony: the COVID-19 pandemic and eviction moratoriums.
In a June 2020 commentary, Griffith argued, “Forcing property owners to provide free housing is a subtle form of expropriation of private property without just compensation. Politicians may enjoy a short-term boost in popularity from such measures. However, the unintended consequences are extensive.”
He continued, “Emphasizing the impact on the constitutional rights and federalism, these eviction moratoria unfairly burden property owners with the costs of societal shutdowns, create unintended consequences, and implicate serious legal and constitutional concerns.”
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