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Legislators worry bill will ‘drive out small landlords’ and cause tenants more harm

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(The Center Square) – A measure that seeks to help tenants in Illinois who face retaliation from landlords if the tenant complains about living conditions is back to the House for concurrence.

House Bill 4768 narrowly passed the House last month. It was amended in the Senate and passed Wednesday. Republicans say the bill will allow tenants to bully landlords into not raising rents or evicting bad tenants.

State Sen. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said policies like this make affordable housing impossible for Illinoisans.

“Now we’re going to go after the landlords, the big, bad landlords that are doing all these awful things,” said Chesney. “If they are doing awful things we want them to be penalized through the law. But that’s not what this bill does. What this bill does is if someone [a tenant] complains to the landlord and the landlord fixes it, it opens the landlord up to litigation. They [landlords] could be open to litigation if he or she doesn’t renew the lease or raise their [tenant’s] rent. This is all to bully landlords into not raising rents. Ultimately who pays for this are all the people we represent who are of modest means.”

Republicans argued that landlords’ increased costs from litigation or the inability to raise rents will ultimately cause tenants to suffer and pick up added costs the landlords incur.

The bill got 62 “yes” votes in the House last month.

In the Senate on Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, urged members to vote “yes” because her constituents tell her about how they face retaliation in that the landlords won’t renew their lease if they complain about toilets that don’t flush.

“Constituents have come to my office and say they’re flushing the toilet with water for months on end until they’re desperate, despite the fact they’re fearing retaliation, and go to the city and let the city know and the city tells them [landlords] they have to fix this issue. And immediately the tenants are told they are evicted or they are told their lease is not being renewed,” said Villa.

The reason why tenants are treated poorly by landlords is because there’s not a whole lot of small landlords left because of ‘bad policies’ that drive up costs for them, Republicans argued.

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, said big, national firms are buying up properties from the little landlords who actually care about tenants.

“What we’ve seen in Illinois recently is a significant decrease in the number of landlords in the state and we’ve seen an increase in the number of average units owned by landlords in the state. Policies like this force small landlords to sell their properties and only the really big landlords, who aren’t connected to the community and tenants and who are looking for that profit motive, own more and more units and the connection between tenants and landlords is disconnected. You create the problem you think you’re trying to resolve,” said Plummer. “I assure you small town landlords do a much better job for their tenants.”

Villa said her office has worked with many constituents that have faced retaliation for requesting repairs or for informing officials of alleged code violations.

“These individuals are looking for quality, safe and affordable housing and shouldn’t be barred from seeking remedies in fear of retaliation,” said Villa.

The House must now concur on the Senate’s changes for the measure can be sent to the governor’s desk.

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