A Valid Lease Trumps All Tricks

Susan

In January, Susan, a renter in Palatine, called the LCBH Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline to seek help after hearing about the project through the Cook County Clerk’s office. The building that Susan lived went into foreclosure but her 2-year lease with the former owner of the property doesn’t terminate until August of this year.

Susan’s problems began in September of 2012, when she came home to a notice on her door demanding that she move out within the next 30 days. Susan immediately called the number on the posting to find out more information but her calls went to voicemail and her messages were never returned.

Susan didn’t know what to do without more information and she did not hear anything further until December 12, 2012 when a court summons addressed to “unknown occupant” was posted on her door. Believing she had to follow the summons even though it did not include her name, Susan appeared in court on the assigned date.

Susan’s troubles continued when she appeared in court and no one explained to her that because she held a lease to the property she was not an “unknown occupant” and that the bank, who took over the property, simply did not have the right to bring her into court like this. Due process requires that in order to file an eviction suit potentially resulting in a person losing their home, due diligence is required to ascertain if anyone had a lease to the property. After the judge granted her a continuance to seek legal counsel, Susan contacted LCBH for help and was given the critical information she needed to protect her legal rights against the scare tactics employed to get her give up her home and move out leaving her security deposit and all of her rights behind without objection! LCBH staff informed Susan that she had the right to live out the terms of her valid lease if it was a bona fide (valid) lease. Armed with this knowledge Susan returned to court establishing that she had a valid lease entitling her to remain in her apartment until August 2013.

The bank’s attorney asked for another continuance and Susan contacted our helpline again. We were able to reassure her that she had a valid defense. We offered to speak to the attorney for the bank if they were interested in discussing best bank practices in this type of case. However, the bank’s attorney was only interested in establishing that we were not representing Susan and that he could contact her directly regarding settlement.

The bank then offered Susan a settlement in which she would agree to enter an Agreed Order for Possession where Susan would essentially agree to the eviction and termination of the lease (and all her rights therein) and in exchange the bank would agree to let her stay through August provided she paid rent to them directly. LCBH warned her that she would be agreeing to give up all of her rights under the lease in exchange for the bank allowing her to stay through the terms of her lease. We informed her that she already had the right to stay through the term of her lease and did not have to agree to the settlement to stay through August.

On her final court hearing, the attorney for the bank attempted to have an Order for Possession (eviction) entered against Susan despite her refusal to accept the settlement offer and her valid lease. The Judge denied the bank’s request and dismissed the case without prejudice.

Thanks to LCBH’s detailed instructions, Susan was then able to prepare a notice of motion to seal the case thus preventing creditors or future prospective landlords from seeing the filing of this eviction case.

Susan’s case not only shows the incredible impact LCBH’s foreclosure counseling has on renters’ lives but also highlights a disturbing trend emerging from eviction courts. Agreed Orders of Possession are becoming increasingly commonplace and often viewed by the courts as a “fair” compromise allowing renters to stay through the term of their initial lease and banks to vacate the terms of the lease. However, in situations like Susan’s where the renter has a valid lease the only “fair” solution is to uphold the rights of leaseholders and keep banks accountable to all known occupants so that renters like Susan with valid leases are not wrongfully brought into eviction court!