A West Monroe landlord and the Apartment Association of Louisiana Inc. recently sued the federal government, claiming its moratorium on evictions unfairly saddled landlords with an indefinite loss of income.
Chambless Enterprises LLC, owned by Joshua Chambless of West Monroe, and the Apartment Association of Louisiana Inc. filed their petition against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal officials on Nov. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
The plaintiffs’ petition concerned the CDC’s Sept. 4 order that imposed a nationwide ban on evictions of certain tenants until at least Dec. 31, unless extended. The CDC’s order was based on President Trump’s Aug. 8 executive order to fight the spread of COVID-19. Trump’s executive order, the plaintiffs claimed, did not authorize the extension of an eviction ban. The Congress was responsible for passing laws, not the executive branch, the plaintiffs argued.
“The CDC’s eviction moratorium represents a sweeping assumption of power by an administrative agency that it simply does not possess,” stated the Nov. 12 lawsuit.
“The moratorium alters the contractual relationships of perhaps millions of people across the country. It suspends legal proceedings in every state. It forces one segment of the population—landlords—to bear a disproportionate share of the costs of the pandemic because they provide the rental housing that so many Americans need.”
Chambless’ company owns and manages 725 rental units, including 14 apartment complexes and several single-family homes in Monroe, West Monroe, Lakeshore and Calhoun.
According to the lawsuit, one of Chambless’ tenants had not paid rent since July 22 and owed $3,925.
“If Tenant A fails to pay rent through December 31, 2020, the outstanding balance on this account will be $4,620,” stated the lawsuit.
Another tenant covered by the CDC order had not paid rent since Aug. 25 and owed $3,090..
“If Tenant B fails to pay anything between now and December 31, 2020, the outstanding balance on this account will be $3,800,” stated the lawsuit. “Because of the CDC Order, Chambless Enterprises is unable to reclaim its properties or rent these units to other tenants who are just as deserving of housing as the current, non-paying, tenants.”
The CDC eviction ban order imposed “stiff criminal penalties” on landlords who tried to remove a tenant from their property, including a fine of up to $100,000 or a year in jail or both. The plaintiffs argued the CDC’s eviction ban order did not provide any option for landlords to challenge their tenants’ claims they had used “best efforts” to obtain government assistance or could not pay rent because of a loss of household income.
“The Order does not indicate whether a landlord is permitted to challenge any of the claims in a Renter’s Declaration or in what venue that might be done,” stated the lawsuit.
The Apartment Association of Louisiana Inc. is a trade association that represents the interests of 376 member companies, which own and manage 118,000 rental units across Louisiana.
Other defendants include CDC head Robert Redfield, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Attorney General William Barr.