CARROLLTON, Ga. (AP) – Judges in at least two Georgia counties are refusing to recognize federal ordinance designed to protect most renters from eviction due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Judges in Carroll and Coweta counties are not stopping evictions based on orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that loss of housing could cause the spread of COVID-19.
“As far as I know, the CDC has no control over the Georgia courts,” Carroll County’s chief magistrate Alton Johnson told WABE-FM.
Katie Duren said her family fell behind schedule in a townhouse south of Villa Rica after she and her husband lost their jobs during the pandemic and neither were allowed out on account of unemployment.
After a few months, Durens landlord applied for the eviction. Her family filled out the CDC form to seek protection, but when they appeared in court, Johnson told Duren that Carroll County was failing to comply with CDC orders.
“He should have just ripped it up and thrown it in the trash because that’s how I felt when he said that,” said Duren.
Johnson said he doesn’t believe the CDC’s authority overrides state law. When asked why most of the other Georgia judges came to different conclusions, Johnson said he did not know.
“I think if the federal government wanted to get this right, it would have done it by passing law,” said Johnson, “and adequately compensating those who run out of resources or money.”
He said the eviction moratorium appeared to violate landlords’ rights. He admitted that Congress passed $ 25 billion in rental support in late December, but said the funding was not yet available.
“If you have someone who owes a mortgage, is it fair for that person to shoulder the burden of government responsibility?” Asked Johnson. “That’s how I see it.”
Johnson said he could be mistaken in his reasoning and wish the state would send further instructions.
As part of the first federal moratorium, the Georgia Supreme Court passed a ruling that the local courts should follow. The landlords had to swear that the eviction ban, which only affected those with government-subsidized loans, did not affect them.
The state’s Supreme Court said it was inappropriate for a judge to weigh a judge’s interpretation of the CDC order unless a case had come on appeal. Johnson said he invited tenants to appeal his decisions in a higher court.
But that can be harder than it sounds, said Susan Reif of the Eviction Prevention Project at Georgia Legal Services. She said state law requires renters to pay rent while an appeal is pending or that they could still be evicted.
“Most of our customers must focus their energies on finding housing and alternative arrangements for their families when they find they are unable to maintain ownership,” said Reif.
Tenants who have to leave despite CDC protection have little recourse at the federal level.
You could wait and see if the US Department of Justice will enforce the CDC moratorium. The order said violations could result in a fine of $ 100,000.
Johnson ordered Duren’s family to leave the property and pay back $ 5,000 in rent. A few days later, Duren and her husband tested positive for COVID-19.
Based on the diagnosis, her landlord, who declined to comment, allowed them to stay at her townhouse for two more weeks. Duren said they were still sick when the six pulled into their SUVs. It took them two nights to get enough money to buy a Villa Rica hotel, which they have now stayed in for a month.
“The CDC, which is federal, said if we did all of these things we couldn’t be evicted,” she said. “But this one county decided they could make their own rules.”