Imagine you’re sprawled out on your couch after getting home from work, taking a moment to unwind from the day, thinking about what you might make for dinner. In the midst of your thoughts, you hear a knock at the front door, so you roll off the couch and answer it. The next thing you know, you’re standing on the street as you watch the sheriff lock you out of your house, with no warning, no explanation.
For thousands of families across Chicago, what happened to Ms. Thomas—unjust eviction from her home—is more than a simple hypothetical; it’s a frightening reality. Standing on the street with her son and two grandchildren, Ms. Thomas watched as she was suddenly barred access from the house she’d rented for years. And then she heard the word that she should’ve heard months ago: foreclosure. Knowing that she needed legal assistance, Ms. Thomas called Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH).
Upon meeting an LCBH staff attorney, Ms. Thomas began to understand what had happened to her. Her landlord had lost the rental home to foreclosure. But neither he, nor the new owner, had ever notified her of this development, as is required by the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO)—a law that protects Chicago renters living in foreclosed properties. If the new owner of the house wished to discontinue Ms. Thomas’s lease, he needed to provide her with a 90-day notice, informing of her right to financial relocation assistance and that she has 90 days to move out of the home. But Ms. Thomas never received any notices, nor had any idea that she was living in a foreclosed property until the day she was forced out by the sheriff.
LCBH’s staff attorney was successful in getting Ms. Thomas and her family back into their home. But the work had just begun for LCBH’s Supportive Services team, who were tasked with helping Ms. Thomas find a new rental home. In her search, Ms. Thomas not only struggled to find affordable housing, but she also encountered several scams. For instance, upon arriving to view a rental property, she frequently learned that the price was now much higher than the one the prospective landlord had advertised. Additionally, she had enquired about several properties that were listed as rentals only to discover that they were actually rent-to-owns. There were also two different landlords who claimed to live out of state and told Ms. Thomas that she should mail them a security deposit in order to obtain the keys. While our Supportive Services team reported these scams and helped Ms. Thomas avoid them, they highlight yet another challenge that renters face.
Thankfully, Ms. Thomas’s story ends well. LCBH continued to work with Ms. Thomas over the course of several months, helping her to confirm ownership and determine the conditions of potential homes by looking up addresses and building violations. Ms. Thomas and her family are now comfortably moved into their new home in a nearby suburb.