Illinois' eviction moratorium was due to expire on August 22nd, but it has been renewed until September 19th (as it has each month since April). The executive order prevents economically vulnerable households, who may have taken pay cuts, been furloughed, or been laid off, from being evicted during the pandemic. Property owners have challenged the moratorium on the grounds it represents a state seizure of property and forces them to subsidize nonpaying tenants, but they have not been successful to date. To get perspective, let’s look at the eviction process, moratorium extent, and what’s next.
The Eviction Process
Evictions look differently depending on lease arrangements and termination reasons. Here, we’re focusing on rent nonpayment. Rents typically come due at the beginning of each month. Some leases have grace periods that allow tenants to pay several days after the due date and/or allow late payments with additional fees. These practices vary and are not codified into law.
Once rent is late, property manager resources like the Landlord Protection Agency, recommend that managers “take action like an automated robot.” The first step is to give tenants notice that they must pay within five days or vacate the property. If tenants remain in housing unpaid, property managers can file for eviction. Tenants can contest evictions in court, but, in many cases, they do not. This does not necessarily mean that evictions are legally justified or conducted. Absences can result from a variety of factors including lack of transportation, time off work, childcare, and, often, legal representation (the New York Times reports that property managers are represented by lawyers in 80 percent of eviction hearings while tenants are only 10 percent of the time).
A judge ultimately issues an Order of Possession to local law enforcement, who remove tenants from the property after a one to two week “stay of enforcement.” Property managers legally cannot perform “self-help evictions” like changing locks, removing doors, or cutting utilities. Of course, that does not mean they don’t, especially given tenants’ lack of access to legal services.
The Eviction Moratorium
On April 23rd, 2020 Governor JB Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-30, which forbade property managers from initiating eviction proceedings “unless a tenant poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants, an immediate and severe risk to property, or a violation of any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation.” It does not free “any individual of the obligation to pay rent.” In a recent public letter, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart urged renewal until State and County rental assistance funds have been fully distributed. He estimated that, if the moratorium had expired on August 22nd, up to a quarter of a million Cook County households would lose their homes.
The eviction moratorium has been a necessary emergency measure, but it effectively kicks the can down the road. The federal $600 unemployment benefit expired July 31, which led many unable to afford rent. Once the moratorium is lifted, these households will owe rental arrears and be immediately subject to eviction. While the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Cook County, and community organizations like us have offered emergency assistance, demands for these funds outweighs their availability. The Aspen Institute projects that 31 percent of Illinois households—nearly 1,200,000 people—are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness by year’s end.
With your support, BEDS has been able to protect its clients and communities from COVID-19. It stands ready to serve the wave of area residents who will soon lose or be at risk of losing their homes. To learn how you can continue to help, click here to give money, here to donate supplies, or here to volunteer.