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What You Should Know About Evictions And Unemployment During COVID-19

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(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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A pedestrian carries a shopping bag as she checks her phone in Chicago, Sunday, March 29, 2020. The public have been asked to self isolate, keeping distant from others to limit the spread of the contagious COVID-19 coronavirus.

Illinois landlords are not allowed to kick out tenants during the government-mandated shelter in place period. But that's not stopping some from trying.

Prairie State Legal Services provides free legal aid to low-income people in need. Denise Conklin, managing attorney at Prairie State’s Peoria office, said they’ve seen an increase in calls for service amid the COVID-19 crisis — primarily dealing with eviction and unemployment.

Conklin said while law enforcement and the courts are complying with the stay on evictions, landlords are getting creative.

"Some of the applications we've been seeing are where landlords change the locks or shut off the water or shut off the electricity — basically doing an illegal eviction, trying to get the tenant to leave,” she said.

Conklin says tenants should call the police if their landlord tries to force them from the unit. She recommends carrying a copy of the lease at all times.

"Some people have oral leases, so they don't have anything in writing — and that's okay,” she said. “You should still call the police. You can always show your driver's license or a piece of mail, if the police want proof that you actually live there.”

Conklin said to also provide police or an attorney with the landlord's phone number, so they can attempt to get the issue resolved.

Conklin said her office has also received a lot of questions about unemployment benefits. She said the situation differs depending on whether you’re considered an essential or nonessential employee.

In order to qualify for unemployment, she said, applicants must show they are able and available to work, and that they’re actively seeking employment.

Conklin said under new federal and state guidelines, the latter of those criteria is covered if the applicant’s employer had to close their doors due to the shelter in place order.

“Basically, your ‘actively seeking employment’ requirement is met as long as you are prepared to return to your job when your employer reopens,” she said.

If an employee considered essential becomes ill, Conklin said her recommendation is to contact their employer and try to figure out sick or leave time so they do not lose their job. She said depending on that employee’s specific circumstances, there may be protections in place.

“It really would be a case-by-case situation depending on where they were, what the situation was, if they were personally sick and hospitalized or if it was a loved one they were caring for,” she said.

Conklin said more unemployment information can be found on the state’s COVID-19 response website.

She said people that need assistance with either eviction or unemployment matters can also apply for free legal aid from Prairie State Legal Services by visiting their website or calling the Peoria office at (309) 674-9831.

Conklin said the ten attorneys based in the Peoria office covers nine counties, including Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton, Marshall, Stark, and McDonough.

“We do have an income eligibility determination,” she said. “But some of our grants and private donations allow us to go above the federal poverty guidelines. So my message is: Apply. You may very well be eligible.”

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WCBU will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WCBU can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.