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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Detroit's 36th district court adopts CDC eviction moratorium

william-c-mcconico.jpg
36th District Court
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Detroit’s 36th district court announced a pair of significant eviction-related orders this week.

The court initially said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s new eviction moratorium didn’t apply to Wayne County. The moratorium is based on local COVID-19 transmission levels.

But the situation quickly changed, and 36th district chief judge William McConico issued a statement on Wednesday saying that “Effective immediately, no residential evictions will proceed for nonpayment of rent in the City of Detroit.”

“The data provided in the CDC’s Order shows a strong correlation between high eviction rates in 'socially vulnerable' areas and elevated community transmission of COVID-19,” McConico said. “This current eviction moratorium is forecasted to save an untold number of lives by ensuring that residents can remain in their homes as the delta variant continues to rapidly spread throughout the nation."

Joe McGuire, an attorney with the Detroit Justice Center who works on tenants’ behalf in eviction cases, called that “welcome news.” But he said the way the CDC moratorium is structured—to fluctuate depending on COVID-19 cases—is problematic.

“It creates confusion, which is sort of the enemy of what you want in the law,” McGuire said. “You want predictability and consistency. You don't want things changing week to week depending on what the transmission rates are.”

McGuire said the court is empowered to declare a blanket moratorium on evictions, as the 36th district did near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged McConico to do the same at least through October, which is when the current CDC moratorium expires.

The court also announced that it will stop handling eviction proceedings for Detroit landlords who are unregistered, or don’t have certificates of compliance from the city. Detroit has tried to step up enforcement efforts on landlords in recent years, but the vast majority of rental properties remain non-compliant. According to the city, only just over 9,000 rental properties are registered in the city, and only about 5,200 have certificates of compliance.

McGuire said housing advocates have pushed for such a policy for years, and this change is a “big deal.”

“Now, in order for those landlords to use the Detroit court to evict their tenants, they need to show that they are following the law themselves,” McGuire said. “Which I think is entirely fair. Now the challenge is to make sure it actually does get implemented, because I'm sure they're going to get pushback from landlords.

The 36th district court dealt with around 20,000 eviction cases in 2019. That dropped to just 2,500 in 2020, and there were about 500 in the pipeline before the two new orders, according to a court spokesperson.