Eviction Moratoriums and COVID-19
There is virtually no aspect of ordinary life that COVID-19 has not affected in some way. In order to provide much needed relief, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020. Both were signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.
The FFCRA and the CARES Act included 120-day federal eviction moratorium for renters who participate in federal housing assistance programs to help protect individuals who were unable to pay rent due to COVID-19. Specifically, both Acts precluded landlords from filing new evictions against tenants for non-payment of rent or assessing additional fees because of the non-payment. The Acts also included a foreclosure moratorium for homeowners that live in a property with a federally-backed mortgage. The tenant protections, however, expired July 24.
In March 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-10, which contained a disaster proclamation and eviction moratorium. The original moratorium was set to expire in September 2020, but was subsequently extended until October 17, 2020. This provided much needed protection for the estimated 250,000 households in Cook County at-risk of foreclosures.
Under ordinary circumstances, a landlord would issue a 5-day notice for the tenant’s failure to pay rent pursuant to the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance and Illinois Forcible Entry and Detainer Act. If the non-payment of rent was not cured, the landlord could then file for eviction. Upon a successful filing of eviction, the landlord would obtain an Order of Possession. The Order of Possession gives the tenant sufficient time to move out, but if the tenant does not voluntarily vacate the premises, either immediately or before the expiration of the stay, the Order of Possession is lodged with the Sheriff’s office to ensure that the tenant and possessions are physically removed from the premises.
At the local level, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot signed the COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance (EPO) in June 2020. The EPO affords tenants an additional seven days to respond to a landlord’s 5-day notice and intent to file for eviction, giving tenants a total of 12 days. The tenant must write the landlord to state that they have had a “COVID-19 Impact.” A COVID-19 Impact can be claimed when a tenant or another household member:
- Is laid-off from work
- Has their hours at work reduced
- Has to isolate or quarantine because of COVID-19 diagnosis or possible exposure
- Has to care for someone else affected by COVID-19
During this extended timeframe, a landlord is required to contact the tenant and attempt to negotiate an agreement that avoids an eviction. Such a plan could include “repayment plan, mediation or arbitration, letting the tenant use their security deposit to cover the missed rent, an agreement for the tenant to move out without the landlord getting an eviction judgment against them, or other arrangements agreed to by the landlord and tenant.” The ordinance also requires that a repayment plan must give a tenant at least two months to re-pay each month of missed rent, but the landlord and tenant can agree to more time if they choose.
The EPO does not require the parties reach an agreement, but only that they use good faith efforts in negotiating. The eviction proceeding will be dismissed if the landlord files an eviction proceeding, but did not use good faith in such negotiations.
While there are many COVID-19 vaccines under development, it is uncertain how soon an effective vaccine will be available. A vaccine is further complicated by the requirement that it be distributed to Chicago’s 3 million residents and Cook County’s 5 million residents. Far more difficult questions remain about distributing a vaccine at the state, national, and global levels as well. Even with a vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that “normal” life, whatever that means in 2021 and beyond, will likely not resume until 2022. Therefore, it is likely that such eviction moratoriums will be extended several times and the potential that it lasts indefinitely.