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Immigrant Tenants Can Sue Illinois Landlords Under New State Law

landlordleaseforms via CC0 1.0

Immigrants to Illinois are now able to sue their landlords if they are evicted because of their citizenship status.

It’s now illegal for a landlord to hang citizenship over a tenant’s head as a way to threaten or discriminate against them. The new state law comes as fears of ICE raids and deportation have gripped immigrant communities nationwide, fears which some landlords are reportedly taking advantage of.

The Trump administration also proposed new rules on Wednesday that would allow immigration officials to indefinitely detain migrant families. But the federal government cannot let for-profit contractors fulfill that purpose in Illinois; the state banned those kinds of immigration detention centers from operating within the state earlier this summer.

Governor J.B. Pritzker’s signing of Illinois' Immigrant Tenant Protection Act makes it the second state after California to enact such a law.

“We’re stronger when we offer all of our residents the opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of their children," he told reporters during a bill signing in Chicago. "Here in Illinois, we are, and always will be, a welcoming state.”

Where before they had none, immigrants now have legal recourse. They can sue their landlords for damages and attorney fees.

Griselda Vega Samuel is a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She says several Illinois landlords have harassed their tenants by threatening to report them to immigration officials.

“Every person who rents an apartment has the right to live free from harassment and to expect that their landlord will provide a well-maintained home," she told the crowd.  "However, all too often, tenants are intimidated from exercising that right out of fear for their immigration status.”

A judge may also fine offending landlords up to $2,000 for any threat made against immigrant tenants. The Illinois Retail Property Owners Association says it helped negotiate the legislation, and opposes anyone who “commits extortion.”

Silvia Puente, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, joined Pritzker on stage and praised the new law.

“In response to the times we are living in, we [Illinois] create just laws," she said, "laws that protect, and laws that respect, our humanity.”

State Sen. Cristina Castro (D, Elgin) the bill's sponsor, was also on hand. She said the new law takes aim at the “bad apples” in the rental home business.

“Everyone’s scared of what’s going on, and so this is an avenue for them to advocate for themselves,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll come out of the shadows and if these types of abuses are happening, they’ll come forward and report them.”

The law took effect immediately.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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