In Illinois, a proposed House Bill could change the eviction landscape forever if it goes through. HB5395 comes with a double-edged sword of injustice for Illinois residents being removed from their homes: it eliminates the “weather exception” currently in place, and it allows “any peace officer” to conduct an eviction.
The bill allows property owners to turn to “third parties” to enforce eviction notices if the sheriff fails to do so. This includes local police (who typically aren’t involved in evictions) along with private security companies, effectively privatizing the evictions process in Illinois. This has serious implications for public safety. If police are enforcing evictions, they’re not out providing public safety services, and if property owners are using private security services, people without proper training, bonding and insurance would be conducting evictions and could pose a risk to themselves and others.
Illinois’ weather exception mandates that evictions not be conducted when temperatures are lower than 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Under HB5395, this exception would be removed, allowing tenants to be evicted in all temperatures and weather conditions — people could literally be thrown out in the cold. This is an issue of particular concern for seniors, disabled people and children, all of whom are more sensitive to temperature extremes and inclement weather like snow and ice storms and heat waves.
This bill is the result of heavy pressure from banks and similar institutions, and it was introduced by a Republican legislator with land holdings in Chicago; to say that HB5395 is biased might be a bit of an understatement.
Illinois, especially Chicago, is facing an eviction crisis, like many other states. In Chicago, low-income neighborhoods primarily populated by people of color are facing one of the highest eviction rates in the country. In fact, two years ago, they asked for a moratorium on evictions to get the crisis under control. Evictions as a result of foreclosures or unpaid rents shatter lives, ruin families and can create devastating losses that take years to recover from — and the line between having a roof over your head and being out on the street can be tenuously thin.
The way the bill is currently written, it will only affect residents of Cook County, as it’s the only area with a population large enough to fall under the purview of the bill. Once passed, however, that could be changed with a stealth amendment later. Furthermore, other states may use the bill as inspiration to create similar pro-eviction bills, which could create a wave of legislation across the country that would similarly affect financially distressed homeowners and renters. That makes this bill especially worrying, particularly since tenant’s rights advocates are extremely concerned about how it may erode tenant’s rights in Illinois.
In a country struggling with a national housing crisis, making it easier to boot people from their homes is not the solution: finding an effective way to address the community problems leading to evictions in the first place is critical. That requires cooperation from landlords, tenants and legislators, and legislation like this won’t help the country find its way out of this hole.