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The COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium: Facts and Myths That Could Save Your Community

Since President Trump’s announcement on freezing eviction and foreclosures, there has been a lot of mixed conversations that are doing more harm than good. Working in housing and homelessness, I have seen and heard conflicting “facts” on what this actually means for our communities.

I have the pleasure of being friends with a lawyer and University of Illinois professor who has been studying housing laws during the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon a conversation with her, she brought up a very important question… Is the COVID-19 eviction moratorium really enforceable, especially for private landlords?

What I do know (or thought I knew) was that landlords could file for evictions at this time, but the freeze prevented any action to be taken since courts are not hearing these eviction cases. What I really don’t know… is this really “enforceable?” Does this apply to private landlords? Will tenants actually speak up and involve the appropriate parties to ensure they still have a roof over their head during this time?

Before I jump in, I would like to disclose that I am in no way, shape, or form a lawyer or engage in the practice of law. This post is simply my interpretation of Illinois Executive Order 2020-10, outlining my questions and recommendations to ensure we are protecting our communities. (I recommend you check your state’s executive orders, as they may differ from Illinois)

Also, this post contains stories of some of the situation individuals in my community are facing (and I’m sure it is happening in yours too!)

MYTH: The eviction moratorium means that individuals who get behind on rent will not be evicted.

FACT: The eviction moratorium means law enforcement cannot force eviction if a landlord files for eviction. Landlords can still file for eviction at this time, but since court systems are closed, evictions are not moving forward.

What this means for the individuals you serve:

If someone cannot pay rent because they have been laid off due to COVID-19 (or for other reasons during this time), landlords can absolutely present them with a 5 or 10-day notice and start the eviction filing process. The information going around stating “you can’t evicted because there is an eviction freeze” is misleading. Is there a “freeze?” Yes. Does this mean individuals are exempt from paying rent for April and May (maybe beyond)? Absolutely not.

This moratorium, or freeze, is a response to the court systems being shut down to these types of cases. I know many of you reading this probably already knew most, if not all, of this information. But what I am finding is that not enough is being done to educate the people who need it most… the individuals and families that we serve and our communities as a whole.

Now to the question of is this executive order really “enforceable?” Here are my concerns around this…

Lets say the Smith family has entered into a lease with a private landlord that is renting out their converted garage. Family misses April’s rent due to being laid off from work and ten days later receives a 5-day notice to vacate the property. There is in fact a lease in place, so technically the landlord can evict this family. The family grows concerned, finds friends to stay with, and vacates the property.

Is this allowed? The 5-day notice appears to legal (the act doesn’t state that landlords cannot hand this out). In this case, the family chose to leave due to fear of a formal eviction.

What if this same family was living in this landlord’s converted garage, assuming they were paying monthly rent consistently previous to the layoff, but no formal lease was in place? I do not see anywhere in the executive order protecting those individuals, unfortunately. Without a lease, nothing is enforceable.

These situations are common in our communities, and I am seeing seemingly “illegal” evictions happening weekly.

What can we do to help our communities?

Look up your state’s executive order, study it, and get to a thorough understanding of tenant’s rights. Research local programs put in place to help with these types of housing issues during the pandemic. And if you are currently working with a family or individual in this situation, educate and advocate for them NOW!

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