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Fearing ‘tsunami of evictions,’ county touts free programs to help landlords, tenants

The Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt program offers mediation so landlords and tenants can avoid eviction proceedings now that federal and state eviction moratoriums have expired.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle looks on as Carina Segalini, court administrator and project manager for Cook County Courts, discusses the expiration of federal and state eviction moratoriums during a news conference at the County Building in the Loop, Monday morning, Aug. 2, 2021.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (right) joined Carina Segalini, court administrator and project manager for Cook County Courts, on Monday to discuss the expiration of federal and state eviction moratoriums and available assistance for both tenants and landlords.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Local landlords are being urged to use Cook County’s free legal assistance and mediation instead of going to court when tenants fall behind in their rent.

County officials touted the Legal Aid for Housing and Debt program Monday after federal and state eviction moratoriums expired over the weekend, putting thousands of unemployed and low-income tenants at risk of losing their homes.

Without those moratoriums, eviction cases now can be filed without regard to the financial impact COVID-19 has had on tenants’ income. Eviction judgments can be enforced starting Sept. 1.

The legal aid program, which began in November 2020, “can provide free — absolutely free — legal assistance and mediation to landlords who would like to work out a solution with their tenant, all without going to court,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

A case manager “connects both landlords and tenants to lawyers who can advise them in an individual private setting and negotiate an outcome,” said Carina Segalini, Cook County court administrator and project manager.

Preckwinkle also highlighted available rental assistance as officials brace for “the impending tsunami of evictions.”

“For our most vulnerable residents, especially as we’re on the cusp of another COVID-19 surge with the Delta variant, eviction would have devastating impacts on families that have already borne the brunt of this crisis,” Preckwinkle said.

The program also offers free counseling, case management and connections to resources for those dealing with housing and debt issues. Both landlords and tenants may apply for up to $25,000 per case for unpaid rent.

The budget for the legal aid program is $3 million a year and will primarily be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief funds, said Bob Glaves, Chicago Bar Foundation executive director. That funding gradually expires over the next few years, but the hope is to develop permanent funding sources, Glaves said.

“Thus far we have had capacity to serve everyone who has requested assistance, and while there is no cap on services per se, that is something that we all are going to be monitoring and will reevaluate with the County should more resources be necessary to meet the need,” Glaves said.

More information about the Cook County legal aid program, including details on applying, is available online.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Community Resource Center, launched in September, also offers online help in navigating housing issues and locating rental assistance.