By: Sarah Song, Senior Program Manager, Access to Justice Division
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Illinois’ housing crisis, particularly for renters who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout. The courts have steadily followed state and federal eviction moratoria as well as federal legislation deploying over $1 billion to Illinois renters and landlords in rental assistance, legal aid, and mediation services to prevent evictions.
In support of these efforts, the Supreme Court entered an order and accompanying guidance and resources to make it easier for local circuits to institute eviction early resolution programs. See M.R. 30370, In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Eviction Early Resolution Programs, entered on February 23, 2021. Likewise, the Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Justice published a set of statewide agreed orders in eviction cases to help facilitate swift settlements that keep renters in their homes, available at: https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/forms/approved-forms/forms-approved-forms-circuit-court/eviction.
As the Governor’s eviction moratorium begins to wind down and eviction filings increase, the Illinois Judicial Conference’s Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force has been working closely with the Governor’s office to ensure an orderly phase out of the state eviction moratorium. Through a coordinated approach, the two branches of government hope to relieve the potential pressure on the court system while also ensuring that landlords and tenants have every opportunity to benefit from the State’s substantial rental assistance and support services programs.
On July 14, 2021, the Governor announced that Illinois’ eviction moratorium would permit filing of all residential eviction cases on August 1, 2021, though enforcement of certain eviction judgments would remain barred through August 31, 2021.
Concurrently, the Illinois Supreme Court instituted a triage period in which the courts will accept the filing of all eviction actions and set them for initial return dates and status dates but will not allow certain cases to proceed to dispositive motion, trial on the merits or judgment until the final expiration of the moratorium. This triage period will begin on August 1, 2021, with the implementation of an amended Supreme Court Order, and conclude on September 1, 2021, when the order is vacated. The 30-day stay on dispositive motions, trials on the merits, and judgments applies exclusively to residential eviction cases involving “covered persons” (as defined by the Governor’s Executive Orders) who do not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants or an immediate and severe risk to property. Plaintiffs who believe their eviction action should be exempt from the stay must attach to the eviction complaint a certification form supplied by the Supreme Court indicating why the matter is exempt.
Courts will use this triage period to direct landlords and tenants to the significant assistance programs available for renters impacted by COVID-19. For the first time, up to 15 months of rental assistance or $25,000 is available to help tenants prevent eviction. There are also additional programs offering utility assistance, legal aid, mediation, housing counseling, and additional support services. Courts are strongly encouraged to refer tenants and landlords to these unprecedented resources by directing litigants to https://www.illinoisrentalassistance.org or local service providers. Moreover, the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) is developing a specific program for tenants who are in court and on the precipice of homelessness. More information will be shared once DHS’s court-based rental assistance program launches.