Mayor Linda Gorton claims she does not have the legal authority to enact an eviction moratorium. Based on extensive research by housing attorneys, we believe she does. Much of this research is public: for example, Kentucky Equal Justice Center’s Ben Carter, an attorney specializing in housing law, has published a detailed argument explaining why Kentucky Mayors DO have the power to stop all evictions. You can review this argument here.
Moreover, as detailed below, in many cities across the country, including cities bound to restrictive state housing laws like those in Kentucky, Mayors HAVE implemented eviction moratoria—and they have not been struck down in court.
Mayor Gorton, on the other hand, has not publicly provided any evidence backing up her claim. She has written a press release with that claim, and repeated it to at least four different news outlets—all of which published it without providing any evidence other than the Mayor’s word.
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In one of these news stories, from ABC 36, the Mayor’s office claims to have conducted “considerable research” into their legal authority, but says nothing about what that research consists of and offers no direct evidence or legal reasoning. Lexington Housing Justice Collective organizers contested Mayor Gorton’s claim of lacking legal authority with each of these news sources before publication, but none of them mentioned this. Instead, each of these outlets presented a misleading, one-sided narrative on the legal question.
Beyond Carter’s Kentucky-specific legal reasoning, there is a mass of precedent of cities across the country implementing laws that supercede those at the state level. These towns run the gamut in size and legal authority given to cities based on state housing law. In multiple cities with state laws that preempt rent control, as Kentucky does, eviction moratoria have successfully been passed: including Atlanta, GA, Everett, WA,, Chicago, IL, and more (see below for a larger list).
From towns as small as the 26,000-person Tualatin, OR to Los Angeles, city governments across the country have recognized their power to act and done the right thing.
It’s time for Mayor Gorton to do the same. As Carter points out in his argument, though many of these moratoria have faced legal challenges in court, courts have consistently agreed that city governments do in fact have the power to implement eviction moratoria.
With this in mind, we are disappointed with how news articles covering our car protest reported on Mayor Gorton’s legal authority. All outlets repeated Mayor Gorton’s claim that she does not have legal authority to implement an eviction moratorium. None of them noted that she did not provide evidence for her claim. Neither did any mention the extensive evidence that she does have such authority, although Lexington Housing Justice Collective organizers contested Mayor Gorton’s claims to the reporters before publication.
We are especially critical of this article from ABC 36, which doesn’t just say that Mayor Gorton CLAIMS she has no legal authority–it says outright that a moratorium is “something [Mayor Gorton] can’t do.” Again, the only evidence provided is Mayor Gorton’s word—with no added legal reasoning or analysis–and despite us providing counterevidence to the reporter before publication.
We need more detailed and accurate journalism. Reproducing Mayor Gorton’s unsubstantiated claims without pushing back gives her cover for allowing evictions to continue.
Mayor Gorton has the legal authority to implement an eviction moratorium. Moreover, as we argued in the Herald-Leader, it is the right public health and economic move. Every day she waits is a day more people lose their homes. She needs to act now—and we will continue to fight until she does.
Here is an incomplete list of articles discussing cities across the country with their own eviction moratoria, with each article covering a different city: