The COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost all aspects of everyday life, leaving many people laid off, faced with cuts to their wages or forcing them to miss work to care for sick family members. The reduction in wages for many people has created a hardship forcing tenants to forgo making their monthly rent payments. On a National, State and City-wide level, new provisions have been put in place to protect tenants who have been affected by the pandemic and are unable to continue making their monthly rent payments, protecting them from being evicted during the pandemic. The newly enacted provisions serve two main purposes. The first, is to provide economic relief to people who are suffering financial hardship. The second is to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by forcing people who cannot afford their rent payments to move in with family or friends creating overcrowded housing conditions.
The City of Chicago has long been viewed as having “tenant sided” renters’ rights laws through the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO.) The new regulations put into place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have served to further increase the rights of tenants in the City of Chicago. Initially issued on March 23, 2020, and most recently extended through at least February 6, 2021, a moratorium on residential evictions has been put in place to prevent evictions due to failure to pay rent during the ongoing pandemic. Local leaders anticipate the moratorium will be further extended due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic and hesitance to allow evictions in the colder winter months. While the initial Orders were broad and far-reaching, the current extensions place income limits on tenants seeking protections. The more stringent requirements are a compromise with landlords in realizing the financial strain placed on landlords who are dependent on rent collection to pay their own debts.
In Chicago, and Illinois as a whole, prior to the pandemic, if a tenant failed to pay rent, a landlord was required to deliver a five-day notice to the tenant prior to filling an eviction proceeding. The five-day notice serves as a written demand for payment from a landlord to a tenant, prior to landlords being able to file an eviction proceeding with the Courts. In Illinois, particularly in Chicago, the requirements for a five-day notice are stringent and if strict adherence is not followed by the landlord, the eviction complaint could be dismissed by a Judge.
In Chicago, under the new COVID-19 eviction protections, within five days of receiving a five-day notice, a tenant can notify the landlord that they have lost income as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic, to protect themselves from an eviction. The notification to the landlord must be in writing, but can be made through a formal letter, e-mail or even text message. The notice only needs to include a simple statement that the tenant is unable to pay rent because they have been affected by the pandemic. Once the tenant provides the written notice to the landlord, the tenant is afforded additional protections beyond the typical five-day notice and eviction process. A COVID-19 impact can be claimed when a tenant, or another household member, is laid-off from work, has their hours at work reduced, has to isolate or quarantine because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or possible exposure or has to care for someone else affected by COVID-19. The written notice from the tenant to the landlord triggers an additional seven-day period for the landlord and tenant to try and work out an agreement to avoid an eviction. Options for avoiding an eviction include a repayment plan, mediation or arbitrations, letting the tenant deduct the rent from their security deposit being held by the landlord, or agreements for the tenant to vacate the property without the landlord obtaining an eviction order. The COVID-19 eviction protection ordinance also requires that any payment plan must give a tenant at least two months to re-pay each month of missed rent. The landlord and tenant are free to agree to a longer re-payment period if they choose, however two months for each month missed is the minimum. The ordinance also sets parameters for interest and fees a landlord can charge on missed rent, how a COVID-19 impact can be proved by a tenant and use of a security deposit as a rent payment. The COVID-19 ordinance encourages landlords to accept partial payment of rent. This is a distinction from the CRLTO where acceptance of partial payment of rent after serving a five-day notice, operated as a waiver of the right to recover remaining unpaid rent due under the notice. The COVID-19 ordinance on the other hand, encourages landlords and tenants to work together to reach a payment plan for missed rent payments.
While the ordinance does not require that the landlord and tenant come to an agreement, it does mandate that the two make a good faith effort to reach an agreement. If a landlord does not use good faith to reach an arrangement with the tenant, and files an eviction case anyway, the ordinance mandates that the court must dismiss the eviction case.
Similar to the CRLTO which requires that a summary of the ordinance be attached to all residential leases, the COVID-19 eviction protection ordinance requires that a summary of the new tenant protections be provided by Chicago landlords when serving tenants with a five-day notice.
On a Federal level, the CDC issued a national moratorium on most evictions for nonpayment of rent which was designed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Under the National mandate, there are specific parameters that must be met to qualify for protection under the moratorium including income qualifications, loss of household income, work or wages, use of best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment of rent that specific circumstances allow and that being evicted would cause you to become homeless or you would have to live “doubled up” with family or friends, thereby possibly spreading COVID-19. If a tenant meets the qualifications under the moratorium, they must submit a signed, written declaration to the landlord to take advantage of the protections. Unlike in the City of Chicago, the CDC order does not require that a renter’s financial hardship be related to COVID-19. The national moratorium blocks all stages of evictions from proceeding against eligible tenants. Even if an eviction was already in progress, if the tenant submits a valid declaration to the landlord, the eviction is paused. The CDC mandate is valid through at least March 31, 2021.
Until the moratorium ends, Illinois landlords are prohibited from filing an eviction complaint against a covered tenant due to non-payment of rent. It is also noted that under all eviction moratoriums, tenants are encouraged to continue paying rent if they are able to do so. While the moratoriums may prohibit evictions from proceeding for the time being, eventually, landlords will be able to pursue both evictions and all back rent from tenants. In some cases, interest and late fees will also accrue during the non-payment period.