A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier District Court decision over keeping the Los Angeles eviction moratorium in place on Wednesday, allowing the moratorium to continue until the current September 30th end date.
Landlord groups, specifically the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), have been fighting against eviction moratoriums since last year. Eviction moratoriums began to be put into place shortly after COVID-19 lockdowns began across the state in March and April of 2020. As keeping people housed was deemed to be a key way to stop the spread of virus, particularly among the more vulnerable segments of the population, eviction moratoriums were set up, allowing people to stay in their apartments or houses despite not paying that months rent.
However, as moratoriums were extended, many landlords, particularly smaller landlords who only owned one or two rental properties to provide income, were hit hard by many tenants not paying rent. This crunch of tenants being protected but not landlords caused many lawsuits to break out across the state, with most being centered around the rent-heavy Los Angeles area. In June of 2020, one case, Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles, directly challenged the ban on evictions, as well as the ban on rent increases and late fees.
In November, the Associations case was struck down by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson, who noted that despite both tenants and landlords being hurt by the pandemic, the public health crisis warranted the eviction staying in place.
“Landlords and tenants alike are victims of the virus, both literally and economically,” the Judge wrote in November. “Tenants should not have to live in fear of eviction because of a calamity that was not of their making. Landlords should not have to live in fear of losing their hard-earned investments in our community because of a calamity that was not of their making. Our citizens should not have to fight each other to avoid economic and personal ruin.”
The AAGLA immediately repealed, during which times moratoriums were extended several times to the current end date on September 30th.
Despite the move to the Appellate court, the case was struck down again on Wednesday. Specifically, Judge Daniel Aaron Bress wrote for the panel that Los Angeles’ moratorium did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Contracts Clause and that the city’s response was appropriate because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Whatever force plaintiff’s challenge may have had in a much earlier era of Contract Clause jurisprudence, more contemporary Supreme Court case law has severely limited the Contracts Clause’s potency,” said Judge Bress in his ruling. “For the first century and a half of U.S. legal history the Contract Clause imposed consequential limitations that federal courts routinely deployed to invalidate state and local legislation. But since the Supreme Court’s 1934 case, Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, the Contract’s Clause prohibitive force has been significantly curbed.
“The moratorium’s provisions were likely reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles fairly tied the moratorium to its stated goal of preventing displacement from homes, which the city reasonably explained could exacerbate the public health-related problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, each of the provisions of the eviction moratorium that plaintiff challenged could be viewed as reasonable attempts to address that valid public purpose.”
Praise, disapproval over Appellate ruling
Many tenants groups praised the decision on Thursday, noting that, even with the success, the moratorium will still end in about a month.
“It’s a victory, but one we know that will be short lived if it is not extended again,” explain Joel Jimenez, a Los Angeles tenant advocate who has assisted some law firms in gathering tenant details, to the Globe on Thursday. “It’s good to have precedent, but without another extension in the midst of this Delta outbreak, we may see a lot of people go to the street come October.”
Landlord associations disapproved of the ruling, with the AAGLA even saying that they might bring it to the Supreme Court.
“I understand that some of the justices of the Supreme Court are interested in hearing a Contracts Clause case and this one would be the right case for them to hear,” noted AAGLA Executive Director Daniel Yukelson in a statement on Wednesday.
AAGLA’s Executive Director Daniel Yukelson told City News Service the association is prepared to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Both the state eviction moratorium and the county moratorium are expected to end on September 30th if extensions are not given in the coming weeks.