Here we compile local resources and answer some of the most urgent questions.
If you need help paying rent or a mortgage
There’s a new COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant for emergency housing assistance, specifically for people who are financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. It will pay a one-time $1,000 to 2,000 residents who are eligible, which includes renters, homeowners, and unhoused people who have lost jobs or a reduction in hours. This also includes undocumented residents.
The application window is short—between Friday, March 27 to Wednesday, April 1. So, if you need help submit information through an online form. Applicants who are selected will be entered into a lottery and hear back in a few days from the Department of Housing.
Specifically for renters, there is an emergency financial assistance in order to prevent homelessness or those who are at risk of eviction. In order to apply, residents must get an application packet from one of the city’s community service centers and mail it in (this process still stands, even with the stay-at-home order). Once approved, the payments will be made directly to the property owner or landlord.
Metropolitan Tenants Organization: A nonprofit that educates renters and advocates for affordable, accessible housing. They have a list of resources for tenants impacted by the novel coronavirus and an emergency hotline at (773) 292-4988
Housing Action Illinois: This statewide coalition brings together more than 160 housing counseling agencies, homeless service providers, developers, and policymakers. They have a comprehensive list of resources that is updated daily with new information and housing assistance programs.
Chicago’s online Coronavirus Response Center: Here you’ll find all the city’s latest orders and assistance programs regarding housing, utilities, and emergency assistance. In the resources tab, there’s the latest guidance from the health department, where to volunteer or donate, and housing services.
If you are concerned about a possible eviction
In an updated announcement, the city won’t allow evictions or foreclosures until after May 18. This means if you are unable to pay your rent, you can’t be evicted within this timeframe. An eviction must be ordered by a judge and enforced by the county sheriff—it’s illegal for landlords to lockout or kick out tenants.
In a recent address, Lightfoot asked property owners and landlords to “give tenants some grace.” A group of aldermen and housing coalitions are demanding more. Critics of Lightfoot argue that the city must extend the hold on evictions and foreclosures and also freeze rent and mortgages in order to really prevent housing instability and homelessness.
Click here to find an Example Landlord Tenant Letter for COVID-19.
If you are considering a rent strike
In Chicago, a group of tenants in a Hyde Park apartment building have asked their landlord to cancel rent—so far Mac Properties hasn’t agreed and renters are considering a strike, according the Hyde Park Herald. Under normal circumstances, renters are allowed to withhold rent or deduct the cost of repairs if their landlord isn’t keeping living areas in line with building code. Similarly, a rent strike means tenants won’t pay but is an action that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s best to reach out to legal resources, such as the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing or the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, to go over a decision like this one.
If you were hoping for a rent freeze
Thousands of residents have signed a petition that calls on local and state leaders to enact a rent freeze. It means officials would halt the collection of rent, mortgage, and utility payments throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The freeze would mean that both residents and landlords aren’t “penalized for playing it safe.”
However, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Lightfoot isn’t able to enact a rent freeze. Chicago passed a ban on rent control, and that legislation also restricts the city from using such a measure. Organizers with the Autonomous Tenants Union (ATU) are now asking for Gov. Pritzker to repeal the Rent Control Preemption Act.
“In a City where 51 percent of households are rent-burdened, one missed paycheck can mean a choice between groceries or rent, with a looming potential for homelessness,” wrote ATU in a statement. “It is unacceptable that landlords will still file for evictions during this crisis. Simply having your name appear in an eviction filing can drastically hurt your chances of finding new housing.”
If you can’t make utility payments
The Illinois Commerce Commission ordered all public gas, electricity, water and sewage utility companies to stop service disconnections and waive late fees until May 1, or until the state of emergency is lifted. While ComEd and Peoples Gas are private, both of these companies have also agreed not to shut-off service or charge late fees until May 1.
If you were planning to move
The good news here is that mover are considered essential services—so if you’ve hired a company to help, they are still allowed to do that. Hardware stores are also still open if you need supplies like boxes and packing tape. If you’d rather stay put, it’s possible to negotiate with your landlord. But, there’s no city mandate that forces property owners to extend leases. If you have specific questions, the hotline run by Metropolitan Tenants Organization at (773) 292-4988 can help.
If renters want to know about legal protections
Most renters are protected under the city’s 1986 legislature, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RTLO). The ordinance covers most housing, except for renters who might be in owner-occupied condos, co-ops, and buildings with six units or less. However, this doesn’t mean those tenants aren’t safeguarded—a lease agreement will offer many of the same protections.
Most tenants aren’t aware of how they can advocate for themselves, Philip DeVon, Eviction Prevention Specialist with Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) told Curbed in 2019. The ordinance outlines protections and responsibilities for both renters and landlords.
We’ve compiled the most useful information in this rundown of renters’ rights everyone should know.