DC Superior Court Rules that Eviction Filing Moratorium is Unconstitutional

Legal Article

DC Superior Court Rules that Eviction Filing Moratorium is Unconstitutional

Recently, the District of Columbia Superior Court ruled that the District’s ban on landlords filing new eviction cases is unconstitutional. However, the court’s decision does not allow evictions to take place while the public health emergency is still in effect. This simply means that landlords can file the eviction notice and begin this process but cannot actually finalize the eviction.

The presiding judge, Anthony Epstein, stated that the city’s moratorium on eviction filings denies “property owners their day in court for an extended indefinite period.” Thus violating the property owners’ Constitutional right to regain possession of their property. Epstein later clarified that his ruling will not directly lead to evictions while the Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing nor create an environment where landlords will start flooding the courts with eviction cases. Instead, the expected impact of Epstein’s ruling is that the court will begin scheduling hearings for eviction cases.

Epstein also pointed out that the current moratorium “only delays the day of reckoning that [renters] face.” These moratoriums have been in place since March 2020 and in May 2020, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser signed into law a provision banning eviction filings for 60 days after the state of emergency lifts. Originally, the state of emergency was set to expire on December 31st, 2020. However, the DC Council decided to give the mayor the ability to extend the public health emergency to March 31st, 2021. The Council also has the power to allow the mayor to further extend the public health emergency later this year, though this would simply delay the inevitable evictions thousands of renters face.

Superior Court Appeals

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia’s Housing Law Unit has expressed its concerns that this ruling will spur landlords to challenge other portions of the eviction moratorium, weakening the District’s eviction protections even further. However, not only is there still a ban on evictions, but there is also a ban on eviction notices. Landlords must give their tenants eviction notices before they can begin the eviction case. Thus, the Legal Aid Society concurs with Epstein’s statement that the Superior Court’s ruling will not create a new wave of evictions.

Though the District of Columbia’s Superior Court ruling will not create a massive change, more constitutional challenges may come. The main reason for this is that Judge Epstein stated that the District had a demanding burden to demonstrate a reasonable fit and proportionality between the legislature’s goals and the means it chose to achieve the goals, and ultimately found that the District had not carried that burden, and thus the filing moratorium did not “pass constitutional muster.”

Though the ruling that the eviction moratorium is currently in effect, tenants can still appeal this decision. The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has already issued a statement that the office plans to appeal the Superior Court’s moratorium, however, the case could take a few weeks or months to develop.

Final Thoughts

With over 20 years of experience, Antonoplos & Associates real estate attorneys have the knowledge and experience required to assist clients with real estate litigation in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Furthermore, because our attorneys have a strong background in real estate, construction law, and business law, we can assist clients with a variety of real estate litigation issues.

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