Pritzker: Eviction ban only ‘temporary,’ needed to fight COVID; Landlords can’t claim state is taking their property

Illinois landlords who have been barred for months under an order from Gov. JB Pritzker from evicting tenants who either can’t or won’t pay rent will only suffer temporary harm, and shouldn’t be allowed to sue the governor for allegedly illegally taking their property, attorneys for Pritzker have argued in a new court filing.

Pritzker asserted he has the authority under the state’s so-called “police power” to take steps to prevent public health from suffering “devastation,” should landlords begin evicting tenants too soon.

“A resurgence of the deadly virus could undo the State’s hard-won progress and waste the tremendous sacrifices all residents and business have made since March to fight the pandemic,” lawyers from the Illinois Attorney General’s office wrote.  

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul

“The Governor’s continued suspension of residential evictions—at this point, for just a few more weeks—is a modest requirement imposed so Illinoisans can ‘safely and conscientiously resume activities that were paused as COVID-19 cases rose exponentially and threatened to overwhelm our healthcare system,’ while ensuring the State does ‘not backslide on the progress we have made.’”

Last month, a group of rental housing owners from Bolingbrook, Rockford and University Park filed suit in Will County Circuit Court in Joliet, accusing Pritzker of illegally seizing their property by forbidding them from evicting tenants under emergency executive orders Pritzker has issued and extended since March.

They said the governor’s orders essentially force them to subsidize housing for tenants, including for those who use Pritzker’s orders as a shield as they refuse to pay rent absent a credible threat of eviction.

Named plaintiffs in the action include JL Properties Group; Mark Dauenbaugh; and Steven Cole.

They are represented in the action by attorneys James V. Noonan and Solomon Maman, of the firm of Noonan & Lieberman Ltd., of Chicago, and attorney Jeffrey Grant Brown, of Chicago.

In the lawsuit, the landlords concede the COVID-19 pandemic presents a serious public health threat.

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However, they assert the governor’s continued enforcement of the eviction ban cannot be legally justified any longer.

In short, the landlords said, the public health emergency that was used to justify the eviction moratorium no longer exists, or at least has abated to the point that the moratorium should now be considered illegal.

Pritzker’s orders, “as well-intentioned as they may be, have had an unlawful and disproportionate impact on landlords … the point of jeopardizing their businesses and livelihoods,” the lawsuit said.

“Protecting economically needy citizens such as tenants … is sound and proper policy. But compelled subsidization by landlords is an improper and unconstitutional method of solving that problem.”

Pritzker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul responded to the lawsuit in filings on July 5 and July 7.

On July 5, they filed a brief arguing against the landlords’ request for a restraining order and injunction, which would bar Pritzker from enforcing his eviction moratorium any longer.

And on July 7, the state asked the judge hearing the matter to toss the landlords’ case.

Pritzker and Raoul argued the landlords have no legal legs on which to rest their case.

The state officials said the governor’s actions are legal under the state’s so-called “police power,” a legal principle which can empower the state in times of disaster and emergency to bend or suspend constitutional rights to protect the health and welfare of the state’s residents.

“While Plaintiffs (the property owners) allege they have been deprived of rental income from their properties and otherwise rendered unable to use those properties as they see fit, the suspension constitutes a legitimate, temporary exercise of the State’s police power to address an unprecedented public health emergency,” Pritzker’s lawyers wrote in their July 5 brief.

They argued the evictions ban “has played a crucial role” in fighting COVID-19, because it has allowed tenants to remain in their homes throughout the emergency period, and has minimized their need for “in-person interactions” that would follow an eviction and search for new housing.

“And beyond limiting the spread of COVID-19, the suspension of residential evictions protects vulnerable individuals whose access to housing and other critical resources have been threatened by the widespread economic losses resulting from the pandemic,” Pritzker’s lawyers wrote.

The state argued Pritzker’s evictions orders also don’t amount to an unconstitutional taking of the rental housing owners’ property, or even a violation of their contract rights, because the landlords are only temporarily prohibited from enforcing the terms of their leases.

The state pointed to language in Pritzker’s orders which they insist shows the governor did not give license to any tenants to simply refuse to pay rent.

“The Governor’s orders merely put a temporary hold on one means to enforce Plaintiffs’ contracts,” Pritzker’s lawyers argued.  “Plaintiffs are still entitled to pursue delinquent tenants based on the breach of payment terms and may initiate eviction proceedings as soon as the suspension of evictions ends…”

The state’s brief asserts the governor intends to lift the evictions ban on Aug. 1, as the state expects to then have in place a new rental assistance program, which they said would send assistance payments directly to landlords on behalf of tenants.

“… Any harm Plaintiffs might suffer because they are unable to evict their tenants for a few more weeks is relatively slight compared to the devastation that could result if the Governor’s order were enjoined,” Pritzker’s lawyers wrote.


via Cook County Record

July 9, 2020 at 10:54PM

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