Illinois bill would seal COVID-era eviction records

In an effort to prevent a future barrier to renting, court records of COVID-era evictions would be sealed under legislation passed yesterday by the Illinois House.

The measure would permanently seal court records on any eviction during a two-year period that ends in March 2022, according to State Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Humboldt Park, a sponsor of the bill, HB 2877. 

“We don’t want people to face barriers to housing because of what happened during this COVID period,” Ramirez said. While most evictions have been prohibited during the crisis, she said, when the prohibitions are lifted, “we could be facing an avalanche of evictions.” 

As many as one in four Illinois renters may be behind on their rent because of the pandemic, Ramirez said. “There are so many people who never thought they wouldn’t be able to pay the rent, but either because they weren’t an essential worker and got laid off or because they were an essential worker and got sick, they’ve fallen behind.”  

Sealing eviction records is an essential part of a package designed to stabilize people’s access to housing and health care as Illinois begins to emerge from the crisis, Ramirez said. 

“If people don’t have access to housing,” Ramirez said, “do you think they’re going to go to the grocery store? Do you think they’re going to take their kids to school? Stabilized housing is part of our recovery from this.”

The legislation provides for unsealing eviction records in cases of tenants evicted for reasons other than income loss. In particular, Ramirez said, “if renters were endangering the health and safety of other people, those records can be unsealed.”

In such cases, the landlord who pursued eviction can request that the court unseal the record. 

Making landlords responsible for unsealing records puts an undue burden on them, said Michael Glasser, president of both the Neighborhood Building Owners Association and the Rogers Park Builders Group. Glasser’s firm, Magellen Properties, owns about 240 rental units in Chicago and the suburbs. 

After an eviction, “there are few landlords who would go to the additional expense of getting that record unsealed, because it doesn’t affect them,” Glasser said. That would mean future landlords would be unaware of the bad behavior of some potential tenants. 

“We would prefer that (sealing records) of individual cases be up to the judge’s discretion,” Glasser said.

Ramirez countered that because of the anticipated flood of evictions, sealing cases in bulk would expedite the process. 

via Crain’s Chicago Business

March 19, 2021 at 05:25PM

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