Buried in the jampacked political news cycle last week was another extension of assistance for Illinois renters, but the extra month of rent relief provides fewer protections than previous iterations of the program.
Previously-passed eviction moratoriums from March through October applied to all tenants, regardless of financial circumstances. Now, renters will have to fill out a declaration form, showing they continue to face severe financial shortfalls due to the economic displacements caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“So evictions for nonpayment of rent are stayed as long as a tenant fills out a declaration form, declaring that the tenant is unable to pay rent due to COVID” says Karla Chrobak from CARPLS, formerly known as Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services.
The link to CARPLS’ COVID Help Illinois website for the declaration forms and other FAQs can be found here.
The state government’s executive order, which is extended until Feb. 6, 2021, requires renters to show their expected income in 2020 was less than $99,000, or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return.
The form must also show that renters are unable to make a full rent or housing payment due to a COVID-19 related hardship, and that the tenant used best efforts to make partial payments toward rent, and would become homeless if evicted.
“This is a document that you're filling out in good faith. And just that understanding that ‘hey this is a legal document,’ this is something to which you are swearing has a certain impact on tenants,” warns Chrobak.
NBC 5 Responds
This compromise is intended to recognize the financial impact on landlords, who often depend on rent collections to pay their own obligations to creditors.
Many of them have reached out to NBC 5 Responds to share their own financial hardship stories. One such landlord, Gabriel in Franklin Park, has filed the eviction paperwork, but has not been able to remove his renters because of the executive order.
“I know that everyone is working, and they’re only taking advantage of the state moratorium,” he wrote.
Another landlord in West Dundee claims his tenant is working not one, but two jobs, and hasn’t made a rent payment since Apr. 2020. He now fears losing his own house.
“Gov. Pritzker keeps extending the order, and every time we get a court date, (our tenant) is over there laughing at us while he lives off of our money. This is so wrong on every level,” he writes.
But Chrobak says landlords can take action if they feel their tenants are taking advantage of the eviction moratorium.
“What landlords need to understand as well, is there's nothing for example right now prohibiting a landlord from filing a contract case to collect that rent,” she said. “Without filing an eviction case there's absolutely nothing preventing that in the governor's order.”
Finally, it’s important to note that no matter what, the tenants’ obligation to pay-back rent remains.
“This is in no way rent forgiveness,” Karla said.
Illinois will be offering rental assistance funds under the second federal stimulus package signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. Details on who will be eligible to receive the rental funds, and how to apply once they are available, are still forthcoming.
“It's signed. It's there, it's a question of Illinois deciding how it's going to distribute the money," Chrobak said.