It’s a neighborhood in transition. Like many of the older homes in Tyler’s Azalea District, the house that George McNeil inherited had been divided into apartments. These houses were once home to East Texas oil magnates and their families. Now, they’re more likely to shelter young couples, students from the area colleges and health care workers who staff the nearby hospitals.
But like any neighborhood in transition, this portion of the Brick Streets could go either way. George—who passed away last year—was determined it should improve, not slip into disrepair and disrepute.
That’s Lauren (McNeil) Terkel’s goal, too. It’s threatened now, however, by a rule put into place by the Centers for Disease Control that bans evictions in certain circumstances. Lauren has a tenant who refuses to pay rent, and whose behavior has taken a turn for the worse. The tenant went before a Justice of the Peace in Tyler, and was told he couldn’t be evicted.
And now, though his increasingly erratic presence is making her other tenants uncomfortable and even driving one of them off, Lauren must continue to provide an apartment to the man—and even his water and electricity, because it’s a bills-paid setup.
“There’s been a lot of positive things happening on this street,” she says. “People buying homes and fixing them up. Some are flipping the houses, but some are buying them to live in, too. Dad wanted to see that continue.”
Lauren and her sister inherited the home, which now includes four individual apartments. George wanted to leave his girls some reliable income—a little cushion. But Lauren’s sister had no interest in an expanded real estate portfolio. So Lauren bought her out, dipping into savings to do so, and set about fixing up the place. She began with the apartment George had occupied.
What amazed her is that neighbors would stop by and offer to help—because George, ever a good neighbor, had once or twice helped them with a project.
“I did some upgrades and remodeled his apartment,” she said. “I’ll continue with that—when I can. To me, this house is a reflection on him. I want it to be a positive one.”
TPPF attorneys with attorneys from the Southeastern Legal Foundation as co-counsel have filed a lawsuit on Lauren’s behalf against the CDC. The lawsuit points out that the CDC rule is a massive overreach, and that if halting evictions could truly curb the spread of COVID-19—and there’s no evidence it could—it’s still an abuse of power.
“The CDC order violates Lauren’s constitutional rights by forcing her to keep an unwanted person on her private property and blocks her from exercising her legal remedies under state law,” says TPPF Lead Counsel Robert Henneke. “The federal government cannot do this. Period.”
Lauren lives near Dallas now, and can only come into Tyler to check on the property periodically. She worries that with the CDC rule in place, bad tenants will have no motivation to pay up—or even to be a good neighbor.
“My dad’s focus was on improving the neighborhood,” she said. “And that’s my focus, too. But I can’t do that if I don’t have any control over my own property.”
The federal lawsuit is filed in the Eastern District of Texas.