This summer, Agnes Starling began receiving confusing notices relating to a foreclosure from someone she had never heard of before. Not knowing what to do Ms. Starling called the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing’s (LCBH) Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline for assistance. The helpline was established to provide renters and attorneys with legal information regarding renters’ rights during foreclosure, with the goal of preserving tenancies and avoiding unwarranted evictions. During the counseling, an LCBH staff attorney, looked up the foreclosure case, and provided Ms. Starling with information about her rights as a tenant in a building that had been lost to foreclosure. After a foreclosure, most Chicago tenants are entitled to continue renting at no more than 102% of what they had been paying or be asked to leave with a $10,600 relocation payment. Even if a tenant is asked to leave, the tenant can generally stay until the end of their lease or 90 days after receiving a written notice demand for possession, whichever is longer.
The landlord didn’t inform the tenants that the building was in foreclosure, or that a new owner was taking over the property. Ms. Starling learned about the foreclosure process, that the landlord had lost possession of the property, and that the landlord was no longer entitled to receive her rent.
After receiving the information Ms. Starling needed about her situation, she referred her upstairs neighbor, Ms. Brandt, to the LCBH helpline. Ms. Brandt had similar questions, and was also provided with foreclosure counseling tailored to her specific situation.
A couple of weeks after calling the LCBH helpline, the former landlord sued both Ms. Starling and Ms. Brandt in eviction court. The former landlord was claiming that both tenants did not pay rent as required, and should be removed from the property and pay the former landlord back rent owed.
LCBH accepted both cases based on the fact that the former owner did not have standing to bring the eviction action against Ms. Starling or Ms. Brandt. The LCBH legal team filed a motion to dismiss in each case. Both court cases were dismissed, and the court cases were sealed from the public record.
Sealing is vital in wrongly filed eviction cases to protect tenants’ credit reports and their ability to rent in the future. This is especially important in cases where the property has gone through foreclosure, because often the new owner will ask the tenant to leave. Under the Chicago Keep Chicago Renting ordinance, most tenants are entitled to a relocation payment of $10,600 if the new owner choses to ask the tenant to leave. However, leaving becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, if a tenant has an eviction on record. Unfortunately, credit reporting agencies and landlord screening agencies will often place an eviction on a tenant’s record as soon as the eviction case is filed, completely disregarding whether the landlord was ultimately successful in the legal action.
With the help provided by LCBH counseling and legal representation, Ms. Starling and Ms. Brandt were able to stay longer in their homes, their court records were sealed, and their rights under the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance were preserved.