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EVICTIONS

Watch now: The eviction moratorium ends in one week. What does that mean for McLean County?

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Rodrigo Carrillo, director of strategic initiatives and planning for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, says the state will finish reviewing rental assistance applications ahead of the eviction moratorium's expiration on Oct. 3.

"While there's a national negative narrative of states aren't getting their money out, we're very proud that Illinois is doing the opposite," Carrillo said. "We are getting the funds to those in need."

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BLOOMINGTON — It's for real this time. 

That's the sense among local attorneys, judges, housing officials and advocates on the pending expiration — set for Oct. 3 — of the state's moratorium on residential evictions. 

Their relative confidence comes more than 18 months after the pause was first put in place and extended multiple times by Gov. J.B. Pritzker amid the height of the coronavirus pandemic. 

It also comes after a few hedges by the Illinois Supreme Court, which allowed filings to resume Aug. 1 but prevented lower courts from enforcing an eviction until after the moratorium's expiration.

The court on Tuesday extended that stay to Oct. 3, coinciding with an executive order Pritzker issued Sept. 17 that allows the legal processes behind evictions to resume. 

"The sense of the order's language is that this will be the last one, but that could change again — we don't know for sure," said Erin Duncan, a staff attorney with Prairie State Legal Services' Bloomington office. 

"With the sense that this is going to be the final extension, that’s helpful in some ways to really be able to be ready for the wave of cases that we do know is coming," said Duncan, who represents local tenants who can't afford services.

Erin Duncan

Duncan

The depth of that wave, however, is still unclear. 

When the stay on filings was lifted in August, Duncan said there was an uptick in new cases as some landlords queued up filings in anticipation of the moratorium being lifted. 

Last week around 16 eviction cases were on the docket, and this week another half-dozen were added. Among all those, PSLS is representing tenants in 11 cases. 

Duncan said those figures could double or triple after the expiration, but "we're not going to see hundreds" of cases come up for first appearances. 

Even still, the Eleventh Circuit Court is making moves to ready for the moratorium's expiration. 

Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer has been the lone McLean County judge tasked with hearing eviction cases, but due to the anticipated influx of filings, two others – Judge Rebecca Foley and Judge Paul Lawrence – have set aside time for eviction trials.

Fellheimer cannot guess how many eviction cases he and other judges will hear after Oct. 3, but “common sense would tell me there’s going to be a flood of evictions filed,” he said.

A better understanding of the caseload will come by about Oct. 15, he added. 

'Double-edged sword' for public housing tenants 

Jeremy Hayes, executive director of the Bloomington Housing Authority, said "nobody knows exactly what to expect" as the moratorium finally lifts. 

But Hayes' best guess is that the BHA will see an increase in the volume of applications for affordable housing, which have already seen a steady increase over the last several months.

"There's a good chance our application volume will grow after landlords will be able to go all the way through the eviction process," Hayes said, explaining how that boost will translate to longer waiting lists. 

Jeremy Hayes

Hayes

And as a landlord itself, the lifting of the moratorium means the BHA can enter eviction filings against some of its tenants.

The agency oversees about 570 units of public low-income housing and is currently reporting 558 occupied units. Of those, there are 15 to 20 delinquent cases, Hayes said. 

A few stem from before the pandemic, while others have come to light over time, Hayes said. Some are tenants who lost their source of income but didn't request a rate adjustment or financial assistance. Others simply haven't paid rent. 

"If we are able to evict some of the delinquent tenants that we have, it actually makes space available for people on the waiting lists," Hayes said. "That's a very strange and unfortunate double-edged sword."

Hayes said another outcome of the expiration will be a sense of urgency for delinquent tenants. 

"My hope is that for those tenants who are behind on rent and for whatever reason haven’t yet sought out assistance, the eviction notices will prompt them to seek out those resources," Hayes said. "Hopefully they will get help they need and we can divert the eviction path."

Time for negotiations 

The path from eviction notice to move-out date, however, takes some time.

Tenants who receive a summons have 14 days before a first court appearance. After that, it might be weeks before they're due in court again for a status hearing or a final judgement hearing. 

"No one is ever just showing up in court and, boom, here’s your eviction order. That just doesn’t happen. There’s multiple safeguards before we get to that point,” Fellheimer said.

Mark Fellheimer

Fellheimer 

But as filings are likely to surge, those safeguards could turn into causes for bottlenecks.

“We’re kind of prepared to deal with whatever we end up having, but we’re not going to be able to work through it in 30 days,” Fellheimer said.

In many of the cases filed this summer, there's been enough time for  landlords and tenants to reach a resolution without an eviction, Duncan and Fellheimer said. 

“They reach an agreement and a case is closed and the person is not required to move,” Fellheimer said. “The ones where evictions have been entered are either the person flat out doesn’t show up, they didn’t follow through with any rental assistance, or they were a threat to another person or the property.”

Watch now: More than 120,000 Illinoisans in danger of eviction as moratorium sunsets

Duncan said Prairie State has been working with both small-scale landlords and large rental agencies to "find out where they are coming from" and "to see if we can find some common ground, especially in terms of utilizing available rental assistance to keep tenants in their homes."

Most property owners have said they plan to pursue evicting tenants who have not already sought assistance from state or local programs, Duncan said.

A tenant may not have applied for financial help because they're already focused on solving other challenges like illness, child care, food insecurity, trauma or a disability. 

In some cases, tenants have applied for aid but it hasn't yet reached them or their landlords. 

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"Because so much money is available through these programs, we're hoping we will be able to see some settlements of cases before a judgement of eviction is going to be enforced," Duncan said. 

Fellheimer said judges are in a “tough spot” because they have had to apply the law differently due to the moratorium and its various amendments throughout the pandemic, and judges again will be required to apply the law differently when it is lifted.

Additionally, it’s a tough spot for judges, he said, because of a disparity in competing interests.

“Landlords want their trials ASAP after waiting a year and a half with the moratorium, and we’ve got tenants that don’t necessarily have anywhere to go,” Fellheimer said.

But there will be situations where a case will move to trial — usually for about a week or three weeks later — and where a judge rules in favor of the landlord. 

In those cases, Duncan said PSLS will work to help connect tenants with local social services, like the BHA or Mid Central Community Action, to educate them on resources available after their eviction. 

"Everybody is trying to work together to make sure we don’t have a flood of homeless people in our community," Duncan said. 

Advocating for an extension 

While Fellheimer, Duncan and Hayes all agreed that the moratorium likely won't be renewed before Oct. 3, there are some tenants pushing for its extension.

The Bloomington-Normal Tenants Union, which has about 115 members, continues to pressure local and state government officials to extend the moratorium, said member Matt Tozcko.

"Optimally that’s what we'd like to see," he said. 

Matt Tozcko

Matt Tozcko, right, address the Bloomington City Council Monday, July 26, 2021.

In the meantime, the union is working to understand why a local eviction might take place and why assistance funds haven't reached tenants or landlords, Tozcko said.  

"We've heard anecdotal evidence of landlords not helping their tenants access that assistance because they want to evict them to cash in on the great inflation within the local housing market," Tozcko said.

As of now, none of the union's members are facing evictions, but if anyone does receive a summons, Toczko encourages them to go through with the process because that's how some of the aid is triggered.

"We're trying to coach people to go through the processes — don't just leave because there's a note on their door," Tozcko said. "If anything, it at least buys some more time."

The union also offers an eviction hotline at linktr.ee/blonotenants.

And when the moratorium does lift, Tozcko said the union can use the move to fully understand the process. 

"An extension would kind of stifle that understanding effort," Tozcko said. "But we wouldn't mind that. We’d rather keep people housed than have something to study."


Contact Timothy Eggert at (309) 820-3276. Follow him on Twitter: @TimothyMEggert

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