CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– Many Illinoisans who can’t pay their rent have been able to stay in their homes for more than a year now.
Governor J.B. Pritzker put the state’s initial eviction moratorium into effect through an Executive Order signed on April 23, 2020. Since then, Gov. Pritzker has extended the moratorium month after month, making it unclear when the protection will officially run out.
The Illinois Supreme Court issued an order Thursday that set the date for the end of the moratorium.
Starting August 1, evictions can be filed with the court again and initial court hearing dates can be set. However, no trials or eviction orders can be issued for another month. September 1 is the day all restrictions are lifted.
“There was no easy solution for either side and how to handle the pandemic, and the problems that would have been created,” shared Champaign County Sixth Circuit Associate Judge Brett Olmstead.
“If people were turned out left and right to their homes. There was no easy solution.”
The latest version of the moratorium, signed by the Governor in June, increased the restrictions on landlords. Since June 25, landlords haven’t been able to even file for eviction with the court.
Since there’s no paperwork, Judge Olmstead said there also isn’t any data on how many tenants are at risk. And, since there’s no data, officials have no idea how many eviction cases await them very soon.
“That’s what scares us is, as judges, we like to be able to see what’s coming so that we can be prepared to make decisions under the law,” Olmstead added. “And this is a situation where no one…no one, not the landlord bar, not the tenant bar, nobody knows how big this volume is.”
Olmstead rules on all of the eviction cases in Champaign County.
He shared the data available for evictions filed from 2019 through July 12, 2021, in the county. In 2019, a pre-pandemic year, 725 evictions were filed. In 2020, with a moratorium, there were 386. So far in 2021, 98 evictions have been filed.
“But that is going to change. That’s the fear,” Olmstead explained.
He said this is coming fast, and tenants need to be prepared.
“You can’t deny that landlords have been carrying a heavy burden here for a long period of time,” he added.
Both parties are reaching a crossroads that will take place in his courtroom.
That’s why Missy Greathouse came into the picture. She is the Executive Director of Dispute Resolution Institute, Inc. Greathouse said the Illinois non-profit was born out of need following the 2008 recession. The group mediates disputes free of charge.
Greathouse said, starting soon, a trained mediator will be available for cases in Illinois’ Sixth Judicial Circuit.
“Mostly we’re trying to help prevent homelessness,” she explained about the housing security mediation program.
“So the purpose is to give landlords and tenants a chance to talk. At this point, there’s gonna be some heated emotions.”
Even so, some — possibly a ton of people — will need to find somewhere else to go.
“So if it’s not staying in the home of the current rental situation, it’s trying to work with them to get a good move out date, make sure they move into another housing situation, so they don’t end up on the streets,” Greathouse added.
Judge Olmstead said it’s great to have this extra tool.
But, there is one more layer. Olmstead told Target 3 investigators that before the pause on filings in June, 80% of residential eviction cases filed in 2021 were not even about the money. In those cases, no rent money was requested.
“We’d like the mediation program to be there and available to help but we recognize the limits of that,” he explained. “See, if that relationship is completely broken down, then having a neutral third party isn’t necessarily going to help.”
Greathouse is confident mediation will make some difference. The court is in the process of passing a rule to allow for the program. We’re told that will happen in the coming week or so. And, Dispute Resolutions Institute, Inc. is working to hire a Programs Coordinator to run the program in the Sixth Circuit.
In the meantime, the non-profit is taking cases outside of the court.
Greathouse said the program will also be available in the First, Third, and Twentieth Judicial Circuits in Illinois.