Congressman Cohen Presides at Hearing on Evictions during Federal Emergencies

June 14, 2021
Press Release
Extrajudicial evictions defy pandemic-related moratorium

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on “Potential Remedies for Unlawful Evictions in Federal Emergency Areas.”

In March, Congressman Cohen re-introduced the Emergency Eviction Enforcement Act to protect vulnerable tenants from evictions during a national emergency or public health crisis. The measure, H.R. 1451, would provide a federal cause of action for a tenant or the Attorney General to sue a landlord if the landlord evicts the tenant during a national emergency without a duly issued court order.  

In his opening statement, Chairman Cohen said in part:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged this county and the world, impacting people’s health, jobs, and their daily activities. In the United States, millions of people have lost their jobs, experienced reduced income, and lost loved ones due to the novel coronavirus. For many of these people, the past year has been a struggle to put food on the table, pay their bills, and afford rent. These struggles have been especially pronounced in communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic…

“Early on in the pandemic, experts warned how the loss of jobs and income due to coronavirus public health measures could lead to an eviction crisis.  In response, the federal government took action. Congress passed the CARES Act, which included an eviction moratorium.  After that moratorium expired in the summer of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an eviction moratorium, which has been extended several times, both legislatively and administratively, and is now slated to expire at the end of this month.

“If anything, one of the key lessons of the past year is that the government was not adequately prepared to respond to a public health crisis.  As we look to respond to the issue of unlawful evictions during the pandemic, it is also important that we plan for the next pandemic or other national emergency. This is why my bill would apply not just to unlawful evictions occurring during the current national public health emergency, but also in any area declared by the President as a national emergency in the future under the National Emergencies Act, Public Health Services Act, or the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

“The loss of one’s home can have a tremendous negative impact on a family, including on their safety, health, and ability to work.  In the Western District of Tennessee, which includes my congressional district, we are already seeing the impact of legal evictions as the District Court struck down the CDC’s moratorium.” 

See Chairman Cohen’s entire opening statement here and his questions to hearing witnesses here.

Witnesses at today’s hearing were:

Mr. Hilary O. Shelton,
Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, NAACP;

Ms. Cindy Ettingoff,

Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel, Memphis Area Legal Services;  

Mr. Joel Griffith,
Research Fellow, Financial Regulations, The Heritage Foundation; and

Ms. Katy Ramsey Mason,
Assistant Professor of Law and Director, Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, The University of Memphis;