By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – People who rent homes or apartments in Illinois who are not United States citizens have new legal protections under state law.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Wednesday that prohibits landlords from evicting or intimidating tenants based on their citizenship or immigration status.
“Where you were born has nothing to do with the ability to pay rent on time, which is what the relationship between a landlord and a tenant should really be about,” Pritzker said in Chicago as he signed Senate Bill 1290 into law.
The bill is nearly identical to one lawmakers passed in 2018, but which former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed. And in signing the bill, Illinois became only the second state, behind California, to enact such a law.
Under the new law, which takes effect immediately, landlords are specifically prohibited from disclosing or threatening to disclose information about a tenant’s immigration status for the purpose of harassing or intimidating that person or for retaliation against a tenant for exercising his or her legal rights.
It also prohibits landlords from seeking to evict a tenant because of immigration or citizenship status, and provides civil remedies for tenants if their landlord violates the new restrictions.
It also provides an exception for cases in which a landlord is required to disclose citizenship or immigration status information in order to comply with federal law or a court order.
It was the third bill Pritzker has signed this year dealing with immigration issues. Earlier, he signed bills prohibiting private detention facilities from being built in Illinois, preventing local law enforcement agencies from participating in federal immigration enforcement actions and extending eligibility for state-funded student financial aid to students regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
Each time, Pritzker has used the occasion to criticize President Donald Trump for his anti-immigration policies and rhetoric.
“As our xenophobic president stokes a climate of fear, as Illinois stands up against him with our firewall, we will not stand by in silence,” Pritzker said.
Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, the chief Senate sponsor of the bill, echoed that sentiment.
“The current administration in Washington is openly hostile toward immigrant communities, and as a result, fear runs rampant in these communities,” Castro said. “Many people live with a constant worry that if they complain about unsafe housing conditions, a landlord might report them, because of their immigrant status, to authorities as retaliation for speaking up.”
State Rep. Theresa Mah, a Chicago Democrat and the lead sponsor of the bill in the House, said during floor debate May 26 that it came about as a result of specific incidents that had occurred in her district, including a case in which a landlord allegedly threatened a tenant with eviction if she did not perform uncompensated work.
In a statement Wednesday, Mah said she was pleased to see the bill finally signed into law, adding, “Immigrant families in my district and all over Illinois deserve to live free of fear of mistreatment, threats, or eviction because of their immigration status.”
The bill also had support from groups that advocate for immigrant rights, including the Latin Policy Forum, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Andrew Timms, president of the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association, said in an interview that his organization was involved in drafting the bill and did not oppose it.
“We felt as though the bill that was passed through the Legislature really did target the people who were trying to use residency as a form of extortion,” he said. “We’re certainly opposed to extortion in any form.”