In late February, the Illinois Supreme Court approved new temporary orders in response to an anticipated surge in evictions when state and federal eviction moratoriums come to an end.
Currently, the moratorium on eviction cases in Illinois expires on March 6; federal protections for renters lapse on March 31. Over 20,000 evictions are predicted in Chicago alone once Governor JB Pritzker’s moratorium is lifted, according to a forecast by the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and the Center for Urban Research & Learning at Loyola University.
Encouraging ADR in eviction cases
The first order authorizes Illinois judicial circuits to establish early resolution programs to allow for alternative dispute resolution in eviction cases. Circuits are encouraged to develop their own Eviction Early Resolution Programs using resources from Illinois Courts, including a new form suite from the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice titled Orders in Eviction Cases.
The form suite, which aims to provide more efficient resolution of eviction cases, was expedited to address pending eviction cases that fall into exceptions in the moratoria and to prepare for the projected surge in eviction cases.
“There aren’t many areas of law that regularly affect so many people and do so as deeply as housing–related matters,” said Alison Spanner, Assistant Director of the Access to Justice Division and Director of Strategic Planning at the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC).
“Our short-term goal is for these new agreed orders to significantly improve the courts’ ability to manage the pandemic-related avalanche of cases that will descend very soon. The longer-term goal is to provide self-represented litigants with essential tools for resolving their issues as efficiently as possible,” Spanner said. “By utilizing these forms, whether in formal mediation or just on their own, we believe landlords and tenants will be greatly assisted in finding clearer pathways toward resolution.”
The forms are open for public comment until April 9, 2021, after which the Commission will review feedback and make necessary revisions. Please submit public comments through the website or to Israel Putnam at the AOIC (IPutnam@IllinoisCourts.gov). The website will be continually updated.
Improving access to justice for SRLs
The orders were proposed by the Illinois Judicial Conference Court Operations During COVID–19 Task Force, which convened a subcommittee of representatives from across the state to answer the Court’s request for ideas to address the surge in evictions.
“Our committee felt that it was important to encourage circuits to consider alternative dispute resolution programs as a way to help deal with the surge and to help landlords and tenants connect to the financial assistance that is available to them,” said 17th Circuit Chief Judge and subcommittee Chair Hon. Eugene G. Doherty in a press release.
The Court also approved an order stating that courts must accept all electronically and conventionally filed documents (as defined in the Supreme Court of Illinois Electronic Signature Standards) that are electronically or digitally signed provided the signature and document comply with M.R. 18368.
The third order amends the December 2020 order “In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency.” The amendment states that eviction cannot commence against a “covered person” (a tenant, lessee, sub-lessee, or resident of a residential property who provides to their landlord a qualifying declaration) who doesn’t owe rent unless that person poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants or an immediate and severe risk to property.
To challenge the accuracy of a “covered person” declaration, the landlord or plaintiff must file a motion with the court requesting a hearing at the time a complaint and certification form are filed.
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