Daily file illustration by Fiona Wang
About 10 residents attended a walk-in legal clinic Tuesday to remove prior evictions from their records before a temporary Illinois law expires at the end of July.
The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy held the clinic in collaboration with the Evanston Public Library at the Robert Crown Branch Library. The clinic aimed to serve residents in need and to increase awareness of the temporary provision before July 31. Attorneys from the Chicago law firm Kirkland & Ellis volunteered legal services at the event.
“Eviction records keep individuals and families locked in a cycle of poverty,” Lorena Neal, an EPL legal literacy librarian who helped organize the event, said. “It forces people to live in unsafe housing and leads to homelessness, among other consequences.”
Neal said the COVID-19 pandemic caused many to fall behind on rent payments. According to Neal, eviction expungement could make a significant difference for tenants looking for new housing.
Last May, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act into law. The act establishes eviction-sealing provisions for cases filed before and during the pandemic and prohibits tenant screening companies from reporting sealed eviction records.
The law requires eviction records from between March 2020 and March 2022 to be automatically sealed, which means they are not publicly accessible. Eviction records from before March 2020 can also be sealed under certain circumstances — including if the case is dismissed or if sealing the records is deemed a just move for a client’s specific background.
Megan McClung, a school-based civil legal clinic attorney at the Moran Center, said the legislation prevents eviction case filings from becoming a barrier to renters obtaining future housing.
“Before, it was very difficult to get an eviction sealed because the statutes are very strict,” McClung said. “The new law made it very lenient, and almost all evictions are now reviewed using this lenient standard.”
McClung said Tuesday’s event is one of many Moran Center programs that help dismantle systemic barriers to the health, safety and well-being of young people and their families.
For people who weren’t able to attend the event Tuesday, Moran Center Staff Attorney Kevin Grigsby said residents can schedule an in-person or virtual appointment at the center. He said the center may also hold more legal clinics over the summer.
In total, Grigsby said the center has served about 15 clients with eviction expungement this year. In at least one case, Grigsby said a client secured new housing after their file was sealed.
Grigsby said tenants are often unaware of the resources and laws available to them, while landlords have more knowledge, giving them unequal leverage.
Tuesday’s event helped challenge those power dynamics, he said.
“Events like this are important because we can directly engage with and educate the community,” Grigsby said. “We can assist by taking on new clients and attempting to represent people who would not otherwise be represented.”
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