Blog: Credit Report

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

Working Together with Betty

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helps preserve the vitality and affordability of Chicago’s neighborhoods. The attorneys and staff at LCBH work with community partners to ensure those affected by unfair evictions, deplorable living conditions or foreclosure have viable and affordable housing options currently and in the future. The LCBH Supportive Services team is available for the most vulnerable LCBH clients and their families to avoid homelessness and achieve stable housing. This includes assessment of needs, assistance in locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing links to essential services. The multi-disciplinary and holistic approach that LCBH provides has proven an effective way to assist clients moving towards a goal of attaining more stable housing beyond the immediate crisis of eviction.

Daley Center Courthouse

In Illinois, if a renter is taken to eviction court after the property is in foreclosure, the law requires that the court file be sealed. In fact though, as LCBH noted in its 2013 Annual Tenants in Foreclosure Report, Chicago’s Foreclosure Crisis: Community Solutions to the Loss of Affordable Rental Housing (http://lcbh.org/reports/foreclosure/2013), only 46% of foreclosure-related eviction cases were sealed from the public record in 2013. LCBH clients who were entitled to have their records sealed were reporting problems finding new housing due to having an eviction case on their record. Credit reporting agencies and landlord-tenant “blacklists” were not necessarily interested in the outcome of a case, but focused only on the fact that an eviction case had been filed.

After the 2013 foreclosure report was published, LCBH met with Judge E. Kenneth Wright, the Presiding Judge of the First Municipal District of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and shared with Judge Wright the experiences of LCBH clients.

Daniela with her sons

Your gift to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing is a meaningful investment in our very own Chicago community to ensure everyone has a safe, decent and affordable place to call home. You can take a stand to show support for families who are living in terrible conditions, or facing homelessness, with little or no access to the courts that are supposed to protect them.

I would like to share with you the story of Daniela, a strong, funny, and determined single mother of three sons, Alex, Gabe, and Tom. Daniela works over 45 hours a week at two part-time minimum wage jobs, making less than $18,000/year, trying to provide a good home for her family.

Daniela’s family had previously been living in a building that went into foreclosure. Even though she had been paying rent and had a lease, the family was evicted when the lender took over the building. Daniela was able find a two bedroom apartment in a modest neighborhood for $950/month, more than 60% of her gross income. It was not in her previous neighborhood where all of her family, friends, and children’s schools were located, and the apartment had problems that needed to be fixed, but it was the best she could find. Prior to signing the lease the landlord assured Daniela that all of the problems would be fixed, but when the fall’s cold snap arrived Daniela and her boys had no heat. After Daniela made numerous requests for heat, she received an eviction notice.

Barriers to Housing

The mission of the LCBH is to promote the rights of tenant access to safe, decent and affordable housing on a non-discriminatory basis through legal representation, advocacy, education, outreach and supportive services. The Supportive Service Department allows LCBH to provide holistic services to vulnerable tenants to prevent a cycle of eviction, job instability, and homelessness. Approximately 20% of clients accepted for legal representation by LCBH’s eviction defense program are internally referred to receive supportive services. The Supportive Services team considers the individual and family needs to develop a comprehensive plan that will address barriers to maintaining permanent housing and work to achieve greater housing stability.

LCBH assesses renters’ needs, and provides assistance in locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing referrals to other essential services. As LCBH works primarily with low-income renters, affordability is the most common barrier to housing we see, but many clients face other serious obstacles that threaten their housing stability.

Dealing with a credit reporting agency

In our system of justice, we often take for granted the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, this fundamental idea of fairness is not exhibited in our credit reporting and tenant screening systems, particularly in regard to evictions. When a landlord files an eviction case against a tenant in Cook County, that information is public and often filed with reporting and screening agencies prior to the case being heard. The problem with this, of course, is that many eviction cases are dismissed and most foreclosure related evictions are by no fault of the tenant, yet the negative report appears in the records of these reporting and screening agencies.

Rejected

In 2009, Veeda, a teacher with two children, was living in an apartment building that went into foreclosure. During the foreclosure process, the landlord, dealing with his own financial problems, allowed the conditions of the building to deteriorate. Veeda found herself living without heat or hot water and mice had infested her unit. After several weeks of unsuccessful attempts at contacting her landlord to have the problems fixed, she began to withhold rent.

LCBH accepted Veeda’s case in November of 2009, and our diligent legal team settled Veeda’s case the following January. The agreement we reached waived all back rent (the rent Veeda had withheld), and stated that as long as Veeda moved out of her apartment by February 15th, the eviction case would be dismissed.

Unfortunately for Veeda, the eviction and back rent already appeared up on her credit report. As a result of this negative information, several prospective landlords would not rent to Veeda, and it took her a long time to find new housing. Most people know that a good credit report is needed to get a mortgage, take out a loan for college or a new car, or apply for a credit card. Yet many do not realize is that landlords often perform credit checks as part of their tenant screening process.