The CDC Halted Evictions. Texas Judges Are Proceeding Anyway

Despite federal protections aimed at preventing eviction, thousands of tenants in Texas have been unable to use them to keep their homes.

For more than three decades, Harris County Justice of the Peace David Patronella has presided over one of the busiest courts in the state, overseeing cases ranging from car accidents to truancy to eviction. But the past year has been among the most unusual he’s seen. In September, shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) halted evictions for most tenants nationwide, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order giving judges the authority to enforce the CDC’s moratorium; the federal order required tenants to file declarations with the court saying they were eligible and Texas judges were required to review them. At the end of March, without announcement or explanation, the Texas Supreme Court allowed that order to expire. Confused, Patronella called the court for guidance—was he supposed to enforce the CDC moratorium or not? 

“They said no,” he says. “The Supreme Court felt that the state of Texas should get out of the business of reviewing those affidavits and that that was something between the landlord and tenant.”

So he started allowing evictions to continue, even when the tenant complied with the federal law and presented a declaration saying they were covered by the CDC’s moratorium. By July 31, when the CDC’s national moratorium expired, only 12 percent of tenants in his courtroom had been able to successfully invoke the order to stay in their homes, according to January Advisors, a data analytics company based in Houston. Across Harris Country, the moratorium protected just 13 percent of households who ended up in eviction court. 

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