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 Attorney of the Day (AOD) eviction defense team at LCBH recently represented Juan and Maria Salazar (not their real names) and their three small children. The family was being evicted from their apartment in South Chicago for alleged non-payment of rent. Maria is a woman from Mexico whose status in the U.S. is undocumented. Juan is a U.S. citizen, Maria is from Mexico and their three children are U.S.-born. The Salazars discovered that the utility meters in their two-unit building were arranged such that they were paying the electricity bill for the common areas of the building and garage, which is a violation of the Illinois Rental Property Utility Service Act.
LCBH attorneys Samira Nazem and Aileen Flanagan (pictured), recently spoke with an ESL class at the Howard Area Community Center (HACC) in Rogers Park about housing issues including landlord and tenant responsibilities, maintenance problems, evictions and lockouts, and foreclosure.
The class is made up of recent immigrant adults to the United States who are trying to improve their literacy and comprehension skills.
Referral information and fact sheets were also shared with the group. Megan Thompson, an AmeriCorps VISTA with LCBH, is a volunteer tutor for the community center and helped organize the event.
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.
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.
In September, Eunice (see volunteer spotlight this issue) won a great victory for one of her clients’ and for LCBH. The clients were a couple whose landlord had filed an eviction against them for nonpayment of rent. They explained that they only started withholding rent payments when the landlord ceased to maintain their building
The landlord’s neglect rendered the building uninhabitable. It was infested with mice and bedbugs, the electricity was unreliable, and the hot water worked only late at night. There was mold throughout their unit; some of the windows were broken and were never repaired. The landlord refused to fix any of the conditions despite repeated requests both by the couple and the City. Upon review of the case, Eunice also discovered there were security deposit violations.
In response to the eviction, LCBH filed defenses and counterclaims against the landlord based on his mismanagement of both the building and the clients’ security deposit. Initially, the landlord wanted to go to trial but soon discovered it would not be successful. Eunice negotiated a very nice settlement for her clients and was also able to get the eviction case sealed to protect her client’s credit rating. Thanks to Eunice’s hard work and sharp negotiation skills, her client was able to use that money to move into a new apartment and have a fresh start!