Landlords claim tenants are taking advantage of COVID-19 eviction moratorium order; renters rights advocates fight back

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's currently a moratorium on evictions in the state of Illinois because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the I-Team has heard from many landlords who say their tenants are taking advantage of that order to not pay rent, and now some of them are suing the governor.

Many landlords say they're at their wits' end. Some claim their tenants are refusing to pay rent not because they don't have the money, but because they know they can't get evicted.

"I can't do anything about it," said landlord Calvin Bright.

Bright said his tenant hasn't paid rent in five months.

"$3,800 is a lot of money to me," he said. "I have to borrow money from people. I had to borrow money to pay my taxes."

The Chicago landlord said his tenant told him she couldn't pay because she lost her job, but he recently learned the tenant got a new job. He said he still hasn't received any rent money.

Bright said when he asked about his rent money, he received an ultimatum.

"I would have to evict her. That's exactly what she told me," he said.

But Bright said he can't evict his tenant. Earlier in October, Governor JB Pritzker extended the state's eviction moratorium for another month, meaning landlords like Bright can't go to the courts to have a tenant removed for non-payment.

"Right now, she moved her cousin up in there as well," Bright said. "It's sad."

Bright said his tenant is taking advantage of the pandemic and the state order. It's hurting his bottom line.

"Financially, I'm behind on my bills," he said.

Paul Area, director of legislative affairs for the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association, said Bright is among hundreds of mom-and-pop landlords in Illinois who are fighting the same battle with their tenants.

"If a person just has one four-family building, and two tenants aren't paying, that's half the money that it takes to operate your building being lost. Those types of losses are going to be very difficult for people to recover over the long term," he said.

In an effort to challenge the state's eviction moratorium, members of the IRPOA have filed a lawsuit against Pritzker, claiming he's getting in the way of the courts and their contractual agreements.

"What would have been better is if the governor had ordered that after a judge has evaluated the facts, those people who are experiencing a hardship because of the pandemic cannot be put out but if the situation has nothing to do with COVID, there is no reason to not move forward," Arena said.

But Javier Ruiz, an eviction prevention counselor at the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, said landlords need to be more understanding and realize that everyone is hurting in the pandemic. He said what's lacking from many landlords right now is empathy.

"We're seeing stories of pain. We're seeing stories of people trying to balance out other debts and obligations they have on top of pressure from landlords," he said. "We're thankful for the few landlords out there who are trying to work with the tenants but for the most part we're seeing a lot of pressure for the landlords on the tenants to cough up money that they just don't have."

As for Bright, he feels all he can do at this point is wait. He said he's speaking up for other landlords who are losing out on rent.

"The moratorium needs to be lifted right now. It's just sad, it's really sad," he said.

In response to the lawsuit, the governor's office said for many people, getting through the pandemic means keeping a roof over their head, which is why the governor and his administration are doing all they can to ensure the well-being of Illinois residents.

RESOURCES FOR RENTERS



Chicago's Emergency Relief for Affordable Multifamily Properties (ERAMP) program is still active. The city says it's given out more than $35 million to renters and landlords so far. Visit their website for more information on how to get financial help as a landlord or tenant.

The city also wants all Chicago renters to know their rights and report illegal lockouts.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization offers these tips to tenants who are struggling to pay rent:

-Contact your landlord and explain your financial situation
-Try to negotiate with your landlord in good faith
-Document your correspondence with your landlord
-Offer to pay what you can

To contact MTO's Tenants Rights Hotline, click here

FULL STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR PRITZKER'S OFFICE



"For so many people, getting through this crisis begins with keeping a roof over their head which is why the governor and his administration are doing all they can to ensure the well-being of Illinois residents. Governor Pritzker launched one of the nation's largest rental and mortgage assistance programs and recently announced another 30 day extension of the state's eviction moratorium. The administration will continue to build on robust measures to address the unprecedented challenges facing Illinois communities as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic."
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