Confused about the COVID-19 eviction bans? We've got you covered | Feature | Chicago Reader

Confused about the COVID-19 eviction bans? We've got you covered 

A guide to your rights as a Chicago renter during a pandemic

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click to enlarge Renters have special rights to protect them from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. - JAMES ANDREW/SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Renters have special rights to protect them from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • James Andrew/shutterstock

This story was originally published by City Bureau on October 7, 2020.

If you're worried about missing rent or in danger of losing housing as the pandemic continues, you're not alone. Though housing insecurity is not a new problem, now one in three Illinois households are at risk of eviction by the end of the year, according to the Aspen Institute. Here's what Chicago renters need to know about eviction moratoriums.

Who do the eviction moratoriums protect?

Currently, national, state, and local-level eviction moratoriums protect renters who've been affected by COVID-19.

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a national order that keeps many renters from eviction until December 31, 2020. The order requires renters to sign a form for their landlord, confirming that the pandemic affected their rent-paying ability and that they meet several conditions. Here's the list of requirements in 12 languages.

However, the national order gives priority to more protective state and local moratoriums.

The Illinois Eviction Filing Moratorium automatically protects most residents from evictions until October 17. The statewide order—which the governor has extended several times—stops eviction filings and enforcements, except if a landlord can prove that a tenant threatened other people's safety or violated building codes. It covers all residential properties, including public housing.

Chicago's eviction moratorium law pauses eviction filings until 60 days after the statewide order expires. Once the city's eviction ban ends, landlords can issue five-day eviction notices again. But under this law, tenants who owe rent will have 12 days to negotiate instead of five. The law also allows renters at least two months to pay back each month of missed rent, and it requires landlords to give tenants a know-your-rights document.

To qualify for these new rights, tenants who receive an eviction notice must give their landlord written notice that they couldn't pay rent due to COVID-19 related reasons—and give proof. Then, the landlord must work with the tenant for one week to try to reach an agreement that avoids eviction.

The city website states that Chicagoans can claim "COVID-19 impact" if they or a household member experienced one of the following:

  • Got laid off
  • Had work hours reduced
  • Isolated or quarantined after getting or potentially being exposed to COVID-19
  • Had to care for another person who was affected by COVID-19

E-mails, letters, or text messages count as written notice. Phone calls and in-person conversations don't count. Here are more details in several languages.

How come evictions haven't stopped?

Despite these moratoriums, Cook County landlords filed nearly 3,000 evictions between March and July, according to court records analyzed by City Bureau. The law still allows evictions for reasons besides failure to pay. And it doesn't protect businesses.

Technically, only sheriffs (different from the Chicago Police Department) can physically evict people from their homes. But several people have shared stories of illegal evictions: these can include landlords changing house locks, threatening tenants, or shutting off utilities.

What if I'm in a month-to-month situation or my lease ends soon?

All Chicago tenants, including tenants with month-to-month agreements, have 30 days to adjust to lease changes. Under the recently passed Fair Notice ordinance, landlords who plan to end or non-renew a lease, or raise rent must give:

  • 60 days of notice to tenants who've lived in the unit between six months and three years
  • 120 days to tenants who've lived in the unit for three years or more.

In some cases, Fair Notice also requires landlords to pay tenants' moving costs.

Where can I get support?

The moratoriums are different from rent forgiveness—once they end, people who do not pay rent during this period must pay their landlords eventually. "Tenants don't think to call a lawyer until they've actually been served with court papers," says Michelle Gilbert, legal director at the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing. But she says her organization encourages tenants to communicate with their landlord and seek help early on—not after an emergency.

Here are some free resources for Chicago renters, regardless of their legal status:

What happens when they expire?

Data from the Eviction Lab shows that eviction filings across the U.S. dropped during periods of local eviction bans, then rose again when local bans expired.

Local housing rights groups' calls to cancel rents and mortgages have gained support, though no governments have passed laws to do so. Chicago organizers have demanded more affordable housing, rent control laws, and fairer distribution of community resources for years.

City Council is considering the Just Cause ordinance, which would require landlords to provide a valid reason to evict a tenant. If passed, supporters say that the ordinance would protect residents from displacement.   v

Have you been evicted or faced pressure to move out during the pandemic? If you want to share your story with City Bureau, please fill out the form below.

This story was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Chicago.

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