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Aldermen Back Ordinance Requiring Landlords To Give Some Tenants' More Notice Before Ending Leases

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A City Council committee has advanced a measure that would require landlords to give long-term tenants up to four months' notice before terminating or not renewing their lease, or raising their rent, though some aldermen are still pushing for more stringent requirements to protect tenants.

The Committee on Housing and Real Estate voted 12-6 on Tuesday to approve Mayor Lori Lightfoot's so-called "Fair Notice Ordinance," which, in most cases, would extend the current 30-day notice landlords must give tenants before ending a lease.

The measure had been bottled up in the Rules Committee until last month, and underwent a significant rewrite before Tuesday's vote, prompting some aldermen to call for a delay to give the public more time to review the ordinance.

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said tenants currently can be forced to move out of their homes with as little as 30 days' notice when a landlord decides to terminate or not renew their lease, or to increase their rent.

"For many people – if you think about people who have little savings, who may have health problems, who have school age children, certainly people who have a housing choice voucher – that's simply not enough time to find suitable new housing," she said.

Under the mayor's proposal, landlords would be required to give 60 days' notice to tenants who have lived in their unit between 6 months and 3 years before ending their lease; 120 days' notice would be required for tenants who have lived in their home for more than 3 years. The current 30 days' notice would stay for tenants who have lived in a unit for less than 6 months.

Novara said the new notice requirements would give landlords more flexibility to decide relatively new tenants are not the right fit, and end their lease if needed, while giving longtime tenants more stability and time to find a new home if they can't reach an agreement on a new lease with their landlord.

The requirements would apply to both month-to-month leases, and yearly leases; but would not apply to any rental agreements currently in place if they expire less than 90 days after the ordinance is approved.

Novara said the notice requirements also would not affect a landlord's ability to go to court to evict tenants for failure to pay rent, or otherwise violating the terms of their lease. However, it would give tenants a new "right to cure" if their landlord seeks to evict them over unpaid rent.

Tenants currently get five days to pay overdue rent when notified of eviction proceedings. If they pay up after that, a landlord can still move forward with an eviction. The mayor's proposal would give tenants up until the time a judge issues an eviction order to pay up all of their overdue rent, to avoid being kicked out.

"Tenants who are able to fully pay back what they owe deserve a second chance," Novara said.

The "right to cure" would be a one-time offer. If a tenant taking advantage of it were to fall behind on rent again in the future, they could not exercise that "right to cure" again.

The new notice rules and "right to cure" rules would not apply to owner-occupied buildings with six or fewer units.

Several groups representing Chicago landlords weighed in before the vote, urging aldermen to reject the ordinance, claiming the new notice requirements would lead to more eviction filings, as some landlords will now see that as a faster option to kick out an unwanted tenant than simply not renewing their lease.

Many also complained that the latest version of the ordinance was unveiled Tuesday morning, giving them little time to review the changes.

"The very stability that this hastily-crafted plan seeks will not be produced. Giving a tenant such a long runway on notice provides more opportunity for the tenant to stop paying rent. In order to hedge against this, housing providers will be forced to raise rent to the highest point allowable, in an attempt to recapture monies lost," said Kristopher Anderson, director of government & external affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors.

Clint Sabin with the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance argued some small landlords would simply sell their properties to corporations that are interested only in their bottom line, and less likely to negotiate with tenants when there's a dispute.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said the city already places too many hardships on small landlords, and hasn't done enough to engage those small business owners about the problems they face.

"I have heard from many of my residents who are already struggling under what can only be described as misguided attempts at trying to address the housing issues in the city of Chicago by forcing many small property owners to take on more and more," Lopez said. "You are now going to force even more hardships on those individuals."

Novara said the Lightfoot administration spent six months in talks with tenant groups, landlords, affordable housing advocates, aldermen, and others on the best way to extend the city's notice requirements in a fair and balanced way.

"I'm confident that this is the best outcome we can achieve today," she said. "This ordinance is really our sincere effort to address all of those often-conflicting concerns."

An earlier version of the ordinance also would have required landlords who are forcing tenants to move out for renovations or new development to provide them with a one-time payment of $2,500 within seven days of them vacating the premises. Osterman and Novara said negotiations will continue on the relocation payment mandate to make sure it is applied in a legal and equitable way for both small and large landlords.

"I am fully committed to continuing to work on the relocation aspect of this, specifically as an alderman who has seen larger developments that have displaced people on the lower income threshold, but I want to make sure and the Department of Housing wants to make sure that this works across the city," Osterman said.

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), who voted in favor of the ordinance, said aldermen also need to debate and vote on a more stringent "just cause eviction" ordinance that would go much further than the mayor's proposal, but has been bottled up in legislative purgatory.

"This is a very difficult policy to move forward on, and I also know that it doesn't cover everything that we're looking to bring," she said of the mayor's ordinance.

Osterman said he has made a commitment to move the "just cause eviction" ordinance out of the City Council Rules Committee, so it can get an up or down vote in the Housing Committee.

That measure would lay out a limited number of reasons landlords can evict tenants other than for non-payment of rent or for violating terms of their lease. It also would require landlords who terminate a tenant's lease so the property owner can move in, convert it into a condominium, perform repairs, or demolish the unit to pay a $10,600 relocation fee to the tenant being forced to move out.

The mayor's ordinance now goes to the full City Council for a vote next week.

In other business on Tuesday, the Housing Committee also approved a six-month extension of a temporary moratorium on all building demolitions in an area near the popular 606 trail. The existing moratorium was set to expire Aug. 1, but Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said aldermen and the city's Law Department need more time to craft a more permanent plan for addressing gentrification along the 606.

The ordinance prevents property owners from obtaining demolition permits within an area near the 606 during the moratorium, which will be extended through Feb. 1, 2021. Maldonado and other aldermen who represent the neighborhoods along the 606 want to halt the trend of people buying existing affordable multi-family homes and replacing them with luxury housing, pushing out working class and middle class families.

The moratorium covers an area bounded by Armitage Avenue on the north, Kostner Avenue on the west, Hirsch Street on the south to Kedzie, Kedzie Avenue on the east from Hirsch Street to North Avenue, North Avenue on the south from Kedzie Avenue to California Avenue, and California Avenue on the east from North Avenue to Armitage Avenue.

The ordinance would provide exceptions for people seeking demolition permits to build affordable housing, or in emergency situations to address conditions that make a building "dangerous to life, health or property."

Supporters of the moratorium have said, while it is in place, the city would study possible long-term solutions to gentrification near the 606. Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) has said the community has seen a boom of new luxury housing construction since the popular trail was opened in 2015.


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