For almost a year now, Gov. JB Pritzker’s eviction moratorium has kept renters from losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, but the moratorium may be coming at a cost for smaller landlords with a single investment property.
"They just decided I couldn't do anything, and they were correct," said Robin Polanco, who recalled that five months into the moratorium, the renters living inside her Bartlett home suddenly decided to stop paying.
Polanco claims the renters were employed the entire time and just taking advantage of the moratorium, even seeming to taunt her with text messages, writing, "I'll stay as long as Pritzker lets me."
"I mean you just feel so violated, not just by the renter, but by I hate to say it, the government," Polanco said.
She now is owed $9,000 in back rent and has turned to the courts to try and retrieve that money, but the burden of carrying two mortgages is pushing Polanco and other small landlords off a financial cliff.
"It's a lot of sleepless nights," Polanco said. "A lot, you know, just feeling very overwhelmed."
She isn't alone. NBC 5 Responds has heard from other landlords in similar situations, one even writing: "This misery is taking a big toll on my health, hypertension, and sleepless nights is worrying me. Not sure how long will I survive like this."
But tenants are suffering too. Other states have resumed their evictions for non-payment.
"When I got that call, I was like, 'Oh my God, we’re going to be essentially homeless," said one renter in Dallas, Texas.
In Illinois, renters are protected from non-payment evictions until April 3, 2021, which will keep the Cook County Sheriff’s department at bay for now.
Nationwide, there are estimates that up to $57 million is owed in back rent. But financial help is once again on its way.
The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that passed earlier this month slates $25 billion for rent assistance, $10 billion for mortgage payment relief and $5 billion for assisting with utilities.
The new stimulus money follows $25 billion in aid that was approved last year but has been slow to arrive to Illinois residents.
"It's signed. It's there. It's a question of Illinois deciding how it's going to distribute the money," Karla Chrobak, of CARPLS, a Chicago-based legal aid organization, told NBC 5 Responds back in January.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority website states it is currently developing the Illinois Rental Payment Program (RPP) with an anticipated launch date of April 2021.
Approved applicants will receive up to $15,000 to cover up to one year's worth of back rent and 3 months' worth of prospective rent, which the IHDA says in most cases will be paid directly to the landlord.
But eventually, state's eviction moratoriums will come to an end, and CARPLS reminds that a tenant's obligation to pay back rent remains.
“This is in no way rent forgiveness," said Chrobak.
In Bartlett, Polanco's tenants have since vacated her property and she has begun the legal process to regain the $9,000 lost in rent.
But she warns that many shell-shocked landlords won’t soon forget the lessons from the moratorium and will be shy about putting out a welcome mat to new renters.
“They're terrified of renting," said Polanco. "So if you don't have a credit score that is out of this world and no red flags, you're going to have a real hard time finding a rental at this point."