Courts unsure of caseload, landlords pick up the pieces & rental assistance remains as the eviction moratorium expires

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA)– After a year and a half of paused evictions, the official end of the state’s moratorium is days away. Governor J.B. Pritzker’s latest extension will be rescinded Sunday.

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For many landlords owed countless dollars in back-rent, it’s a day they’ve been waiting for, and for others, it’s too little, too late.

Todd Foster is a retired firefighter in Charleston, Illinois, and now, after two decades, he’s about to hang up his landlord hat.

“Ten months of making mortgage, and real estate and insurance payments, and paying utilities on them without any income, and not being able to evict is pretty burdensome,” he shared.

“It’s pretty much not worth it to go through that anymore.”

Todd Foster, Charleston landlord

Foster said the profitability of renting went downhill for him before the pandemic.

“We were already on the decline of student enrollment, we were already on the decline of the neighborhood and the maintenance of the property because landlords weren’t just making enough money to put money back into them, to maintain the properties at that time,” he explained. “…So that took a big hit to start with.”

He put all four of his rental units up for sale prior to the pandemic. Three sold and the renters were able to stay, according to Foster.

He was in the process of a major renovation of the final unit. Foster said the moratorium threw a wrench in getting rid of it.

“The home inspection failed and the tenants would not let me in to find out why,” he began.

Foster was told eviction was not an option, so he waited 10 months for the lease to expire. He told us he wasn’t paid any rent during that time.

“You have to pay your bills, just like I have to pay my bills, but the tenants don’t during this situation whether they are affected by COVID or not,” he added.

In essence, that’s true. Gov. Pritzker’s eviction moratorium has evolved since it was initially ordered on April 23, 2020. For the majority of that time, evictions could be filed against people who owed rent but were not directly impacted by COVID-19. However, in the six months between Nov. 2020 and June 25, 2021, law enforcement couldn’t enforce anything outside of an emergency.

“It’s unfortunate, it’s one of those things in society, ‘It’s not my problem’,” Foster said in reference to the renters who owed him money. “If they have a free pass, why should they help me get paid?”

The tenants eventually left when Foster would not renew the lease.

“What I found after they moved was the worst roach infestation I’ve seen in my life,” he shared. “…And it’s just been a total gut job.”

Foster said he’s lost $5,800 in owed rent. Add in the repairs to his remaining unit and his loss is nearly $16,000.

Landlords have been able to apply for rental assistance themselves and Foster said he applied. But, it’s a joint application.

“I encouraged them and provided the paperwork, and gave them the information and the location, and the days, times and hours where they could get that rental assistance,” he added. “…And the tenants refused to comply.”

Foster said he understands the intent of the moratorium is to help those in need, but he’s not alone among landlords who have said that’s not what happened in practice.

Come Sunday, there will be no more restrictions keeping renters affected by COVID-19 out of court, and in their housing.

Judge Brett Olmstead rules on all of the eviction cases in Champaign County. He described his caseload for first appearances Monday morning (Oct. 4) as large. 57 eviction cases are on his docket.

“I think this volume is partly due to the lack of any eviction call this Monday (Sept. 27) or last (Sept. 20), because I needed these weeks for [a] jury trial…” Judge Olmstead added. “Still, it is a large call. The eviction calls for the two weeks after Oct. 4 are small as of now, but I expect that to change, by how much, I can’t predict.”

Landlords were able to start filing evictions again, Aug. 1.

“It’s fluctuated widely from day-to-day. The heaviest days of eviction filings, residential eviction filings, we’ve had has been about eight or nine. We still have days when none are filed,” Olmstead shared of Champaign County.

These were numbers compared to pre-pandemic, not the flood Olmstead feared was possible. However, when the final shield against evictions drops Sunday and he expects that to change dramatically.

“People need to know that is not that Governor Pritzker will issue another order and then maybe it gets extended, no,” Olmstead added.

Help with rental assistance has been available right at the courthouse.

“You need to do it now,” Olmstead emphasized. “Once the paperwork is filed, that time runs out fast.”

Cunningham Township Housing Case Manager Kyle Patterson often sits in on these court proceedings.

“Our focus is on getting people rehoused quickly,” he explained.

Patterson said phone calls are increasing at his office from people threatened with eviction, as time runs out for rental assistance to mend a landlord-tenant relationship.

He said a shortfall of many of the assistance programs available is that they tend to cover back-rent, something that likely wouldn’t be helpful by the time eviction papers are filed in court.

We asked Patterson if it would have been a better idea to put the funding toward helping renters move.

“I mean I think it would definitely make sense,” he responded.

The majority of federal assistance dollars in Illinois are managed by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Applications for that money have been closed for a couple of months. Another round of funding is still in the planning phase, according to IHDA.

Patterson said there was some short-sighted thinking in the moratorium and rental relief.

“The purpose of it is to avoid families becoming homeless because they’re more likely to spread the virus, but in order to qualify, you have to be directly financially impacted by the pandemic, which to me, if it’s to stop the spread, it doesn’t matter why the person is behind,” he explained.

“Still, largely the evictions we’re seeing filed right now are cases where the tenant-landlord relationship just isn’t working anymore,” Judge Olmstead said. “The landlord isn’t interested in being paid, they just want the tenant to move out.”

In July, we first reported about a new mediation program in the county, run by non-profit Dispute Resolution Institute, Inc. Olmstead said, in many cases, it’s too late for that. Although, he said they have been able to help facilitate the necessary time for the tenant to move out.

Come Sunday, “You know I fear it could be a catastrophic situation, but you know, we’ll have to see how it plays out,” Patterson concluded.

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