While an eviction ‘tsunami’ was widely forecast, emergency rental assistance dollars have played a pivotal role in calming the waters.
Yet some tenants are facing obstacles when trying to apply for assistance to cover back-rent owed, obstacles coming from an unlikely source: their landlord, who they owe back-rent to.
A new law on Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk could help future tenants who find themselves in this same situation, but tenants dealing with the problem now are having to turn to other resources.
Christina Abshire said she’s still stunned to be packing up her family, and leaving her Des Plaines apartment under the current conditions.
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Abshire was served an eviction notice after her lease ran out during the pandemic.
In her building, she’s not alone.
Upstairs neighbor Gloria Sykes is also packing her life and pets, getting ready to relocate. She too was served an eviction notice.
Both Abshire and Sykes said they lost work due to the pandemic, and now owe more than $10,000 in back rent. But the neighbors feel it’s not their fault.
“I'm a single mom. I have three kids at the house. Why am I denied?” Abshire said. “I did everything that I was supposed to do.”
“They’re in our way intentionally,” Sykes said.
Abshire and Sykes told NBC 5 Responds they did everything right when applying for federal rental assistance dollars, but claim their landlord got in the way, not providing the necessary documentation or signatures required for their assistance.
The property manager or landlord for their apartment complex helped with some applications, according to the Cook County Housing Authority, but others were ignored.
It’s a story that housing advocates claim is now playing out across the state.
“CARPLS is absolutely seeing instances where a landlord is failing to cooperate with the rental application process,” Karla Chrobak with the legal aid center CARPLS said. “It’s causing a real problem.”
One reason theorized by advocates as to why some landlords are not accepting assistance lies with the property itself.
“I’m noticing a trend of a lot of sales,” Chrobak said. “A lot of landlords are selling their properties and believing the property is worth a lot more without tenants in it. And some landlords are concerned about the tax liability.”
Rental assistance is getting through to many applicants across the state. Cook County officials recently disclosed they are seeing a “reduction” in eviction enforcement, compared to pre-pandemic years.
“Some landlords are causing a problem in this. I don’t want to make it sound like a universal statement,” Chrobak said. “We are getting a lot of good cooperation from lots of other landlords.”
For the ones causing this kind of problem in the future, House Bill 2775 may be an answer. The law would change the Illinois Human Rights Act, banning landlords from “discrimination against [a tenant’s] source of income.”
HB 2775 now awaits only the governor’s signature. If passed, it would take effect in 2023.
In its original language, HB 2775 would have been an affirmative defense to an eviction if the defendant offered the owner an application for emergency housing assistance or if the owner refused to complete the assistance process. But that language was removed from the law by the time it was sent to the Governor’s desk.
Housing advocates like CARPLS still hope the law will be a step forward when it comes to combating this specific issue.
“Source of income should include rental assistance funds so it wouldn’t be an affirmative defense to an eviction, but it could still be a civil rights violation: a landlord’s failure to cooperate with the process,” Chrobak said.
Christina and Gloria said they know where they are moving next, but they fear the back-rent they owe, and that could have been paid with relief dollars, they said, will come back to haunt them.
“This is a pandemic,” Christina said. “Christmas should not be the only time that you have heart.”
Housing and legal advocates tell NBC 5 Responds that some rental assistance programs, including local programs, do not have a strict requirement for landlord cooperation. Not all programs are the same, though.
If you are seeking rental assistance, and your landlord is not cooperating, advocates recommend checking with your locally-based rental assistance program to see if they require the landlord to file certain documentation or approve your application.
Also, if your landlord explicitly declines to participate in this process, advocates recommend having that confirmation in writing or saved somewhere.
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.