Yesterday, the Trump administration announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had ordered an “eviction moratorium” until after the election. The Surgeon General now prohibits landlords from recouping unpaid rent, because it is “necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases to prevent the spread of an illness.”
Or, in other words, the CDC is empowered to hand down decrees that retroactively change the conditions of voluntary arrangements made by Americans citizens whenever it pleases. Because, after all, the entire economy has been enveloped by coronavirus.
It’s difficult to comprehend how this kind of intrusion could be constitutional. But let’s set aside the legal concerns. Fiscal conservatives have rightly mocked Democrats and socialists who favor magically wiping out student debt while ignoring the economic and legal repercussions. Student loans are, regrettably, backed by moral-hazardy government guarantees. Rent, though, isn’t even owed to the state or secured by a government agency. It is owed to private citizens who have entered into legal contracts with tenants. Property rights and the sanctity of those contracts are vital in a lawful society. The latter are now being torn up by government decree.
As a practical matter, this temporary fix is only likely to delay and exacerbate the existing housing problems, undercutting efforts by landlords — not all of them giant faceless corporate entities — to renegotiate leases or work out payment plans. It’s likely that landlords will never be made whole. Everyone knows Reagan’s maxim about temporary government programs.
Even if we concede that the pandemic, and resulting state-enforced lockdowns, created the uniquely devastating circumstances that put low-income tenants in a precarious situation, it’s not the executive branch’s job to bail them out. It is Congress’ job, if it so decides, to send checks to tenants who are in danger of losing their homes.
For six months, governors have been acting like dictators — not Mussolini-type dictators; more like Roman Republic-style temporary magistrates. There’s rarely any legislative debate or lawmaking going on. Little, if any, deference to individual rights. Just scaremongering, followed by edict after edict. No one has ever explained — not coherently, at least — what arbitrary level of emergency justifies this kind of unilateralism.
But mostly this was seen on a state level. Now, the Trump administration is again dropping Obama-esque decrees. Some liberals are calling the CDC’s mandate only a “half measure,” so you imagine what kind of executive abuses are in store for us.
And, no doubt, the “eviction moratorium” is going to be popular with all kinds of voters. But it’s still state-sanctioned theft.