WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked part of New York's moratorium on evictions, put into effect because of the coronavirus pandemic, less than a month before it was supposed to expire anyway.
The legal issue is distinct from those surrounding a new moratorium that applies in most of the country that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed last week.
Over three dissenting votes, the court said New York could no longer enforce a provision that allows renters to stave off eviction by submitting a hardship declaration form that tells the state they lost income or had more expenses during the pandemic or that moving would harm their health. The pause on evictions expires at the end of August. The court's ruling allows some evictions to resume.
"This scheme violates the Court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case,’” the court wrote in a brief, unsigned opinion.
But Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion that the legal issue is not that clear. “Moreover, the challenged law will expire in less than three weeks," Breyer wrote, saying “such drastic relief” is not appropriate at this time. Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor joined his opinion.
A separate measure remains in place that protects renters if they can prove to a court they've suffered because of the pandemic.
In a statement Thursday night, New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul — who will become governor when Andrew Cuomo resigns Aug. 24 — said she is looking forward “to working with the Legislature to quickly address the Supreme Court’s decision & strengthen the eviction moratorium legislation.” She also vowed to “help get the funding available to those in need as soon as possible.”
Lower federal courts had rejected the plea by New York landlords to allow evictions to resume and the state had urged the justices to follow suit.
One major difference between the New York and CDC moratoriums is that the state's legislature enacted the moratorium into law, along with providing billions of dollars in assistance to renters and landlords. Congress failed to extend the nationwide eviction moratorium before the CDC acted on its own.