Blog

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.

Tackling Housing Discrimination Head-On

Leta Young resided in her apartment for five years before the building went into foreclosure, “I was forced to hurry up and get out because the new owners were investors and wanted me out in 30 days. That’s when I sought help.” Soon after the new owners informed Leta that she had to vacate her apartment in 30 days she found Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.

Patricia Fron, LCBH Building Programs Administrator explains, “We did foreclosure counseling and found that the building was sold through a short sale. We negotiated directly with the new owner to get Leta more time to stay while she searched for new housing. Leta also participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program and we worked with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to make sure she did not lose her voucher.”

“Patricia really got the ball rolling and was really there for me,” says Leta. “She listened to my story and told me the things I needed to do. A lot of people were not accepting Housing Choice Vouchers and I was fairly new to the voucher program so I thought I was doing the right thing by being upfront with landlords.” Even with the help of LCBH, 35 out of 45 landlords turned Leta down because of her voucher and it took her months to secure new housing.

1. A landlord doesn’t return a voice mail from an African-American applicant interested in renting an apartment, but does call a white applicant back.

2. A property manager tells a family with children that they can’t rent the only available apartment because it is on the third floor with a balcony and that would be dangerous for their young children.

3. A veteran in a wheelchair is told that he can’t rent an available apartment in a four-flat because there are stairs and no ramp.

Discrimination? Yes, no, or maybe?

Scenarios like this are offered in trainings on housing discrimination laws, provided throughout Chicago by the Fair Housing Education Consortium (FHEC), a project funded by the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Now completing its fourth year, FHEC has completed 140 trainings, reaching 500-600 people annually throughout the city. Information is given on who and what is protected under city state and federal fair housing laws. Attendees include community organizations, immigrant groups, landlords and tenants alike.

The formation of the consortium was initiated by LCBH, which continues to coordinate the project. Other member agencies include Access Living, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the John Marshall Fair Housing Legal Support Center.

An Evening at the Fair

LCBH was thrilled to take part in the 19th Annual Chicago Bar Association (CBA) Young Lawyers Section’s (YLS) Pro Bono and Community Service Fair, hosted at the law offices of Kirkland and Ellis LLP. LCBH was among 50 other Chicago-based legal aid and community organizations offering pro bono opportunities to new and seasoned legal professionals.

The LCBH table was a popular spot during the fair, with a steady stream of attendees stopping by for information. LCBH staff and Young Professionals Board members were available to answer questions and to discuss the many different ways to support LCBH’s work.

Over 20 individuals signed up for more information on pro bono opportunities with LCBH and many more stopped by with questions about LCBH in general.Between the Pro Bono training sessions held at the LCBH office on October 26th and November 15th, we hosted 16 prospective volunteers eager to jump into housing advocacy! We look forward to working with all of our new volunteers over the coming year.

Thank You

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!

Eunice Lee (left) with Pro Bono Coordinator Samira Nazem

Last October, we at LCBH had the good fortune of Eunice Lee stumbling upon our table at the Kirkland & Ellis Pro Bono Fair. She recalls meeting LCBH Legal Director Mark Swartz and listening to a persuasive sales pitch and promise that if she came to LCBH she would be in court litigating in no time.

As a recent law school graduate looking to gain courtroom experience, the offer sounded intriguing and Eunice signed up to volunteer. Now, one year later, Eunice has dedicated over 600 hours of her time to helping renters through serious housing problems. She says that the friendliness of staff and volunteers and the flexible office environment have kept her coming back.

Looking back over the last year, Eunice says her favorite part of working at LCBH is talking to clients and hearing their stories. “It’s easy to take your comfortable living situation for granted,” she says, but working at LCBH has opened her eyes to individuals and families whose situations are far more tenuous. She was shocked to learn how easy it is for landlords to take advantage of families who do know they have legal recourse, but is glad that they have somewhere to turn. “I’m glad LCBH is here to help. There is nothing like direct representation for empowering a family in crisis.”

Why Pro Bono with LCBH?

We Love Pro Bono

Calling all attorneys! Did you know that volunteering pro bono with LCBH will help you live longer, become richer, and solve world hunger? Well maybe not, but it can help save a family in crisis from homelessness, develop your legal skills, and create new professional relationships.

The need for pro bono services at LCBH and across the country is now greater than ever. The Legal Service Corporation’s Pro Bono Task Force estimates that while 62 million, or one in five, Americans qualify for civil legal assistance, as many of 80% of those who seek it will be denied aid because of insufficient resources.

The American Bar Association encourages each attorney to donate at least 50 hours of service per year. By donating just a few hours of time, a pro bono attorney can help shrink the justice gap and provide much needed support to a family in need.

With the help of volunteers, LCBH is able to impact the lives of over over 7,000 Illinois renters each year. In the last month, our volunteers saved a single mother’s Section 8 voucher, protected an immigrant family from a threatening landlord, and stood up to a bank so eager to evict a tenant that it refused to afford her due process.

LCBH staff attorneys are always here to help you, so whether this is your first pro bono engagement or your hundredth, we will provide the training, resources, and support you need to ensure a positive experience for both you and your client.

Tenants living in an Uptown three- flat renewed and/or entered into year-long leases, unaware that their landlord’s building went into foreclosure back in 2010. This constituted a violation of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance requiring landlords to notify tenants or potential renters after they have been served with a foreclosure complaint.

Although the landlord lost the property due to an Order of Possession and Confirmation of Sale back in March of 2012, he has continued to demand and accept rent from tenants which is illegal since he no longer owns the building. Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing attorneys provided tenants with foreclosure counseling services and shared public record information with them at a building meeting indicating that the landlord was no longer on the title.

Despite being confronted with this information, the landlord cited irregularities with the bank’s paperwork and claimed that he was still officially the landlord. Furthermore, the landlord threatened the tenants with imminent loss of building services and utilities if they failed to pay rent because he was continuing to pay for utilities and a maintenance man. He argued that the tenants could not expect to live anywhere for free and should pay him to manage the building.

Sharon King Receives First Legacy Award

Kathy Clark Honored as Tenant Advocate of the Year
Kathleen Clark and Sharon King

As LCBH looks forward to the year ahead, increasing staff and services that will reach many more renters throughout Illinois, it is a bittersweet time as we say so long to two very important people who have been a part of the LCBH family for a very long time. Sharon King and Kathy Clark both retired this year; each leaving a legacy that sustains the agency well into the future ensuring many more people will have meaningful access to the judicial process to provide safe, decent affordable housing for their families.

Noah Magaram

Noah has always been interested in social justice and progressive politics. His senior quote in high school was “politics is the shadow cast upon society by big business.” He decided to go to law school at DePaul College of Law when he realized that attorneys could have more impact than only protecting powerful interests. In the winter of 2011, Noah came to LCBH as an attorney-of-the-day volunteer.

Noah notes that a volunteer doing minor things for tenants disproportionately impacts their lives in a positive way. Keeping a tenant from facing homelessness may at times simply require a mundane transfer order. Many abusive landlords will often back off once they hear that the tenant simply has representation.

Noah’s first start to finish case was to help a tenant living in a foreclosed home. He got them $1400 in a deal with the bank, and the tenant referred to him as acting like the biblical Noah saving them from a flood. Noah has made countless contributions to LCBH since then including helping a tenant with disabilties stand up to an abusive landlord who was charging her for utility bills on a building that she did not live in. He secured time and money to move out and protected her from further abuse by removing her name from those utility bills. The deal allowed the tenant and her family to move on in their lives with a clean slate and no contact from the abusive landlord.

Cassandra Walker

Cassandra Walker (center) pictured at our 2011 Annual Reception with Legal Director Mark Swartz (left) and Supportive Services Director John Paul Beals (rigth)

Cassandra is a single mom with an ailing mother living with her. She found herself living in a deteriorating apartment building in foreclosure and suffering from several legal issues due to these circumstances. Thanks to her patience and perseverance and the incredible work of LCBH’s legal and supportive services team, Cassandra was able to move out of the foreclosed building, resolve her legal issues, receive damages and move into a substantially better apartment. Her “foreclosure eviction” filings were sealed and she is now able to move on with her life.