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.
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.
The Reed Family had been peacefully living in the Chatham neighborhood since 2010 in a home they rented. Their lives were turned upside down late last year after their landlord lost the building to foreclosure and the foreclosing bank evicted them from their home.
The Reeds knew their building was in foreclosure and they had received the required 90 days’ notice to vacate, so they weren’t shocked or surprised when they were summoned to eviction court. As the Reeds had done nothing wrong nor had the plaintiff alleged any breach of their lease, the Reeds didn't feel they would need an attorney. They showed up to court with their lease in hand only to have the eviction court judge summarily enter an Order of Possession (eviction order) against the family.
Luckily for the Reeds, they were referred to LCBH. The Reeds had a valid lease, and LCBH confirmed that their lease provided them with the right to stay in their home until the end of the lease term. The LCBH legal team jumped into action and filed a motion asking the court to vacate (make void) the eviction order and to stay (put on hold) the execution of the eviction order until the court made a decision on the motion. Not only was the legal team able to reach an agreement that allowed the Reeds to stay in their home through the end of their lease, they also got the Reeds an additional month allowing them time to find new housing, got the case dismissed and had the court record sealed.
Cecelia Blue may not be our oldest volunteer, but she certainly ranks near the top for longtime commitment to LCBH and our clients - she first began volunteering at LCBH over a decade ago! Cecelia started out with the old Attorney of the Day program, stepping up in court to cover status hearings and settle cases. She left LCBH for a time while pursuing other opportunities, and then, late last year, she boomeranged back to LCBH after hearing about a training for new volunteers. What brought her back after all those years? She says, "I remembered what a positive experience it was. You see people floundering by themselves in court, struggling to represent themselves pro se, because they cannot afford a lawyer. I believe people should be able to get a high quality attorney even if they can't afford one."
For Cecelia, those aren't empty words; it's a way of life. She is serious about pro bono work and treats it like it’s her job, often spending more hours on her assorted pro bono projects than on her own business. In any given week you might find Cecelia at the Dwight Correctional Facility, where she helps incarcerated mothers petition to preserve their parental rights, or at the Daley Center, where she serves as a guardian ad litem (court appointed attorney) in family law cases. When she's not doing pro bono work, she finds time to squeeze in her own paying clients through her accounting and law practices.
Rental leases can take many forms, from a contract spanning hundreds of pages to a simple text message conversation. LCBH has encountered any number of ways a landlord and a tenant have chosen to do business. One recent example involved Charles, who resided in a single-unit home that was owned by his uncle James. In 2012, James invited his nephew Charles to live with him and assist with renovating the home. Concerned by his own ill health and mindful that his nephew was also facing major spinal surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation, James drafted a handwritten document purporting to be a codicil (amendment) to his will. The document provided for Charles to reside in the home for a five-year period commencing after James’ death, so long as he maintained the property.
Charles performed various renovations until his uncle passed away in 2013. After his uncle’s death, a development company acquired the property and sought to evict Charles. The new owners were unwilling to honor James’ promise to let Charles stay and instead served him with an immediate demand for possession. They were also unwilling to consider letting Charles remain as a tenant, calling him a trespasser and threatening to oust him by changing the locks and shutting off the utilities. On multiple occasions they sent Charles harsh notices advising him to leave because of the imminent demolition of the home.
Susan is a disabled woman who, like many of our neighbors during this slow economic recovery, fell behind on her rent after losing her job. In September 2013, a Chicago-based real estate company acquired her building and instructed all tenants who were behind on their rent to contact the main office and arrange a payment plan. Susan dutifully called the main office and was transferred to an eviction hotline. Susan spoke with an operator and agreed to a payment plan that would allow her to catch up on her past due rent while continuing to make her current monthly rent payments.
However, before the first payment under her new payment plan came due, the real estate company served Susan with a 5-day notice to vacate for non-payment of rent. Attached to the notice was a document instructing her to call the eviction hotline to arrange a payment plan to avoid eviction. Susan called the number and confirmed the terms of her payment plan. The operator assured her that they would accept her payment when it came due per their agreement. On the due date, Susan traveled to the main office with payment in hand, only to have it refused. The real estate company filed for eviction soon thereafter. Susan, dumbfounded and concerned about losing her home, contacted LCBH for assistance.
Veronica Bey came to LCBH in May 2013 looking for help. Veronica, her father, and her four (soon to be five) children participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program. The apartment they were living in was no longer eligible for the program because of failed apartment inspections by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and, as a result, the landlord evicted the Bey family from their home. With the help of the LCBH legal team, Veronica and her family were able to reach a settlement that provided the family with additional time to move out. Housing Choice Voucher holders often encounter difficulty in finding places to rent, and since the Beys were unable to find new housing by the agreed deadline an “Order of Possession” (eviction order) was entered against them.
At this point, the LCBH Supportive Services team stepped in to help. In July, the Beys located a suitable unit with a landlord who was willing to rent to them. The CHA was not able to issue the required moving papers until August and sadly, the landlord decided to rent to another family.
In that same month, Veronica gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby. With the help of their friends, family and church, the Beys were able to temporarily move into an apartment above their church.
LCBH recently had a huge multi-layered victory in the Attorney of the Day Eviction Defense program. A family in need was allowed to remain in their home thanks to LCBH attorneys and a third year senior law student’s strident advocacy at trial and an emergency grant from a great new LCBH partner to help the family recover from a financial set-back.
JaQuan is a single mother caring for her two children (ages 16 and 9) and her 63-year-old disabled mother. The family has lived in a property owned by the Chicago Housing Authority since 2001. In June of 2012, JaQuan’s social security income was reduced and she no longer had the means to pay her rent by the first of the month. She had a supplemental source of income, but she did not receive this money until around the middle of the month. After the change in income, she began paying her rent immediately after receiving her supplemental money, usually around the 20th of each month. The management company accepted her late rent for seven months until January of this year when they served a notice demanding that JaQuan pay her rent within five days, or her tenancy would terminate. JaQuan attempted to pay her rent, plus the late fee, but the management company refused her payment and filed for eviction.
The Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, comprised of community-based organizations, unions, and policy groups, with a policy committee spearheaded by LCBH, crafted a new ordinance designed to increase local renter protections and to hold successors-in-interest (primarily banks) accountable to tenants in buildings acquired at foreclosure sale. Since early 2012, the group has actively promoted the adoption of this ordinance, the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) through meetings with aldermen and other city officials, press conferences, policy reports, and other action intended to draw attention to the problems caused by vacant buildings and displaced tenants.
What’s better than winning a case in eviction court? Not having to go to eviction court in the first place! That’s the philosophy behind the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) at LCBH. TAP relies exclusively on volunteers to resolve landlord-tenant disputes before they escalate, with the goal of keeping tenants in their homes and out of court.
For many months, LCBH was forced to reject many TAP cases that came in because there weren’t enough resources to handle them internally. Last fall, we began a partnership with the West Cook Pro Bono Network (WCPBN), an Oak Park-based group of attorney moms and solo practitioners looking to balance their passion for pro bono with the demanding requirements of family life. Every week, one or two WCPBN members sign up to be “on call” for LCBH and handle any TAP cases that come in that week. WCPBN volunteers are able to work from home on their own schedule and our clients are able to get great pro bono representation from a team of experienced and talented volunteer attorneys.
Since October, WCPBN volunteers have handled almost 20 TAP cases for LCBH! Here are a few highlights of their work:
Do you remember how long your last lease was? A page or two? It probably wasn’t 20+ pages, the typical length of a lease for a resident of subsidized housing in Chicago.
What’s in those lengthy leases? Rules. To qualify for subsidized housing, residents must go through a rigorous background check and application process.
Once approved, residents are asked to sign paperwork agreeing to abide by a comprehensive set of rules. Any violation is grounds for eviction.
Many of the rules that these residents must abide by seem quite reasonable. There are the standard prohibitions on noise and damage. There are bans on criminal conduct, drug use, and gang activity. But other rules seem unnecessarily restrictive, especially to anyone used to the freedom of the private housing market. The following are actual rules enforced in some Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) properties: