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Legislation Created by UIC Law Professor and Students Passes Unanimously in the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate

Debra Stark

Professor Debra Pogrund Stark and the students in her Domestic Violence Law course created the “Summary of Rights for Safer Homes” bill (HB5550 and SB3652), which passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives under the leadership and guidance of Senator Robert Peters (chief sponsor of the bill in the Illinois Senate) and Representative Theresa Mah (chief sponsor of the bill in the Illinois House), and with strong support from the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It is anticipated that the law will be signed by Governor Pritzker this August.

The legislation requires that, starting on January 1, 2026, landlords must add as page 1 to each of their written residential leases a summary of the special housing rights that survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault have under six Illinois statutes. These important legal protections include rights to:

  • Terminate their lease early to prevent further abuse at their leased premises
  • Change their locks to prevent further abuse at their leased premises
  • Protect themselves from being improperly evicted due to being a survivor of domestic or sexual violence
  • Protect themselves from housing discrimination based on their status as being protected under an order of protection
  • Obtain a 60-day deferral of certain required public utility deposits, and
  • Be protected against municipal or county ordinances that penalize tenants or landlords for contacting the police or other emergency services for help

The law requires the Illinois Department of Human Rights to develop this summary and post it on their website for landlords to download and add to their written residential leases. The one-page, two-sided summary will briefly summarize these rights and include links with further details on who can benefit from these rights and how to qualify to exercise these rights, along with information on resources to obtain pro bono legal assistance.

The impetus for this law reform initially came from the representation of some of the clients in the UIC Family Law & Domestic Violence Clinic, which Prof. Stark was the director of.

“We had clients who shared with us that they had moved from their leased residence to flee from an abusive intimate partner and now had several months of unpaid rent they could not afford to pay since they had paid rent at their new leased residence,” Stark stated. “They were not timely aware of the right to terminate their lease early without legal liability for future rent payments and did not know that they needed to provide written notice to their landlord within three days of vacating the leased residence to exercise this right. With their original lease term already expired, they could no longer send the required written notice needed to not be responsible for further rent after they left.”

Professor Stark also noticed that very few if any of her students were aware of these housing protections at the start of each semester. To empirically test the general awareness of tenants to these laws, she created and ran a survey, with the help of the Law Center for Better Housing, that reflected that 98% of those surveyed were not aware of or able to identify any of these important tenant rights.

Due to the overwhelming lack of awareness of these special housing rights, which can cause tenant survivors of domestic violence to become homeless, in debt they are unable to repay, or staying in an unsafe home, Professor Stark and some of the students in her Domestic Violence Law course drafted the Summary of Rights for Safer Homes bill.

They then reached out, as constituents, to their state senators and state representatives, explaining why the bill was needed.

Professor Stark and one of her former students, Dominique Marshall, testified in support of the bill at two legislative committee hearings. They also reached out to the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who provided valuable support of the bill. She also worked with UIC Law students Madison Kazlauskas and Maddy Cavanaugh in creating the Fact Sheet, FAQs, Responses to Possible Objections, and a draft summary of rights, related to this law reform project.

Professor Stark is currently working with some of her other students on law reform to protect domestic violence survivors from coerced and fraudulent debt. She hopes to use a similar model to effectuate law reforms here in Illinois that addresses that important problem, which can also cause survivors of domestic violence to lack the financial wherewithal to successfully leave an unsafe relationship.