FILE - Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker has repeatedly extended his eviction moratorium, but a downstate Illinois lawmaker says some people are taking advantage of it.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, introduced a bill in committee Wednesday that would have created the Eviction Moratorium Clarification Act. It provides that in any eviction moratorium issued by the governor through Executive Order or legislation passed by the General Assembly, the moratorium shall not prohibit the eviction of some people.

Meier told the House committee Wednesday he wants to go after so-called “bad actors” who receive federal rental assistance, but don’t pay their rent.

“We believe that if the tenants have taken the rent money while working, buying new vehicles, going on vacations, that the landlord should have been paid,” Meier said.

The legislation also provides that in a rental or lease agreement in which utility payments are included in the rent payment, the landlord shall not be responsible for a tenant’s portion of a monthly utility payment for a tenant not paying rent if the charges are more than 20% higher usage than any month in the previous year.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi took issue with the wording of the bill at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

"That is not how the program works," he said. "The money was sent to the landlords and not to the tenants, so I believe that this bill maybe attempting to solve a problem that is not if fact happening."

Pritzker’s moratorium on residential evictions, first issued in March 2020, applies to renters who submit a declaration saying they are unable to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and would be homeless if they were evicted. Eligible renters must earn less than $99,000 a year if filing taxes as a single person or $198,000 if filing jointly.

Some landlords have said renters are taking advantage of the moratorium, using it as a shield to not to pay rent. But there are legal avenues for property owners. If the landlord can prove that the tenant was causing property damage, causing health or safety violations, or are threatening in any way, they can take legal action.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program was designed to help people stay in their homes, but also landlords who are owed backed rent. Some landlords have been reluctant to participate in some programs. They’re worried that if they accept even partial reimbursement, they’ll have to agree not to evict any tenant or have other restrictions placed on them.

Meier said some landlords use the revenues from the properties for their golden years.

“As these moratoriums are being extended, there is still no help for this small group of people out there,” Meier said. “A lot of them are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. This is their income. This is their retirement.”

The bill was voted down 12 to 10, but Democratic members of the committee vowed to work with Meier on similar legislation.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.