The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a part of New York state’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium.
New York state’s moratorium, in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been extended twice and is set to expire on Aug. 31.
In a 6–3 decision, the court granted an emergency request sought by a group of landlords to lift the ban on most tenant evictions in the state, while litigation over the dispute continues.
The court ruled that New York state cannot enforce a part in a state law that prevents tenants from being evicted, if the tenants submit a form telling the state they suffered economically, or that moving would risk their health, amid the pandemic.
“This scheme violates the Court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case,’ consistent with the Due Process Clause,” the court wrote in a brief, unsigned opinion.
The state eviction law under dispute was passed in December 2020 and similarly protects small landlords from foreclosure.
Five New York landlords argued in the suit that the eviction law was a violation of their right to due process because it lets the tenants declare hardship without any proof and without any way for the landlords to challenge the tenants’ claims.
The landlords also took issue with a part in the law that requires them to provide the hardship declaration form to the tenants. Doing so means they must deliver a message they don’t support, which constitutes a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech, they argued.
The suit was brought against a number of New York state officials to stop the law from being enforced, after lawmakers extended the eviction moratorium’s May expiration date to the end of August.
A federal district court dismissed the landlords’ case in June, and later the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected their request to put the eviction moratorium on hold while they appeal. This led to an emergency filing with the Supreme Court in late July.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented in the case. Breyer wrote in an opinion that it is not “indisputably clear” that the law in dispute denies landlords due process of law, because after the moratorium expires on Aug. 31, landlords can still challenge the tenant’s claim of hardship in court if they so wish.
He added that the burdens on the landlords must be balanced with the hardships of tenants who “will now be forced to face eviction proceedings earlier than expected.” He added that in this case, “I would not second-guess politically accountable officials’ determination of how best to ‘guard and protect’ the people of New York.”
Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Aug. 3 issued a federal moratorium for 60 days, targeted to “specific areas of the country” where cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus are rapidly increasing and “likely would be exacerbated by mass evictions.”
The CDC order has been challenged by landlords and real estate groups in a federal court in D.C. The court has yet to rule on the matter.
Reuters contributed to this report.