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Landlord-Tenant Law in the Age of Covid-19

Nationwide, millions of tenants have had difficulty paying their rent as they have either lost jobs or had their income cut dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis. How this ultimately materializes once the crisis recedes remains to be seen.

While we may be facing a wave of mass evictions and foreclosures in the future, right now residents are protected from losing their homes through moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. Nonetheless, it is important to know the current court rules in Illinois in the areas of evictions and foreclosures.

Landlords and Tenants are Feeling the Effects of Coronavirus

The current crisis has hit both tenants and landlords hard. In order to understand things from a landlord's point of view, they have often borrowed money to purchase the buildings that they rent out to tenants. Since they do not own these buildings free and clear, they have an obligation to make their own monthly payments to service their debt.

However, landlords must also do their own thinking as to whether it makes sense to evict a resident during this time. It is not likely that they would be able to rent out the residence to anyone else since people are stuck at home.

In addition, people are not looking to move into new homes as they are also hurting economically. Landlords may find it to be a better idea to work with their tenants so they at least have a chance of recovering some of the rent payments that are due to them as opposed to moving towards an eviction. However, the judicial process and executive orders are the only real protection that tenants have right now.

Governor Pritzker has Frozen Illinois Tenant Evictions for the Time Being

Currently, landlords do not even have the option to evict a resident in Illinois right now. Governor J.B. Pritzker has issued numerous executive orders that prohibit eviction actions right now unless the tenant poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other residents. Governor Pritzker's first executive order forbade law enforcement from enforcing an eviction order.

On April 23, Governor Pritzker took the additional step of issuing an executive order that prohibits landlords from commencing an eviction action at all right now. This most recent executive order does not have an expiration date so it is an indefinite prohibition. The order states that evictions run counter to the public policy of requiring people to remain in their homes.

Illinois Courts Will not Give Housing Hearings Except for Emergencies

Previously, some judicial circuits in Illinois had suspended eviction actions on their own accord. Every eviction must pass through a court, and the judicial system in Illinois is working remotely and is only granting hearings in emergency matters.

In addition, to the Illinois executive action, the federal government has also provided some protection for residents of federally subsidized housing. The CARES Act issued a temporary moratorium on evictions in certain properties for 120 days after enactment. To find out if your home is covered by the CARES Act, click on this searchable database.

Tenants Must Still Pay Rent During COVID-19

Note that Governor Pritzker's executive order explicitly states that tenants must continue to pay their rent during this crisis. They may still end up falling behind on their payments and could be subject to action when the crisis is over.

This may present a problem for people who have lost out on income that is not made up for by the unemployment help given to Illinois residents.

There has been talk of the legislature taking action to come to the aid of renters while helping keep landlords afloat. There is an Illinois rent control law that prevents municipalities from giving relief to renters.

In Chicago, some want to propose a local ordinance giving renters up to 12 months to catch up with overdue rent payments before landlords can evict them. However, there is a state law in place.

Even after the crisis is over, it may be difficult for landlords to evict a tenant. Landlords cannot simply throw someone's possessions out in the street and evict the resident. Instead, the court needs to be involved in the proceedings.

What happens after the end of the stay-at-home orders remains to be seen. There is the possibility that hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois can be forced from their homes because they have fallen behind on their rent.

Foreclosures During COVID-19

There are also federal protections and procedural obstacles that can keep people from having their homes foreclosed during the COVID-19 crisis. As of April 2020, there are over 3 million Americans who have fallen behind on their mortgage.

The CARES Act has also tried to help those people who cannot make mortgage payments right now. These protections apply to the 70% of U.S. mortgages that are backed or owed by federal agencies such as the Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. Right now, the protections apply until May 17, but they may be extended as the crisis persists.

Here are some of the protections that the CARES Act has given to borrowers:

  • Servicers of federally-backed mortgages must offer borrowers a forbearance plan.
  • The forbearance must last up to 180 days.
  • The borrower can request to extend the forbearance for up to 180 days.
  • The servicer may not initiate any judicial or nonjudicial foreclosure process, move for a foreclosure judgment, order a sale, or execute a foreclosure-related eviction or foreclosure sale.

These protections also apply to VA, Department of Agriculture, and HUD loans.

Private banks are also extending some protections of their own for mortgage borrowers. However, there are no legal requirements for these, and it is something that the banks are doing on their own.

Illinois Courts Restrictions on Foreclosures

In addition, to the federal moratorium on foreclosures, banks may also have a hard time getting to court for a foreclosure hearing. Before they can take someone's home away from them, they need to give someone the right to be heard in court.

Circuits throughout Illinois have made their own rules about foreclosure proceedings. Cook County has issued its own moratorium on the execution of final judgments in foreclosure proceedings. Thus, even if the lender can initiate proceedings right now, they cannot finish taking someone's home while the order is in place.

Each circuit may have its own rules as to what lenders can do right now if they are not covered by the CARES Act. Here is the listing of each circuit's own procedures during the COVID-19 crisis.

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