Editor’s Note: Some terminology in this story has been updated to provide greater clarity.
This week marks a pivotal moment in the pandemic for Illinois landlords and their tenants: A nearly 18-month state ban on evictions has come to an end.
The eviction moratorium was officially lifted on Oct. 4, a date that some feared would bring a flood of landlords and tenants to court.
So far, there are no signs of a flood of eviction filings. Less than two dozen eviction filings were filed in Illinois’ largest counties this week, according to figures obtained by NBC 5 Responds.
Some property owners said heading to court is their only option now given they are facing tens of thousands of dollars in back rent, and hurdles accessing rental assistance funds through the state.
Owners like Derrick Rowe.
Derrick owns an apartment building in Chatham, a neighborhood he has a great deal of pride for.
“It’s a very known, prosperous area,” Derrick said. “I came here to be part of that community.”
When the opportunity arose to provide affordable housing near 75th Street and Prairie Avenue in 2016, Derrick said he jumped at it. Today, Derrick owns a total of 22 housing units.
“When I realized that the building was for sale. I raised my hand. I fought very hard to get it,” Derrick said. “Then, when the pandemic hit, everything just kind of fell out the bottom.”
During the pandemic, Derrick says 80 percent of his tenants kept up with rent, or worked out payment plans. But the rest stopped talking with him, much less paying a penny.
Derrick told NBC 5 Responds the amount of backrent he is owed now is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
When he applied for the state’s rental assistance program, Derrick said some tenants haven’t played ball. One tenant was denied rental assistance altogether. Another tried to shake him down for the tenant signature required to process the application.
“He knew that he had to sign the form for me to get the funds for his rental assistance, and he said he was not going to sign the form unless I paid him first,” Derrick said.
Tenants have also shared with NBC 5 Responds complications with accessing rental assistance funds.
With no other choice left, Derrick said he will be heading to court. And he will likely be in good company.
While the eviction moratorium was just lifted this week, eviction filings in court have been allowed for months.
Figures obtained by NBC 5 Responds show some of Illinois’ largest counties -- Cook, DuPage and Lake County -- saw increases in filings from August to September.
More than a dozen eviction filings were recorded on Oct. 4 - the day the moratorium was lifted.
During the eviction court process, housing providers and tenants will be given one last chance to access rental assistance funds.
Case managers will be assigned to eviction proceedings, with the goal of connecting with landlords and tenants to see if they are eligible for funding to settle the case before an eviction is processed.
The latest records from the U.S. Treasury Department show as of August, the state of Illinois, as a whole, has distributed a little less than half of its first round of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA1), with nearly $436 million left to be paid out.
By November, the Treasury Department has said it could take back a state or local government’s funding if it hasn’t distributed or earmarked at least 65% of it. This decision will be made based upon each agency’s September figures, due to be sent to the Treasury Department on Oct. 15.
Last week, ahead of the eviction moratorium coming to an end, Governor Pritzker gave the state a good grade in this category.
“We've done a tremendous job getting those resources out to renters,” Pritzker said. “Literally hundreds of millions of dollars are available and have been available to renters.”
Back in Chatham, watching the Governor’s remarks did not lift Derrick Rowe’s anxiety. Rowe feels the process for accessing available rental assistance could be improved.
“I've heard of the millions and millions of dollars of available funds,” Rowe said. “I just wish it was much easier to access because I don't- I don't see it.”
Full List of Rental Assistance Resources
NBC 5 Responds gathered the complete list of resources below for both tenants and housing providers facing problems caused by COVID-19.
COVID HELP Illinois
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: COVID Help Illinois is a free, online resource for eviction and housing issues, as well as other legal issues caused by the pandemic. The staff of the website says it is available 24/7 to anyone residing in the state of Illinois.
Eviction Help Illinois
Online and Phone Resource
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: Advocates said this hotline is a state-funded network of 16 non-profit organizations providing free legal aid, mediation services, and connections to other resources, including rental assistance, in response to the eviction crisis. These services are funded via a partnership between the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.
Illinois Rental Assistance Provider Network
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: This website offers resources available across the state of Illinois, including resources still accepting applications for rental assistance. The website is run by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA)
Cook County Legal Aid for Housing & Debt, Early Resolution Program
Online and Phone Resource
PHONE (For Cook County residents): 855-956-5763
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: The Early Resolution Program (ERP) includes free legal aid, mediation services, and connections to other resources, including rental assistance. Mediation is a chance for a landlord and tenant, or debtor and creditor, to resolve issues with the help of a knowledgeable and neutral person.
Court-Based Illinois Rental Protection Program
Financial assistance for tenants with active cases in court outside of Cook County
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: This Court-based rental assistance program is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services. It’s available for tenants outside of Cook County that have active cases in eviction court. Tenants can apply for up to 12 months of past due rent and up to three months of future rent payments.
Neighborhood Building Owners Association
Educational resources and networking for housing providers
WHAT DOES IT OFFER?: The Neighborhood Building Owners Association (NBOA) represents small and medium sized housing providers. It offers informational seminars on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and regular emails with resources and information for housing providers.