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COVID-19 Tenant Organizing Toolkit
I. Where we are
II. What happens when you don’t pay rent
IV. How to talk to your neighbors
V. Organizing tools
Are you in Chicago and using this toolkit to start talking to and organizing with your neighbors?
Make sure you have signed ATU’s petition and survey to be connected with other people organizing in your neighborhood and/or who have the same landlord, and to continue receiving updates and resources from ATU.
The Autonomous Tenants Union (ATU) is an all-volunteer organization committed to organizing for housing justice from below and to the left. As an independent collective based in Chicago, we strategize together to defend and enforce our right to dignified housing. We believe that housing is a human right not a commodity! We fight for an end to all evictions, and for community control of housing through the building of popular power.
I. Where we are
We are in the middle of a public health catastrophe, during which everyone’s sole focus should be protecting themselves and their communities. But instead, many are worrying about rent. Chicagoans face layoffs and loss of income as workplaces around the country shutter to limit COVID-19’s spread, and one missed paycheck can mean a choice between groceries or rent, with a looming potential for homelessness.
Unstable housing is exacerbating this crisis. If tenants know that missing rent could result in eviction proceedings, they’ll be more likely to go to work with symptoms and risk getting others sick. Tenants forced to move face a higher risk of spreading and/or contracting the virus, along with difficulty securing new housing, renting moving trucks, hiring movers, or finding volunteers to help. It is our responsibility to protect each other. In the absence of compassionate leadership from our government, we must organize together to ensure our basic needs are met.
What we have going for us:
1. No one wants to pay rent. Many of us can’t. A landlord’s financial power comes from their ability to collect rent. If a large enough number of tenants are unwilling - or in this case, unable - to pay rent, they gain some leverage over their landlord by depriving them of that income. There is an unfair stereotype that tenants who can’t pay rent are lazy or troublesome - this is untrue even in the best of times, but in times like this, the reality is that landlords across the country will find themselves without their monthly rent collection regardless of what we as tenants do.
2. None of this is your fault. Others are in the same boat. In times of stress, hearing from others going through the same thing as you can be immensely reassuring. Our society tends to keep people in an unnatural state of isolation, but when you start talking to your neighbors you’ll probably find them relieved to share their experiences and hear they’re not alone. If that desire to connect to neighbors can be harnessed and organized, it will make a powerful force against the privileges landlords are granted in our legal system.
3. The courts are delayed. Like in many places across the country, the Cook County Court has temporarily suspended the execution of evictions orders and all but entirely closed court proceedings until April 13 (this can change). Since court proceedings are almost entirely closed, if you fall behind on April rent and your landlord moves to evict you, they cannot begin court proceedings until the moratorium is over. Since eviction cases can last weeks if not months, you can be confident that even if you are unable to pay April rent you will not be physically evicted from your home for a couple months, or maybe even longer - and there are plenty of ways to fight the eviction in the meantime.
II. What happens when you don’t pay rent
Although some may try, it is illegal for a landlord to lock you out. The only person that can physically evict you is a sheriff, and the sheriff needs a court order! Read about what a lockout is here.
A landlord following the process correctly will serve you a “5 day notice” the day after rent is due or after any grace period they allow you. If you don’t pay the full amount in 5 days, the landlord can enter an eviction lawsuit against (remember, Cook County court filings are still open so they can open an eviction case against you, but they will not be able to pursue it until the moratorium is lifted).
You may feel a lot of stress when you get this notice. Just remember this is the beginning of the process. BUT, if you can negotiate an agreement before the landlord enters a lawsuit, you should make every effort to do that. This will save you the headache of having to go to court and find a lawyer.
* The full Eviction Court process, from the filing to the Sheriff changing your locks, can take anywhere between 2-8 months. You can take steps to lengthen it. The landlord cannot accept rent during the full court process, or they have to start over.
* Court dates are typically scheduled at least two weeks after the filing of the lawsuit, sometimes more. The order from the Chief Judge will probably delay this timeline.
* A Sheriff will come to your door to serve you court papers (the summons to court, court date, and the lawsuit’s complaint). Don’t freak out if they come knocking forcefully, they’re just there to serve you papers, not evict you! If they can’t put the court papers in your hand, they have to reschedule another court date another 2 weeks out, and try to re-serve you.
* At your first court date, you can show up yourself and ask for a continuance to find an attorney, typically getting another week.
* After this, we highly recommend you get a lawyer (ATU and other orgs may be able to help). The court process will likely come to a conclusion much sooner if you don’t have a lawyer. If you have a lawyer, the process could go on for mo