Federal judge in Texas rules CDC eviction ban "unconstitutional"

A federal judge in Texas has ruled the CDC national eviction moratorium is unconstitutional. However, a Harris County judge and tenant attorneys say it will still protect renters from eviction in the state.

Court data shows the CDC eviction moratorium has only stopped about 10% of the 13,000 cases filed in Harris County courts since it took effect in September, either because it wasn't used or judges did not accept it.

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Attorney Rob Henneke with Texas Public Policy Foundation persuaded a federal judge in Tyler that the CDC eviction moratorium violates landlords' rights. 

"As of this morning, the federal eviction order is gone. It has been declared unconstitutional by the judge in Tyler and a final judgement has been entered into that case," said Henneke.  

The CDC Eviction Moratorium is intended to protect tenants from eviction if they give the court and their landlords an affidavit that they've lost income and have tried to get rental assistance.

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"This has always been unfair to our clients. My lead client inherited a four-plex from her grandmother. She still owes property taxes, she still has to pay mortgage and the cost of that property," said Henneke.

But Harris County Justice of the Peace Joe Stephens and tenant attorneys say renters are still protected by the moratorium until the Texas Supreme Court says otherwise. 

"Until we're told something different by the State Supreme Court, we'll probably continue to operate under the 34th emergency order, which states that the current CDC declaration is kind of our government document," said Judge Stephens.

Harris County, City of Houston offering $159M combined rental aid

Harris County and the City of Houston voted to offer a combined $159 million, plus the state of Texas is making $1.3 billion available. 

"We're going to continue advising our clients to file these because under the (Texas) Supreme Court orders and guidance from the Harris County Commissioners Court, it's enforceable even under this bad opinion that came out yesterday," said attorney Mark Grandich with Lone Star Legal Aid. 

Grandich points out federal rulings in other states have upheld the moratorium and the cases likely face appeals.

"This recent opinion from this Texas judge is contrary to what other courts have found. I'm sure it's going to be challenged by the CDC.  But more importantly, there's not injunctive relief which was granted," said Grandich. 

Meantime, tenants can access hundreds of millions of dollars in rental aid available through the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, Texas Rent Relief, or Houston Harris County Rental Assistance.  

Judge Stephens says eviction filings are currently only about one-fourth as many as there were before the coronavirus pandemic.

"I hope that's a sign that landlords and tenants are trying to work this out amongst themselves," said Stephens.

We asked the Texas Supreme Court whether it will issue guidance on this new ruling. We haven't heard back yet. 

Tenants and landlords can attend a seminar about their rights regarding evictions on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. at the Harris County Court at 14350 Wallisville Road in Houston.