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U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Part Of New York's Ban On Residential Evictions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to partially lift a ban on evictions for renters in New York state, which was scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

In an unsigned order, with three dissents, the ruling justices agreed to pause parts of the eviction ban while a challenge works its way through the lower courts.

Since December of last year, New York has stopped landlords from evicting tenants who say they're in "financial hardship," though landlords can still evict renters who cause a nuisance or a safety threat.

In a lawsuit brought by Rent Stabilization Association of NYC, a trade association for property owners, landlords argued that the state was denying them due process of law by interfering with their property rights without giving them a say in the matter. For instance, they said that renters didn't need to actually prove they were in financial straits, nor were landlords allowed to show that individual renters could afford to pay.

The justices agreed on that point.

"If a tenant self-certifies financial hardship, [one part of the New York eviction law] generally precludes a landlord from contesting that certification and denies the landlord a hearing," the majority wrote. "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's three liberals dissented, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing that the moratorium was set to conclude at the end of August.

"[A]pplicants have not shown that critical or exigent circumstances justify our intervention," Breyer wrote. "As I have said, [the law's] pause on eviction proceedings will expire in less than three weeks, alleviating the hardship to New York landlords."

In late June, the court by a 5-to-4 vote declined to address a similar challenge against a federal eviction ban a month before it was set to expire. At that time, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, both conservatives, joined the court's three liberals, with Kavanaugh writing that if the program were not set to expire soon, he would have voted the other way.

But after that federal ban expired, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new moratorium. The new, two-month eviction bancovers parts of the country experiencing "high" or "substantial" transmission of the coronavirus.

That includes most of New York.

That latest CDC order may also be challenged at the Supreme Court.

The court's decision Thursday comes at a time when more than 800,000 New Yorkers are behind on their rent, amounting to over $3 billion of debt. In New York City alone, more than 60,000 eviction cases have been filed since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Princeton University's Eviction Lab.

New York has set aside enough in allocated federal funds — $2.7 billion — to cover nearly of all of residents' housing debt. But the Empire State has been distributing money slower than almost every other state.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
Eric Singerman