Illinois Passes COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act with Protections for Residents

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on May 17 signed the state’s “COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act” (HB 2877) into law, providing robust protections for Illinois renters and homeowners. The new state law establishes eviction-sealing provisions for cases filed before and during the coronavirus pandemic and prohibits tenant screening companies from reporting sealed eviction records. The protections come after months of work by advocates and legislative champions to secure this win.

In Illinois, as in states across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has created economic instability for many renters, homeowners, and landlords of small residential rental properties, leaving many unable to keep up with rent and mortgage payments. The COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act establishes rules for federally funded emergency rental assistance to ensure people with the lowest incomes can access these funds. These rules clarify that eligible tenants do not need a written lease and prioritize funding for communities with the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases; people with a documented history of housing instability or homelessness; and people with a significant amount of back rent due. The law also provides foreclosure protections for homeowners and small landlords by halting judicial sales and orders of possession through July 31, 2021.

A key component of the legislation is a measure to prevent eviction case filings from becoming a barrier for renters in obtaining future housing. The law requires automatic sealing of eviction records between March 2020 and March 2022. Unsealing will be allowed only when a judgment is issued and a case is unrelated to nonpayment of rent.

Certain eviction records prior to March 2020 will also be sealed if the parties agree to do so, if the case is dismissed, or if the court finds that the tenant did not violate the lease or that doing so is in the interest of justice. These eviction sealing provisions sunset on July 31, 2022. Finally, the legislation prohibits tenant screening companies from sharing a sealed eviction record and creates penalties if this is violated.

State Representatives Delia Ramirez and Lindsey LaPointe and Senators Omar Aquino and Robert Peters championed the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act over the past year. The legislators worked tirelessly in partnership with a broad coalition of advocates, including Housing Action Illinois (an NLIHC state partner), the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

While legislators debated HB 2877, advocates generated calls and emails to elected officials in support of the proposal, filed witness slips, shared information on social media, and joined a sign-on letter urging the governor to sign the bill. During the signing ceremony, Representative Ramirez explained the importance of the legislation for Illinoisans as a step towards recovery from the pandemic and the affordable housing crisis. HB 2877 passed the House in March and the Senate in April and was signed into law on May 17, the same day the state launched the next round of federal emergency rental assistance funds through the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Together, these initiatives help create a brighter future for struggling renters in Illinois.

“The eviction sealing provisions now in place for renters will help ensure that renters do not face permanent housing barriers due to the economic fallout of COVID-19,” said Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois. “We hope this will set a precedent for sealing eviction filing records in the future, an important part of addressing the broader issue of eviction, which troubled Illinois communities even before the pandemic.”

For more information about the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act or Housing Action Illinois, contact Bob Palmer at: [email protected]