We all know about the annual winter moratorium on evictions in Chicagoland. Every year, around Christmas and New Year’s Day, the courts stop the Sheriff from enforcing eviction orders. The Cook County Sheriff is also ordered not to evict when it is too cold or weather conditions make an eviction dangerous for the tenants or Sheriff’s officers. However, the moratorium is temporary, fairly short, and eventually, things get back on track. The City of Seattle has thrown those concepts right out the window. The Seattle City counsel yesterday voted 7-0 (that’s right, a unanimous vote) to BAN most evictions for a three month period. Could it happen in Chicago?
The original ban in the Seattle legislation was actually proposed to run from November 1 to April 1. That’s right, no evictions for FIVE MONTHS! The City Counsel amended the original proposal and agreed that the ban should be from December 1 to March 1. A number of other amendments were approved that limited the ban to low and middle income tenancies and excluded evictions for certain activities like nuisance or criminal behavior. The Seattle Times reports that the councilwoman who proposed the law, Kshama Sawant, said she was disappointed that the board made these changes. The law now sits with the mayor of Seattle who could still veto the ordinance.
I wonder if she will be disappointed when landlords lose their properties to foreclosure. Are landlords able to withstand laws like these? A tenant will just have impunity to forego rent payments and the landlord has to sit and wait all the while continuing to pay for water, heat, electricity, property taxes, and mortgage payments? The tenant’s rights movement pendulum has swung too far.
What will landlords do in response? My guess is that among the responses available, they will take larger move in fees, collect higher rent, break out the payment for utilities to be a tenant-side expense, and maybe even adjust the dates that a lease will end so that their eviction at lease end does not coincide with the moratorium period. Landlords are going to need to be inventive and creative. They will need to have higher reserves. They will need to screen tenants much harder because a mistake at the wrong time of year on a single unit could wipe out all of the landlord’s profit for a building. The proponents of this ban point out that in a city as wealthy as Seattle, no one should be evicted. That’s a fine sentiment until it is your property that has to house someone with no compensation for months on end. There may be some sense of warped social justice to force a bad tenant on a landlord, but where is the justice for the landlord?
Could this happen in Chicago? It surely could. The City Council is much more progressive than in previous years and there is a national movement afoot. These ideas are not novel. They are tested in places like Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. The recently passed Just Housing Amendment restricting the use and timing of criminal background checks has been passed in many other jurisdictions. There are members of the Chicago City Council just waiting for the ban on rent control to be lifted so that they can enforce rent control in the City of Chicago. Those same alderman are throwing around laws like the Just Cause for Eviction law that already exists in a number of other jurisdictions. These laws impose undue burdens on landlords and the landlording community needs to organize and lobby to stop these kinds of laws from taking hold. If not, will there be any landlords left?