Supreme Court issues Orders affecting evictions

Three Illinois Supreme Court Orders

Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court entered three new general orders related to eviction proceedings and the Covid-19 pandemic.  As reported by a local NBC affiliate, these changes come as a result of the work of the Illinois Judicial Conference Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force and are in anticipation of the return of the eviction system at the end of the various Covid moratoriums.  Let’s review them.

Electronic Signatures

The first order does some Covid-19 housekeeping.  It provides that all courts in the State of Illinois will accept “all electronically and conventionally filed documents” that are digitally signed provided that the signatures in those documents comply with the Electronic Commerce Security Act and electronic signature standards set by the court in 2017.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The second order provides that, in advance of the expected rush of eviction cases when eviction moratoriums finally end, each judicial circuit in Illinois is “authorized and encouraged” to create an alternative dispute resolution process (such as mediation or online dispute resolution).  The judicial circuits are authorized to make such a program voluntary or mandatory.  Will this become a program in Cook County?  The collar counties?  Maybe.  There has been quite a bit of discussion from tenant advocates and legislators about similar programs, so it is definitely a possibility that our entire system might be in for a big change.

Eviction Moratorium

The third order is issued in response to the Governor’s eviction moratorium and amends the December 22, 2020 order regarding procedures for eviction proceedings.  Evictions in the circuit courts, during this time of the Governor’s moratorium and any extension of it will be handled as follows:

  1. As before, any filed eviction case must contain a certification form indicating that the landlord plaintiff has provided each tenant/defendant with the Illinois Housing Development Authority Declaration prior to the time of commencing the residential eviction and either: (1) has not received a declaration back from the tenant indicating they are a “Covered Person” under the Governor’s executive order or (2) another of the stated exceptions to the Governor’s executive order applies.
  2. (NEW) The court then clarifies that an eviction cannot be commenced against a “covered person” who does not owe rent unless that person (1) poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants or (2)  poses an immediate and severe risk to property.  So here, the court is newly amending the procedure related to covered persons being evicted for “other reasons” (like a breach of a lease term or the end of the lease) and limiting those evictions to the Governor’s emergency exceptions.
  3. As before, upon the filing of any case, the eviction case will be assigned to a judge who will review the complaint.
  4. As before, if the judge determines that the certification form referenced in item 1 above has not been filed or fails to meet the requirements for an exception under the executive order, the judge will dismiss the eviction, seal the record, and provide that a summons shall not issue or if a summons has issued, the judge will order the landlord to take reasonable steps to recall the summons from the process server.
  5. As before, if the judge determines the certification was filed and/or meets the requirements for an exception under the executive order, the case may be heard.  However, the judge’s determination is not binding and the trial court will retain the right to determine if the proper procedures have been followed.
  6. (NEW) If a plaintiff receives a declaration indicating the tenant is a “covered person” but the landlord wants to challenge that declaration, then the plaintiff can file a motion along with the filing of the case requesting a hearing on the issue and that motion can then be heard.  This is new and welcomed.  We’ve heard rumors of declarations being successfully challenged and judges still not allowing a case to move forward.  Will this solve that exact problem?  It doesn’t appear to do so, but at least it sets a procedure, which would imply that success at the procedure would mean the case can continue.
  7. As before, the order confirms that landlords aren’t being granted any new rights to enforce an eviction orders in contravention of any law or applicable moratorium (ie. this doesn’t change the fact that you need an exception to have the Sheriff enforce a residential eviction).
  8. As before, any action dismissed without prejudice because of this order can be re-filed when no longer barred by the Governor’s executive order and the fee for that re-filing will be waived.
  9. As before, the order goes into force upon its issuance.

So there you have it – three new orders.  No relief for landlords.  In fact, I’m guessing that if Cook County set up an alternative dispute resolution system, it would basically just stall cases.