Organizing for a Rent Freeze in CU and Illinois

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Why is a rent freeze necessary?

The global pandemic which resulted from COVID-19 drastically affects the employment status of millions of workers in the United States and the wider world. As advised by the Center for Disease Control and The World Health Organization, it is necessary to physically distance oneself from the public. Specifically in Champaign-Urbana, these orders, which are important to adhere to, have led to the increase in unemployment status for residents. Meaning, their employers are no longer able to support them in the looming recession. Residents who are not receiving hazard pay, or do not have the option to work remotely, are faced with the financial burden of making rent.

Currently, any sort of rent control is impossible because of the 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act that bans rent control in Illinois, making a rent freeze impossible without it being repealed.

On April 7, however, Lift the Ban Coalition, a coalition based in Chicago that is advocating for economic well-being and stability for Illinois’ families released a seven-page breaking memo from the Law Offices of Despres, Schwartz, and Geoghegan. The memo stated, “Governor Pritzker’s powers under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act and other laws grant him sufficient power to provide relief, including by either mitigating the cost of rent during the crisis directly or by empowering municipalities to do so.” Links to the memo and the Lift the Ban announcement can be found in the Legal section of our website, rentfreezenow.weebly.com.

We are now demanding that Governor Pritzker use his emergency powers to issue a freeze on rent indefinitely for all people in Illinois until the threat from COVID-19 has passed. This means suspending Illinoisans’ responsibility towards rent until people are safely able to return to work and until they are able to make up the financial loss faced during this pandemic. To provide a clearer timeline, this means a complete suspension of rent payments until the stay-at-home order is lifted and for at least two months after that to allow people time to get back on their feet.

Our demands are as follows:

  • The repeal of the 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act and the utilization of emergency powers by Governor Pritzker. This will allow for municipalities to enact, maintain or enforce measures that control the amount of rent charged for leasing a residential property, facilitating a freeze in rents.
  • The suspension of all rental, mortgage, utility bills, court fines, civic fees, and property tax payments in the Champaign-Urbana area until the crisis has passed. This must be applicable to all individuals and small businesses. That does not mean a deferment or payment plan. It means cancellation of all aforementioned debts incurred throughout the crisis.
  • Immediate stoppage and abolition of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and youth detention programs. Release of at-risk prisoners detained in city and state jails and prisons. Not having the money to afford bail is only worsened in times such as these, along with these centers harboring COVID-19 cases. The funds currently spent on those programs should be re-allocated towards creating a more comprehensive relief program FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT CORPORATIONS.

Resources

Since this crisis is affecting thousands of people residing in the Champaign-Urbana community, such as students, researchers, service workers and all those who lost jobs due to the crisis, it only makes sense to gather collectively to demand a freeze on rent.

One way to support is to sign our Champaign-Urbana Rent Freeze petition, which can be found on our website, https://rentfreezenow.weebly.com/. Our website has the option to connect with fellow tenants, information for virtual meetings, and our Organizer Interest Forms, and is open to all. In addition, our website includes our sample letters tenants can send to landlords, sample letters to fellow tenants, and instruction on applying for relief funds, which include the United Way COVID-19 Relief Fund, the NAWC Immigrant Relief Fund, and the One Fair Emergency Relief Fund.

Many people are also wary of the legal repercussions of not paying rent during this time. The current moratorium on evictions in Champaign County makes it so landlords can still file for eviction, the case will just not go through until the moratorium is passed. It is, however, illegal for your landlord to lock you out. The full eviction court process is listed below, courtesy of the Autonomous Tenants Union in Chicago.

  • The full Eviction Court process, from the filing to the Sheriff changing your locks, can take anywhere between 2-8 months. You can take steps to lengthen it. The landlord cannot accept rent during the full court process, or they have to start over.
  • Court dates are typically scheduled at least two weeks after the filing of the lawsuit, sometimes more. The order from the Chief Judge will probably delay this timeline.
  • A Sheriff will come to your door to serve you court papers (the summons to court, court date, and the lawsuit’s complaint). Don’t freak out if they come knocking forcefully, they’re just there to serve you papers, not evict you! If they can’t put the court papers in your hand, they have to reschedule another court date another two weeks out, and try to re-serve you.
  • At your first court date, you can show up yourself and ask for a continuance to find an attorney, typically getting another week.
  • After this, we highly recommend you get a lawyer (ATU and other orgs may be able to help). The court process will likely come to a conclusion much sooner if you don’t have a lawyer. If you have a lawyer, the process could go on for months more.
  • You can also, on your own, file for a Jury Demand and usually get a Fee Waiver, typically getting another three weeks (more resources will be provided here soon).
  • The court process ends in an “Order of Possession” which the landlord can take to the Sheriff to officially evict you. The Sheriff’s job is to remove you from your home and change the locks.

By organizing with your neighbors and support networks to reach an agreement with the landlord, you can better ensure that you won’t get to this point in the process. Reach out to our Instagram or email so we can try to get you connected with fellow tenants.

Organize with us!

One of the best ways to get involved is to gather together fellow tenants to strike collectively. Information regarding organizing tenants can be found on our website, and we also encourage you to reach out to our email curentfreeze@gmail.com. Reaching out opens up the opportunity to match you up with more tenants underneath the same Landlord.

Following us on our instagram, @cu_rentfreeze, is a good way to get quick updates and see what we’re doing day-to-day to organize. Helpful information from other rent strikes is also shared to our instagram.

One of the best ways to participate is by getting involved in our phone zaps. These zaps are three-hour segments intended to create a surge of phone calls into the elected officials office that has the power to make change. It is a way to create noise around an issue we want changed. Phone Zaps will be occurring from 11 am to 3 pm Monday – Friday for the rest of April to put pressure on Governor Pritzker and our local representatives to use their emergency powers to put a freeze on rents. A script and phone numbers can be found below.

Information and a Script to use to Contact State Representative Carol Ammons about the issue

Phone Zapping script for calling Governor Pritzker’s Office

 

 

 

 

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