Q: “I own a property management company that services owners of multifamily rental properties across Chicago. What is the current status of a residential tenant’s legal obligation to pay rent?”
May 19, 2020
Answered by Jason B. Hirsh
The short (legal) answer is that all tenants, whether residential or commercial, are legally obligated to pay their rent regardless of their financial situation or the economic harm arising from the Covid-19 crisis. The longer answer is that, regardless of their lease obligations, a residential tenant that is going through financial difficulty may not be able to pay their rent. Moreover, and as a practical matter, the courts are closed, and there is a moratorium on evictions. Governor Pritzker’s April 23 Executive Order provides that residential evictions cannot proceed unless a tenant is a health or safety threat. Specifically, Section 2 of the Order states: “A person or entity may not commence a residential eviction action pursuant to or arising under 735 ILCS 5/9-101 et seq., unless a tenant poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants, an immediate and severe risk to property, or a violation of any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation. Nothing in this Executive Order shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent or comply with any other obligation that an individual may have pursuant to a lease or rental agreement.”
When courts do open, and enforcements begin again, you can expect to see a number of defenses to payment raised by residential tenants that may, technically, not rise to a valid “legal defense” but may still convince a judge to afford a tenant some relief. So, while tenants are legally obligated to pay rent because there is nothing you can do right now to enforce your rights or obtain relief from the courts, the best strategy is to work cooperatively with tenants facing legitimate financial challenges.