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.
Following is a recent letter from a client describing her experiences living in a recently foreclosed apartment building and dealing with the new bank owners. Her words resonate in a way that ours cannot. We wanted to share her letter with you, as your support is what makes our interventions in these situations possible. Thank you!
I, and most of the tenants in my bank-owned building, would have given up our rights out of frustration and fear if it were not for the services of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
We had known for some time that our building was in the process of foreclosure. But we were not worried because we knew the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) required the bank to either renew our leases or pay a $10,600 relocation fee. However, our collective peace of mind began to crumble as we came to understand that the bank was neither equipped nor inclined to perform the basic duties of a landlord. Soon after, our anxiety rose even further, as the bank engaged in scare-tactics designed to persuade us to move out on our own accord (therefore circumventing the requirements of the KCRO).
Thus far, the bank has used two tactics. The first is a passive approach: they benignly neglect the responsibilities of building management. The second is more aggressive, entailing periodic eviction threats. The only reason these tactics are not working is because we are represented by Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
The housing landscape of many Chicago neighborhoods is changing quickly, especially in terms of affordability and stability. Buildings are being sold to developers, many times from outside Chicago, who increase rents and push out long-term residents. Humboldt Park is one of these neighborhoods. Tenants living in a 44 unit apartment building in Humboldt Park received notices informing them the building had a new owner and they had 30 days to move. As soon as the notices expired, the remaining 20 remaining tenants, who were unable to move, had evictions filed against them by the cash investors who purchased the building. LCBH attorneys tackled this matter head on in both eviction and building courts.
With the assistance of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), a citywide organization that helps tenants organize to assert their collective rights, LCBH was able to form a tenants association to request more time and relocation assistance from the new landlord. These requests were ignored.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court recently issued an opinion in the case of Shadid v. Sims involving the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) and whether attorneys are entitled to recover their fees for counter-claims in eviction court.
We sat down with LCBH’s Legal Director, Mark Swartz, to get an understanding of how the court’s decision impacts renters.
What was the original case that led to the appeal?
It was Shadid v. Sims, and it began as a typical eviction case for non-payment of rent. But as LCBH attorneys know too well, not all eviction cases are simply a question of “did you or did you not pay your rent?” In this case, the Sims, who were the renters, counter-claimed that the landlord had failed to maintain the premises free of bedbugs, cockroaches, and rats in violation of the RLTO. The judge agreed with the Sims, their rent was fully offset and they were allowed to stay in their home. LCBH, itself, has alleged any number of habitability counter-claims similar to the Sims.
This summer, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) teamed up with the John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program and Heartland Alliance to help a family in crisis get a fresh start. The Ali family had recently fled Syria during the civil war and escaped to the US where they hoped to establish a new life. They moved into an apartment building that had a bedbug infestation, and soon their small children suffered from bed bug bites that required ongoing medical attention. To make matters worse, the landlord refused to treat the infestation and had threatened the family suggesting he could interfere with their application for asylum.
The family did not speak much English and they were at a loss about how to best to protect themselves. Without steady income and paying for mounting extermination and medical cost, soon the Ali family found themselves in eviction court. For any family, facing a legal system can be very intimidating and foreign, even to those who have lived their entire lives here in America.
LCBH is hosting an Eviction Defense Training for interested volunteers on Wednesday,July 22 at 12:00 PM. The training will be held at the LCBH office located at 33 N LaSalle Street, Suite 900. Attendees will also receive 1.0 MCLE credit hour. Please feel free to bring your lunch.
This hour-long training will cover the basics of landlord-tenant law and eviction practice in Illinois. Attendees will learn about the various state and local laws governing landlord-tenant relationships and the ins and outs of the eviction courtroom. We will also discuss different ways to get involved and support LCBH’s mission through pro bono work.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) believes that every individual and family is entitled to decent housing as a basic need and human right. For over thirty years, LCBH has defended the rights of tenants to have safe, accessible, and affordable housing on a non-discriminatory basis through education, outreach, supportive services, advocacy, and legal representation impacting over 7000 Chicago area renters each year. LCBH provides free legal assistance to low and moderate-income renters facing eviction and other serious housing issues. With the help of our volunteers, LCBH represents over 400 individuals and families in court each year, many times providing the last defense against homelessness.
A decade ago, Lydia and Anthony Garcia, an elderly couple, moved into the second floor of an owner occupied two-flat. The Garcias are both disabled; Lydia requires a wheelchair and oxygen tank and her husband Anthony is confined to a bed. Nearly ten years later, they sought the assistance of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) regarding an eviction. During that time, the basement had been illegally subdivided into two additional apartments. However, the building had only two electrical meters serving all four apartments, hallways and common areas. The Garcias suspected that they were not only paying the electrical bill for their apartment, they were also paying the electric bill for the hallways and other common areas, AND both illegal basement apartments!
During a hot and sticky Chicago summer, Grace and Robert Merkel moved into a single-family home with their six children. Shortly after moving in, the Merkels encountered mold and mildew growing on the walls, ceiling, and carpets. There were roaches and bed bugs in the home, holes in the walls and ceilings, and leaky plumbing. During each of the three winters that the family lived in the home, there was also insufficient heat.
At first, Mr. Merkel attempted to resolve the heating issue himself. He paid to have the furnace fixed, and eventually bought space heaters for each of the bedrooms. Still, the temperature hovered in the 40’s, and the family was forced to wear their winter coats indoors. To address the mold and mildew issues, Robert bought various cleaning supplies but they did not help. The Merkels told their landlord of their issues and he refused to hire a qualified professional to remove the mold. In the meantime, several of the couple’s children developed chronic respiratory irritation due to the constant cold, mold, and mildew they experienced during the winter months. The landlord refused to hire an exterminator, so Robert bought sprays to deal with the bed bugs and roaches, but they repeatedly returned.
Following is a recent letter to LCBH from a client expressing her gratitude for the support she and her family received from LCBH. We want to share this heartwarming story with you, as your support is what makes these stories possible. Thank you!
My name is Charlotte. I came to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing in February, very distressed and afraid of being put out on the streets of Chicago. My landlord, I had been renting with for 8 years, went into foreclosure. I found out when the bank came and put a sign on the front door while I was shoveling snow. They told me I could call the bank and they would tell me what to do. I did not know anything about foreclosure, 90 day notices or being served a forceful eviction notice. I called the bank and they told me I would probably have to move.
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.
Ms. Wiles lived peacefully above her landlord in an owner-occupied building for over a year. During this time, she underwent training to become a foster parent, with the hope of adopting a child one day. To her surprise, she had the opportunity to adopt three siblings and keep a family together.
Unfortunately, Ms. Wiles’ landlord did not share her enthusiasm about the situation or like the idea of three children joining her in the upstairs apartment. The following month, the owner demanded an immediate rent increase of 47% and refused to accept the previously agreed upon rent listed in the lease. When Ms. Wiles was unable to pay the higher rent, the owner served her with a five-day notice to terminate the tenancy and then filed an eviction lawsuit.
Ms. Wiles came to LCBH seeking legal representation in eviction court where she was referred to the LCBH’s Attorney of the Day (AOD) eviction defense program. Ms. Wiles had a compelling defense based on discrimination against her due to her parental status, which is protected both in Chicago and Cook County. She also had a strong technical defense based on her landlord’s failure to provide her with proper notice.