Renters have special rights to protect them from eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: James Andrew/shutterstock

Originally published by City Bureau on October 7, 2020 / Updated January 29, 2021

If you’re worried about missing rent as the pandemic continues in Chicago, you’re not alone.

National, state, and local eviction moratoriums still protect many renters who’ve been affected by COVID-19. But they require renters to take specific steps to be protected from eviction.

Which eviction moratoriums apply to me?

Federal eviction moratorium

In January, President Joe Biden extended the national eviction moratorium until March 31. The order requires eligible renters to sign a form and share it with their landlord, confirming that they can’t pay full rent because they are experiencing financial hardship and that they meet several conditions. (These rules apply anywhere in the U.S. where there is not an active state or local moratorium that is more protective.)

State eviction moratorium

The extended Illinois Eviction Filing Moratorium temporarily protects qualifying residents from evictions until March 6. It stops both eviction filings and enforcement, except in cases where a landlord can prove that a renter “poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants or an immediate and severe risk to property.”

Any renter who meets the requirements can seek protection through this statewide order, regardless of immigration status and including those with non-written or month-to-month leases, according to a statement from the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

To qualify, every adult renter in the unit must sign and submit to their landlord this Tenant Declaration Form (Spanish version and Arabic/Chinese/Hindi/Tagalog/Polish version) stating that they meet these four conditions:

1. One of the following:

  • Made $99,000 or less in 2020 (or less than $198,000 if they file a joint tax return)
  • Did not have to report their income for tax purposes in 2019
  • Received a $1,200 stimulus check from the federal government last year

2. Can’t pay rent for COVID-19 related reasons, like income loss or health costs

3. Is making best efforts to pay partial rent, considering other essential costs like food, utilities, health care, and cold weather necessities

4. Would likely become houseless, have to double up or move into a crowded home or shared living setting if they get evicted

A landlord must give their tenant a copy of the declaration form before they can issue a five-day eviction notice to begin the eviction process. Without a signed declaration form, landlords can begin the eviction process.

City eviction moratorium

After the statewide eviction moratorium expires, the city will extend the eviction ban for 60 more days. Once the city’s eviction ban ends, landlords will be able to issue five-day eviction notices to renters again. But the city law gives tenants who owe rent 12 days to negotiate instead of the usual five. The law also requires landlords to give tenants at least two months to pay back each month of missed rent and to give tenants a know-your-rights document.

To qualify, tenants who receive an eviction notice must give their landlord written notice that they couldn’t pay rent due to COVID-19. Then, the landlord must work with the tenant over the 12-day period to try to reach an agreement that avoids eviction.

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, Chicago landlords have filed over 1,500 residential evictions since April 2020. The moratoriums don’t cover non-pandemic related cases, cases that began before the pandemic or commercial evictions. They also allow landlords to claim exemptions for health and safety threats. Last July, Cook County eviction court hearings resumed over Zoom for cases like these.

But some cases that cite a health or safety threat don’t seem to warrant eviction, says Michelle Gilbert, legal director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing—she knew of one landlord who filed an eviction after management found a joint of marijuana in the unit. And although judges should dismiss cases that are protected by the moratorium, landlords can still file for any reason, she says.

The courts recently closed some loopholes in the process. In December 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted a rule that requires landlords who file an eviction case to certify that they are following the moratorium rules. In January, Cook County courts also began requiring confirmation that a case was filed for valid reasons.

Gilbert says some renters who don’t have legal documentation are less likely to engage in the court process itself, out of fear that they may end up on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s radar. If renters don’t show up in court, they can’t defend their case or negotiate.

Even if an eviction case gets dismissed, the filing itself becomes part of a person’s public record and impacts their future chances of renting. In a 2018 report, Housing Action Illinois noted that Cook County landlords often refuse to rent to people with eviction filings against them.

Landlords have also attempted to evict tenants outside the courts by illegally changing house locks, threatening tenants, or shutting off utilities.

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

Chicago law requires landlords to give most tenants, including tenants with month-to-month agreements, 30 days of notice about lease changes like ending a lease and raising rent, or to resolve eviction cases for nonpayment. The Fair Notice ordinance passed in July 2020 requires landlords to give longtime tenants more time to act:

  • 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

Where can I get support?

The moratoriums don’t cancel rent. Once they end, people who owe rent will have to pay their landlords eventually.

Gilbert says that many tenants only call a lawyer once they’ve been served with court documents. But she encourages tenants to communicate with their landlord and seek help early on—not after an emergency.

Here are some free resources for all Chicago renters, regardless of immigration status. Visit the COVID Resource Finder for more information, available in 13 languages.

What happens when they expire?

Data from the Eviction Lab shows that local eviction bans effectively decrease eviction filings by 77 percent. When they expire, however, filings will go back up.

Local housing rights groups’ calls to cancel rents and mortgages have gained support, though no level of government has passed laws to do so. Chicago organizers have demanded more affordable housing, rent control laws, and fairer distribution of community resources for years. Organizers are also pushing City Council to pass the Just Cause for Eviction 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

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