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Mayor Lori Lightfoot Introduces Plan To Give Tenants More Notice When Leases Won't Be Renewed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed a new ordinance to require landlords to give tenants additional notice before ending their leases, and in some cases providing them with payments to help them pay for a new place to live.

The measure would require landlords to provide 90 days notice to tenants who have lived in their units for more than 6 months before terminating or deciding not to renew their lease. The city currently requires only 30 days notice.

"That's just 30 days to find a new home that you can afford, that's close to your job and other responsibilities, and make arrangements to move all within that time period," Lightfoot said after Wednesday's virtual City Council meeting.

If a landlord fails to meet the new notice requirements, tenants would be allowed to stay in the unit for up to 90 days of receiving a notice, paying the same rent as their last full rental payment.

For tenants who have lived in a unit for 6 months or less, 30 days notice would still be required, and tenants would be allowed to stay up for 60 days if they are given insufficient notice, paying the same rent as their last full rental payment.

Under the ordinance any "material change" to a tenant's lease terms, such as a rent hike, would be considered termination of an existing lease.

In addition to the new notice requirements, landlords who are forcing tenants to move out for renovations or new development would be required to provide them with a one-time payment of $2,500 within seven days of them vacating the premises. Landlords would be allowed to reduce that payment to cover any unpaid rent due before tenants are forced to leave, but could not withhold any part of that payment to cover damage to the premises.

When Lightfoot introduced the ordinance at the City Council meeting on Wednesday, two progressive aldermen moved to have the measure sent to the Rules Committee, where legislation is often left to languish without a vote. However, Lightfoot said she is confident her proposal will pass next month.

"This is going to be going to committee, and my expectation is it will be passed in June, because people need relief. This is an important measure to make sure that renters have the kind of notice they need beyond 30 days to be able to organize their lives. I can't imagine what the possible objection would be from aldermen to that," Lightfoot said.

According to published reports, some progressive aldermen were pushing for a more sweeping version of Lightfoot's proposal, including larger payments to tenants forced to move out, and requiring landlords to provide those payments before a tenant leaves, not after.

However, Lightfoot said she does not expect any changes to her ordinance before it gets a vote in committee.

"There are some that aren't happy with it, and don't think it goes nearly enough, but as I said, balance in public policy and governance is critically important, and I think this measure strikes the appropriate balance," she said.

However, the Autonomous Tenants Union, a tenants' rights group, said the mayor's proposal would have little or no impact on housing stability in Chicago, and accused the mayor of cutting off talks about the proposal two weeks ago, and introducing a plan "with no community buy-in."

"The Mayor's proposal is another attempt to undercut genuine progress on tenants rights, and fails to seriously address the issue of no-cause evictions, simply giving extra notice instead. No-cause evictions are a primary tool of displacement, used by large developers who will have no problem adapting increased notice requirements into their business model." said Jake Marshall, an ATU organizer. "We still need rent relief and protections for non-payment during COVID-19. Nothing we've seen from the Mayor so far will stop the massive wave of evictions awaiting us once courts open. It's clear the Mayor is listening more closely to landlords than the tenants she claims to be protecting"

Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said the mayor's proposal would not be a "one-and-done approach" to the issue of protecting affordable housing

"We never envisioned that we would be able to accomplish a bunch of changes in one bill. We believed that we would step out, and begin to work, and begin to hear from people, and organize, and work over time on a series of reforms," she said.

In other affordable housing matters, the mayor also introduced an ordinance to legalize so-called "accessory dwelling units" (ADUs) such as basement and attic apartments and coach houses, which have been illegal in Chicago since 1957, but are still commonplace.

Living quarters set apart from the main home on a property are still found all over Chicago, even though they have been banned by zoning rules for more than 60 years. Homeowners often add rental units to their houses -- in the basement, attic, or garage -- in order to bring in extra income. Novara said eliminating the ban on ADUs, while making sure such dwellings are up to code, would help the city provide more affordable housing.

"This ordinance is an almost invisible way to increase moderate cost rental opportunities across the city that fit in with the way a neighborhood already looks, and legalizing these units is also part of our affordability strategy. They can have a real and positive impact on homeowners who need extra income as they may be experiencing rising property taxes," she said.

Novara said any property that has six or more units of ADUs would have to set aside at least half for affordable housing.

The mayor said the city has had a long-standing affordable housing crisis that requires innovative solutions.

"Thinking creatively about ways in which we can open up opportunities for affordability in already-existing structures, and then at the same time give another income stream to the owners of those properties, I think is a good thing," Lightfoot said.

The mayor vowed city building inspectors would be "vigorous" about making sure ADUs are safe and up to code.

Meantime, the City Council approved a $3 million plan to preserve approximately 3,400 existing units of affordable housing through the Emergency Relief for Affordable Multifamily Properties program. The program would use existing funds in the city's Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to provide grants or zero-interest, deferred payment loans of up to $75,000 to affordable housing owners to help them cover rent, operating costs, and more.

The program is expected to help 40 affordable housing complex across the city, and should cover approximately three months of expenses, according to the Housing Department. Owners who accept the funds could not evict any tenants before the end of the year.

Responding to critics who have said she hasn't done enough to provide rent and mortgage relief during the coronavirus pandemic, Lightfoot said "there's always going to be people who say that."

"I think that we have done a tremendous amount. Some of the things that we introduced today are intended to continue to address that," she said. "But the magnitude and the size of the problem, and particularly when really what it originates from is landlords needing to pay their mortgages, that relief – as I've said many, many times in addressing this issue – has to come from the federal government."

Some community groups have called on the mayor and governor to impose a rent freeze during the pandemic, but Lightfoot has said that many landlords wouldn't be able to survive if tenants are given a complete break from paying rent, and has urged landlords and struggling tenants to work together on payment plans.

"You can't solve one problem without creating another, so it's got to be a solution that understands the interconnectedness of these two issues," Lightfoot said.


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