Congress Holds Judiciary Hearing on Unlawful Evictions

On June 14, the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on “Potential Remedies for Unlawful Evictions in Federal Emergency Areas.” Chairman Steve Cohen (D-TN) opened the hearing by noting his Emergency Eviction Enforcement Act of 2021 (H.R. 1451), a bill that would provide federal protections to renters who are at risk of eviction during a national emergency. In response, Ranking Member Mike Johnson (R-LA) presented his view that federal renter protections would be a government overreach.

Witnesses from Memphis Area Legal Services, the Heritage Foundation, the University of Memphis, and NAACP provided expert testimony to the subcommittee. Three of the four witnesses testified in support of the legislation, citing the need for stronger enforcement of the COVID-19 eviction moratoriums and data showing that people of color are at greater risk for eviction during a crisis. The witness from the Heritage Foundation focused more on the needs of landlords who resorted to evictions where possible due to their lost rental income during the pandemic.  

Following the witness testimonies, subcommittee members expressed their views on evictions and questioned the witnesses. The discussion centered around “self-help evictions,” which occur when landlords force tenants to leave their units without going through the formal court proceedings. One witness explained that there were reports of informal evictions in her community. Landlords changed the locks on tenants who were behind on rent, for instance, even while the federal eviction moratorium was in place.

The hearing also included a broader conversation around evictions. Both the witnesses and members of the subcommittee acknowledged the number of evictions in the United States as a growing concern. The recorded hearing and all witness testimonies are available online.

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