The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced an interim rule on Monday that will allow tenants to sue debt collectors who violate the national ban on evictions.
Attorneys for landlords and other debt collectors who wrongly evict tenants could also face federal and state prosecution, the bureau said. In addition, these debt collectors must now provide tenants notice of their rights under the eviction ban in writing and on the same date an eviction notice is served.
“No one should be evicted from their home without understanding their rights, and we will hold accountable those debt collectors who move forward with illegal evictions,” said Dave Uejio, the CFPB’s acting director, in a statement.
The announcement is a sign that the Biden administration plans to more aggressively enforce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national ban on evictions first issued by the Trump administration in September.
Research has shown that evictions lead to significantly more coronavirus cases and deaths in an area.
Housing advocates point out that the law has failed to protect many tenants because there haven’t been enough consequences for violating it.
There’s no national database of evictions. But since the CDC ban went into effect, Jim Baker, executive director of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, has counted more than 57,000 new eviction cases filed by corporate landlords in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas alone. During the same period, The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has identified more than 218,000 evictions in the five states and 19 cities that it tracks.
Evicting tenants is a last resort, Bob Pinnegar, president of the National Apartment Association, told CNBC earlier this year. However, the last year has driven landlords to the brink, he said.
“Over 50% of the nation’s rental housing providers are mom-and-pop owners, who rely on their few units as their only source of income,” he said. “Reserves are running out, and in many cases are exhausted.”
Still, the consumer bureau made clear on Monday that any property owners’ lawyers or other debt collectors who evict tenants illegally or without informing them of the CDC ban could face prosecution by federal agencies and state attorneys general, as well as private lawsuits by individuals negatively impacted.
“The rule directly addresses many of the problems that undermined the moratorium, including lack of tenant knowledge about rights, abusive practices and minimal to no enforcement,” said Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and a visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.