Blog: COVID-19

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

After LCBH closed its doors in March, we pivoted our services to a digital and virtual world where we continue to provide the same level of services and advocacy for Chicago tenants. Through "Renny" and Rentervention, LCBH provides legal information available to Chicago tenants 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, in some cases, connects tenants with LCBH attorneys through Rentervention's Virtual Legal Clinic. In May, LCBH launched "Tenant Thursdays," a Facebook Live series that hosts segments on essential topics for Chicago tenants. Tenant Thursdays allow viewers to directly ask their question's to our subject matter experts on the live stream.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

We are living in uncertain times. Eviction court is no exception. While the governor continues to extend the statewide moratorium on eviction filings in 30-day increments (the longest timeframe allowed by law) there is no certainty that these extensions will continue to be granted. The latest extension is set to expire on November 14th. LCBH is advocating for further extensions at least until all of the state’s emergency rental funds have been disbursed.

How has LCBH responded in the face of the uncertainty surrounding eviction court? We doubled our staff size. Last month, LCBH hired 19 people for the Eviction Prevention Project (EPP) to respond to the avalanche of eviction filings we expect to see once court reopens. This Project is funded through the Chicago Department of Housing using funds appropriated by the CARES Act and these funds need to be spent down by December 31, 2020. I was initially concerned that we wouldn’t be able to hire all the staff attorneys we would require in such a short window of time. I needn’t have worried. With the bar exams delayed until this month, there was an enormous amount of pent up energy and talent that wanted to join the cause. We currently have nine, mostly new, housing attorneys raring to go.

Michelle Gilbert, LCBH Legal Director

The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) family just got a little bit bigger. We are happy to welcome Michelle Gilbert as our new Legal Director. Michelle is leading LCBH's COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Project.

LCBH is grateful to have Michelle's voice and advocacy. If you are a former staff member, board member, or intern, we encourage you to Share Your Story.

Why did you choose to work in housing in legal aid?
I had practiced a lot of housing law in the HIV Project of Legal Aid Chicago (then LAF). When LAF was divided into subject matter practice groups, I knew that housing was my first choice, immediately, instinctively, like how you know when you have met the person you will marry. Housing is fundamental – my chronically ill clients could not take their meds without housing. I feel like a missionary for eviction prevention – our society can’t solve homelessness until we stop making so many new people homeless. Plus, honestly, I like the practice. I like writing briefs and making arguments in court.

The COVID-19 health crisis has further amplified the need for emergency rental assistance as a means of helping tenants pay back rent to landlords and remain stably housed.

A new program administered by The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IDHA) called Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) was created to help tenants that have not been able to pay rent due to COVID-19. ERA can provide up to $5,000 to assist tenants in paying their rent. The money will be sent directly to landlords and can be used to cover the rent due between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.

To be eligible, tenants must have a written lease, loss of income due to COVID-19, unpaid rent, and have below-average income. Applications will be online through the ERA Portal and will be open from August 10, 2020, through August 21, 2020, the portal may close earlier due to high demand, so we recommend tenants apply as soon as possible. Many organizations, including LCBH, have partnered with IHDA to help people apply. Call LCBH at (312) 347-7600 for more information and to get assistance determining if you are eligible. You can find more information about this fund on the Illinois Legal Aid Online website here.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Granted, it’s still months away. There are many sunny days left in the summer, before the crisp, fall weather arrives. Yet, as I think about the grueling work ahead for LCBH and others who advocate for renters in eviction court, I am filled with gratitude and a desire to say thank you, now, to some of the funders that make our work possible.

For many years the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois (LTF) has supported LCBH. In 2015, LTF selected LCBH to be one of several legal aid providers throughout Illinois to receive funding from the CitiBank and Bank of America mortgage foreclosure settlements. The LTF funding arrived just as a multi-year Illinois Attorney General National Mortgage Settlement grant was coming to an end. Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) helped administer the AG’s Mortgage Foreclosure Settlement Funds grant and was instrumental in ensuring that the funds did not only go to assist homeowners, but renters as well. IEJF has also been a long-time supporter of LCBH.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I hope you, your family, and your colleagues are safe and healthy. As we stand in support of the Black Lives Matters movement, we do so in recognition that the majority of LCBH’s clients are Black and that the structural racism and racial disparities in our health, criminal law, and other systems are equally evident in our eviction system. As such we will continue to prioritize LCBH’s advocacy in Chicago’s hardest-hit Black communities.

As we have for 40 years, LCBH pledges to partner with you to reform eviction court and leverage technology to better serve renters facing serious housing issues. In this newsletter, I invite you to learn more about Renny and how you can help prevent COVID-19 related evictions.

Q & A with Renny the Robot

In 2019, LCBH, with support from the Lawyers Trust Fund, launched Rentervention.com, a free tool for Chicago renters who have questions about their rights when it comes to eviction, security deposits, and repairs needed in their homes.

We sat down with Renny for a Q & A to learn more about him.

Q: How many renters have contacted you since the start of the pandemic?
A: Since about mid-March through Memorial Day about 6,800 renters have contacted me. It feels so good to help so many! Rentervention has really grown.

Q: What is the most common question you receive?
A: The most common type of questions I get are about not being able to pay rent and Coronavirus-specific issues. Renters want to know what rights they have since the law and guidelines can change from day-to-day. About 2 of every 3 questions I get are on this topic. I’m taught new information all the time so I provide the best possible service.

    Should I tell my landlord if I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • Should I tell my landlord if I can’t pay rent?
  • Can I be evicted during the COVID-19 emergency?
  • What does the CARES Act do, and who is covered by it?
  • What do I do If I already have an eviction case filed against me?
  • Should I participate in a rent strike if I can afford to pay my rent?
  • Can my landlord come into my apartment for an in-person showing?
  • Can I move to another apartment during COVID-19?
  • Can my landlord ask me questions to find out if I’m sick, work in healthcare, or an industry that has been severely impacted by COVID-19?
  • Can my Landlord bar non-residents from coming into my apartment building?
  • What do I do if my lease ends soon, and my landlord gave me a Non-Renewal Notice?
  • Can my utilities be shut off if I can’t pay?
  • What do I do if my home needs an emergency repair?

Statement of Support for HB 5574, House Amendment No. 1

COVID-19 Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act

Following is LCBH’s statement of support for HB 5574, House Amendment No. 1, the COVID-19 Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act.

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) is one of the few legal aid organizations in Chicago that provides free legal assistance to working-class and low-income tenant families. Though LCBH represents primarily Chicago tenants, we are all too aware of the widespread perils of eviction court and the scars that housing instability and forced displacement can leave on a family and a community.

Money is certainly needed to maintain housing. But if we ignore tenants’ due process rights and the devastating effects of eviction, Illinois will face an unprecedented crisis that will devastate the housing market and lead to homelessness and housing instability for thousands. Around 57,000 eviction cases are normally filed in Illinois every year, with almost two-thirds of those cases arising outside of Chicago. Yet today, over 605,000 Illinois renters are expected to suffer from COVID-19-related income and job loss. Eviction filings and homelessness are likely to astronomically increase across the State unless tenants are provided with protections that extend beyond mere financial assistance. Passing HB 5574 is necessary to preserve the housing market, safeguard public health, and ensure that Illinois can recover from this crisis.

On March 13th, 2020, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County issued General Administrative Order 2020-01, which lays out the emergency measures being taken by the court to address widespread concerns about transmission of COVID-19. The order communicates important information for tenants who are facing eviction, or are currently involved in eviction proceedings: