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House bill to allow rent control advances amid debate on whether it helps or hurts tenants and landlords

The measure would give Illinois’ municipalities the ability to enact rent control, something advocates have said would help stabilize communities and potentially protect against gentrification.

A Northwest Side apartment building in 2017.
A Northwest Side apartment building in 2017.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Local officials would be able to limit how much landlords can hike tenants’ rent under a bill that advanced out of an Illinois House committee Wednesday, drawing praise from supporters, who view it as a way to “protect Illinois residents” and housing options.

But others criticized the move to overturn the ban on rent control in Illinois, urging lawmakers to “focus on how the pandemic has forever changed housing before they enact new policies.”

The bill would repeal the Rent Control Preemption Act, which bars local governments from enacting, maintaining or enforcing “an ordinance or resolution that would have the effect of controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private residential or commercial property.”

A repeal of that act would allow cities, towns and villages in Illinois to limit the amount a landlord can raise rent once a lease is up, something advocates for rent control have said would help protect affordable housing and curb gentrification.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, called the current law a “blanket, wide-ranging preemption” that he argues “simply goes too far.”

“This bill does not impose New York rent control or Berlin rent control or San Francisco rent control on any community in Illinois,” Guzzardi said during a meeting of the Illinois House’s Housing Committee. “The question with this bill before you today is not, ‘Is rent control good policy?’ The question facing this committee is, ‘Is the gag rule good policy? Is stifling debate on rent regulation of any kind across all of Illinois a good public policy?’”

State Rep. Will Guzzardi talks to reporters in 2017.
State Rep. Will Guzzardi talks to reporters in 2017.
Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

But state Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said a repeal of the preemption act would cause uncertainty and “massive market fluctuations that disproportionately impact the poor and the working poor.”

“At a minimum, while we philosophically probably disagree on rent control and its benefits, why wouldn’t you put in the state statutes some parameters that at least protect everyone?” Chesney asked during the hearing. “Because, the way this is written, you could have a thousand different sets of rules throughout the entire state without knowing the high and the low of what rent control would look like. And so, because it’s so vague, you’re giving no investor any certainty throughout the entire state because they could have thousands of different rules.”

The committee voted largely along party lines, 13 to 9, to advance the bill out of the committee. State Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, was the sole Democrat to vote no.

The Lift the Ban Coalition, which has advocated for overturning the 1997 act prohibiting rent control, applauded the committee vote and said in a statement the upcoming House floor vote “will be a referendum on whether Illinois’ Democrats choose to support working-class renters of color or the wealthy corporate real estate lobby.”

Apartment buildings in the South Shore neighborhood in 2018.
Apartment buildings in the South Shore neighborhood in 2018.
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times file

“In these trying times, our state legislators should give local municipalities every tool that’s possible to stabilize and protect Illinois residents,” Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center that is part of the coalition, said in a statement. “Protecting renters should take precedence over protecting the real estate lobby and their price gouging of renters.”

While campaigning for office, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he’d support legislation to lift the statewide ban on instituting rent control.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not Pritzker supports the bill.

The Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance, which is comprised of building owner associations based in Chicago, said in a statement after the vote that legislators “should be focused on the real housing crisis right in front of us.”

“Property owners can no longer maintain their buildings as so many of their tenants are unable or unwilling to pay rent,” the group said. “Policy makers at the state and local level should focus on how the pandemic has forever changed housing before they enact new policies.”