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Lightfoot proposes moratorium on eviction of tenants strapped by pandemic

The mayor’s plan would prohibit landlords from evicting without first waiting five days for the tenant to deliver a “Notice of COVID-19 impact” that outlines job loss, reduced hours or other extenuating financial circumstances.

Chicago apartment buildings.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is proposing some protections for renters who face financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago landlords would be prohibited from evicting tenants whose finances have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic without first trying to negotiate with them, under a mayoral plan tailor-made to stave off a wave of evictions.

With Cook County judges poised to resume eviction and foreclosure hearings on July 6, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has crafted a so-called “eviction protection” ordinance to slow down those proceedings. The City Council’s Housing Committee is poised to approve the plan Monday, followed by a full Council vote Wednesday.

The mayor’s plan would prohibit landlords from evicting without first waiting five days for the tenant to deliver a “Notice of COVID-19 impact” that outlines job loss, reduced hours or other extenuating financial circumstances tied to the pandemic.

“If at any time prior to or during this five-day period, the landlord receives from the tenant a notice of COVID-19 impact, the landlord shall wait an additional seven days [negotiation period] after expiration of the five-day … notice of termination before filing either an eviction action against the tenant or maintaining an action for rent and/or damages,” the ordinance states.

The negotiation period may include: accepting a repayment plan that “amortizes each missed rent payment over not less than 60 days”; submitting the matter to mediation or binding arbitration; applying the tenant’s security deposit toward the unpaid rent or providing the tenant with an “opportunity to move out,” the ordinance states.

If no agreement is reached and the landlord initiates eviction proceedings, they would first have to prove to the court that “reasonable attempts” were made to negotiate with the struggling tenant.

On April 23, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order discouraging evictions during the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the pandemic. Lightfoot’s so-called eviction “moratorium” would remain in place 60 days after expiration of the governor’s executive order.

Chicagoans who have seen their jobs and paychecks disappear during the pandemic have been crying out for rent relief and talking about a rent strike to push their demand.

What they’ve gotten so far from Lightfoot is a non-binding “Housing Solidarity Pledge” signed on April 29 by residential housing groups, landlord associations and lenders to show “flexibility and restraint” in dealing with one another during this unprecedented time of hardship to prevent the pandemic from triggering another wave of foreclosures.

Participating landlords have agreed to offer tenants grace periods with terms that “avoid repayment at the end of the deferral period.” They also promised to waive late fees for missed payments and allow renters who miss payments to amortize those payments over time.

The City Council passed the mayor’s plan to triple — from 30 to 90 days — the advance warning landlords must give their tenants before evicting them or refusing to renew their leases. In addition, tenants would get $2,500 if forced out by demolition or remodeling.

And the Lightfoot administration has earmarked a healthy chunk of the $1.1 billion in federal stimulus money it has received so far for housing programs. That includes: $39.6 million for homeless services; $16.5 million for housing assistance; and $1.5 million for housing for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

There also was a rental assistance program, offering 2,000 grants of $1,000 apiece. But it was not nearly enough to meet demand — there were 83,000 applications.

The question now is whether the so-called “moratorium” on Chicago evictions will be enough to appease housing advocates who have clamoring for more protection from City Hall.