By: Mark Glennon*
“We’ve made it to a day we’ve all been waiting for… Illinois is back,” crowed Gov. JB Pritzker on Twitter. Illinois is “fully reopened” on Friday, his announcement said, and headlines across most of the state parroted the same.
Tell that to landlords forced to pay for free housing under Pritzker’s emergency order, which remains in force – with no explanation offered.
And – this almost too much to believe — on the same day Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a brief asking for reinstatement of the federal eviction moratorium courts have struck down. Yet there’s been nearly zero Illinois reporting on that.
The eviction moratorium has been perhaps the most egregiously unfair part of Pritzker’s emergency COVID orders. It has essentially forced landlords to pay the cost of a free housing program by taking away their right to evict tenants who won’t pay.
Anybody who has owned rental property knows that a significant portion of tenants will screw you in any manner they can. If they don’t have to pay rent they won’t, and that’s just what many renters have been doing, irrespective of their means. Reports about tenants who have thumbed their noses at landlords wanting rent have been common, such as those here and here.
The Illinois Property Owners Association says small mom-and-pop landlords make up the majority of its members and that the majority of rental housing in Illinois is provided by average working-class people. They still have to pay their mortgages and property taxes and, without their right to evict tenants who won’t pay, they are stuck. Suing them later for past-due rent rarely works. Pritzker has said he wants to keep the moratorium until August.
An Illinois appellate court recently ruled against landlords who had sued to overturn the eviction moratorium. Our harsh criticism of that ruling is here.
But a federal court earlier struck down an earlier federal eviction moratorium as unconstitutional, and appeal on which has now reached the United States Supreme Court.
Enter Attorney General Kwame Raoul. On Friday he joined with 22 other attorneys general on an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court asking to reinstate the federal moratorium.
It’s important to see the significance of a new argument made in that brief. Last July, defending against the lawsuit against the state moratorium, Raoul focused entirely on supposed health and safety benefits of the moratorium. Throw the tenants out in the streets and COVID will spread, went the argument. That, arguably, helps keep the order within the scope of the governor’s statutory emergency power.
But last week’s brief says this:
Even if all these renters were vaccinated, there would still be a need for a temporary pause on evictions. Economic recovery takes time, and many people still cannot pay back rent while the nation remains in the early phase of reopening. Indeed, some jurisdictions have extended their eviction moratoriums for some period beyond the public health emergency, recognizing the need for time to recover after restrictions are lifted.
In other words, the state now claims its emergency order covers economic matters, not just health matters. And remember that Pritzker claims he can renew his emergency orders as long as he wants. If that means singling out an one particular group like landlords to pay for economic assistance, well, that’s just tough.
What about that program to help landlords stuck with tenants who aren’t paying. Aren’t landlords getting cash help?
No. That program has been botched from the start. It’s fundamentally flawed because it requires an application jointly made by the tenant and the landlord, which recalcitrant tenants won’t cooperate on. The program was “too little, too late,” as explained here.
Pritzker and Raoul have some explaining to do.
COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic and it’s disappearing quickly, which is why most other restrictions have been lifted. So, why does the eviction moratorium go on? How is it fair to make landlords continue to pay for a free housing program?
How long does the state think that emergency orders are legal? Economic hardship may persist for many more months and perhaps years. Since Raoul says that justifies rule by emergency order, does that go on as long as economic hardship persists?
I don’t expect those questions will be asked of Pritzker or Raul, but if they are I bet they will do what too many tenants done to landlords – thumb their noses.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.