By Madeline Makoul
While the State of Illinois officially reopened from coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions on June 11, the evictions ban, in place since the pandemic started, has left mom-and-pop landowners still struggling.
The Illinois Eviction Filing Moratorium protects tenants from both eviction filings and enforcements, based on an executive order implemented by Governor JB Pritzker. Intended to help those whose jobs were affected by pandemic-related shutdowns, the evictions moratorium ensures those who cannot pay rent are not left without housing in the midst of a pandemic.
The State extended the moratorium repeatedly since it first installed it in April 2020 to protect tenants. Pritzker said he plans to lift the moratorium in August.
The State has continued relief efforts to help alleviate the burden on both tenants and their landlords. In May, Pritzker signed House Bill 2877 to expand the Illinois Rental Payment Program to $1.5 billion. Applicants are eligible for up to 15 months of assistance, including for past due rent from the previous 12 months. After landlords and tenants apply, assistance may be available through Sunday, July 18; log on to www.ihda.org/about-ihda/illinois-rental-payment-program/ for information. The law also seals eviction records filed through August 2022 to protect those evicted as a result of pandemic struggles.
Are landlords feeling any relief? According to some, the burden has become almost too much to bear.
Martha Padilla, a landlord with properties in Woodlawn and South Shore, said she has worked to help her tenants apply for rental relief. While she said the State’s program through the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) has paid some back rent for tenants, the City, on the other hand, “has done nothing” to help landlords.
“I did get one response for one tenant that the City stated had more than enough money to pay rent,” Padilla said. “And even though the City told me the tenant had enough money to pay, I was unable to enforce my lease and commence eviction proceedings.”
With more than a year of evictions on hold, Padilla said tenants have taken advantage of the system. She has had tenants who have made expensive purchases, from TVs to cars and vacations, yet insist they cannot pay rent. While Padilla asserted she does have some good tenants who worked hard to make rent despite COVID struggles, the “abusers” are the ones reaping the benefits of the relief options.
In fact, Padilla said that, in order to qualify for assistance with the latest IHDA relief, residents must be behind on rent, which Padilla said caused tenants to feel even more entitled to skip their payments, even if they could pay.
‘Landlords in bad spot’
“I strive to keep my properties clean and safe and up to date, and [the moratorium] has put landlords in a really bad spot where we can’t do a lot of stuff,” Padilla explained. “That’s my livelihood. My family has suffered because of that. You still have to pay massive water bills, tax bills, and there’s no reprieve for the landlord, only the people abusing the system.”
Rob Rubin, a managing real estate broker at RSR Management, said the moratorium has set a new precedent with tenants who have no consequences in place for months of unpaid rent, creating a false sense of security.
“I feel the moratorium length may have established new patterns for people,” Rubin said. “There may be a large population that has not been paying rent, as there have been no major negative consequences for doing so. With all of the uncertainty throughout the past 15 months, there has been a message sent that it’s okay to not pay rent because you won’t lose your place due to the eviction moratorium.”
Pritzker modified the eviction moratorium to allow landlords to evict tenants for whom they entered eviction orders before March 25, 2020. Also, as of June 25, landlords can file all eviction cases so long as the tenant did not file a declaration form with the State to prohibit eviction for nonpayment of rent, a decision that led Padilla to exclaim, “It is about time!”
Padilla feels the moratorium has gone on too long and anticipates that, once the City and State allow all eviction proceedings, the courts will be so flooded evictions will see months of delays. Rubin agreed, saying, “I have a feeling there will be a huge backlog in the court system to carry out the eviction proceedings, so this process will cost landlords more time as well as money.”
With some tenants owing upward of $15,000 in rent, landlords sit in a vulnerable position that Padilla feels the government caused by “overstepping.”
The government “crossed the line, they are coming into the private sector,” Padilla said. “I’m not in the business of giving free housing, but that’s what they forced a lot of landlords into. And not only do you have to provide free housing, but good luck collecting from them after the fact.”
City officials are looking for ways to support vulnerable tenants while ensuring stability for mom-and-pop landlords.
Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward said that, despite the moratorium, landlords (primarily big developers) already have filed 21,000 evictions.
“The issue of housing is an issue of public health, and we need to work on systemic solutions on a large scale,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
The proposed Just Cause Eviction Ordinance offers one solution, according to Sigcho Lopez. The alderman explained the ordinance would specify seven provisions to justify evictions in an effort to prevent developers from buying properties and providing 30-day eviction notices to tenants who have done nothing wrong.
“What we need to do is stop developers from just giving 30 days’ notice and displacing thousands of residents,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “This is speculation, and it’s not normal. It’s not good for our economy or communities.”
He said government supporting small homeowners is key to instilling stability in the community.
Rubin expressed skepticism, noting the financial burden small landlords have faced, particularly those who invested in “economically challenged,” areas, has prompted many to rethink this investment.
“The eviction moratorium, in the long run, may have the unintended consequence of causing more people to turn their backs on investing in the areas that need it the most, leading to more systemic economic injustice,” Rubin said. “The system is currently driven by larger developers working with the City. The big guys go in and build their project then leave. While working with bigger developers may be less of a headache, the real benefit is to empower the smaller players.”
Sigcho-Lopez asserted Just Cause will not hurt small homeowners. He explained that the City must not only protect renters but help homeowners with property taxes and provide renters enough relief as part of a comprehensive plan to ensure stability.
“I think we have seen a lot of sensitivity from small homeowners and tenants alike, and we need to help them catch up on payments and we especially need to help with property taxes,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Lifting the moratorium without provisions in place will put a lot of small homeowners and tenants in a very difficult position.”
In May, the Chicago Department of Housing opened its third round of rental assistance for tenants and landlords since the onset of the pandemic through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“Over the course of this incredibly difficult year, our residents, especially our most vulnerable ones, have faced unimaginable loss that is compounded by a systemic poverty and lack of access to safe, affordable housing,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, noting the City is committed to “help to relieve these residents of the fear of losing their homes and being thrown further into uncertainty and socioeconomic instability but allow our city to make significant progress in our mission to provide our communities with resources they need to thrive long after this pandemic is over.”
For more information about the Department of Housing’s programs and services, visit Chicago.gov/housing.