New eviction rules to be considered by city council tomorrow

by Meg White

Editor’s note: This measure passed Chicago City Council on Wednesday, June 17.

There may soon be new rules for those who rent out residential units in the city. Introduced by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Monday, the COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance would require landlords to make “good faith efforts” at resolving issues with tenants before pursuing eviction, and would lengthen the time period required prior to eviction.

Though the measure was proposed as a way to mitigate the negative economic effects of coronavirus-related shutdowns, Lightfoot said such reforms were needed long before the pandemic was declared.

“This important ordinance will not only provide critical support to our tenants struggling as a result of this unprecedented crisis, it will also strengthen protections long needed before COVID-19 to ensure true housing stability and allow every Chicago family a chance to build, grow, and thrive,” Lightfoot said in a press release.

Part of the reasoning for acting now appears to be in anticipation of an “expected wave of pandemic-related evictions” after eviction court is reopened, according to the mayor’s office. The proposed ordinance would require anyone filing evictions due to nonpayment of rent in the 60 days that follow the reopening of the courts would have to wait an additional seven days. This “cooling-off period” would be in addition to the regular five-day notice period that’s already required.

Landlords would have to offer repayment plans and third-party mediation, and would also need to be able to show the court how they have engaged with tenants to provide reasonable alternatives to eviction.

Some of this mediation work will be accomplished through the Center for Conflict Resolution, which conducts more than 200 eviction-related mediations each year. Courts often refer the organization to parties in need of mediation, which the group has been providing free of charge for more than a decade.

“If we have an opportunity to get the parties in the door before an eviction notice has been filed, we think we can prevent far more evictions,” said Cassandra Lively, the Center for Conflict Resolution’s executive director. “We want all tenants and landlords to know that mediation is a free option available to them, and we are grateful to the city for thinking proactively and creatively in partnering with us to help address this crisis.”

The proposal garnered some support from those inside the real estate industry. “Housing providers are in the business of providing safe homes for Chicagoans, not evictions,” Michael Glasser, president of the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance, said in support of the ordinance. “Most housing providers in Chicago are already working with their tenants as they deal with this crisis, and this ordinance requires residents to communicate with their housing provider to negotiate a long-term payment agreement, which is a vital part of coming to an agreement that keeps people in their homes.”

However, the Chicago Association of Realtors sees room for improvement with the ordinance. Kristopher Anderson, CAR’s director of government and external affairs, noted that, while the association agrees with the spirit of the proposal, it’s a bit shortsighted. “It fails to protect small landlords, who are struggling with the very real financial impact of missed rent payments,” he told Chicago Agent via email. “Stripping small landlords of the tools they need to improve their situation and stabilize financially puts them at risk for not being able to pay property taxes and fees, which the city relies on, or their mortgage, threatening foreclosure.”

But beyond that, CAR raised issues of constitutionality with the mayor’s office, noting that the sections governing provisional repayment plans and altering existing eviction actions might violate existing law. “Our suggestions, which fell on deaf ears in the mayor’s administration, the Housing Department and the City Council, included exempting small landlords (owner-occupied or fewer than six units), bundling missed rent in lieu of repayment agreements for each month of rent missed, and adding clarity to the section regarding third-party and charities as a payment source,” Anderson added.

The Committee on Housing and Real Estate passed the measure on Monday, and the legislation will now be considered by the full City Council on Wednesday.

This isn’t the only initiative seeking to change the way landlords and tenants interact making its way through City Council. Last month, Lightfoot introduced Fair Notice Act, which would extend the time period required prior to terminating or not renewing a lease from 30 days to 90 days. This would give Chicago one of the longest notice periods in the country, according to the mayor’s office.

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