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.
Gentrification. We hear that word a lot about Chicago’s neighborhoods on the city’s north and northwest sides. What is gentrification? Gentrification is defined as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
Renters in one building in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood know the effects of gentrification first hand. Over the last three years, their building had gone through foreclosure and the court appointment of a property manager. Last year, a developer purchased the property. The developer appeared to be doing things correctly, providing tenants with proper notices and managers to handle the needs of the building. Then construction began on the building; residents were enthusiastic about the improvements to be made to the building. However the construction turned into unsafe conditions; porches were torn down without notice; unannounced water shut-offs; and loud construction. After the improvements started to take place, each tenant received a thirty-day notice to move. They soon realized that after the building received upgrades, they would no longer be able to afford to rent their current homes.
January in Chicago usually consists of sub-zero temperatures and high winds. The kind of weather that insists that you stay inside, nice and warm in your home, with your family. Sadly, that nice, warm home was not an option for some tenants in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood whose building had serious issues affecting their health and safety.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) often collaborates with various community organizations, like the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), to address building issues in Chicago. MTO offers a tenants’ rights hotline for people to report building problems, and MTO had received calls from multiple tenants at the South Shore building complaining that they did not have heat. MTO went to the building to investigate. The building conditions were poor. Not only was there no heat, but tenants also had no running water due to frozen pipes and parts of the ceiling were breaking off inside some of the units.
Chicagoans now have access to a useful new tool when looking for an apartment to rent – a list of “Problem Landlords.” The list identifies residential building owners who have been repeatedly cited for failing to provide tenants with basic services and protections, such as adequate heat, hot water, and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The landlords listed have three or more serious building code violations, or have been found liable in two or more administrative hearing cases about their building(s). The list will be updated every six months. This list is available at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/building-code....
The City also publishes another useful list for tenants to review – the Building Code Scofflaw List. This list (also found at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/building-code...) identifies residential building owners who have three or more properties that are the subject of active Circuit Court cases and the building code violations remain uncorrected after the second court hearing . This list is updated once a year.
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.
Leo Jones heard about LCBH’s Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline and called looking for help. Mr. Jones believed he was within his rights to live out the term of his lease and that he was being misled by the new property manager at his building. Mr. Jones’ landlord had recently lost the apartment building due to foreclosure.
Mr. Jones called LCBH’s foreclosure helpline about his situation and LCBH helped him understand applicable laws. Mr. Jones then filed complaints with both the Illinois Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Complaints and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation alleging that his current lease should be honored, and that the new property owner and property management company were not complying with the law. The Attorney General’s office investigated the property management company and continued to watch the company’s conduct. After several months of Mr. Jones’ efforts to have the new property owner acknowledge his tenancy, and follow the terms of his existing lease, the new owner filed an eviction case against Mr. Jones.
LCBH represented Mr. Jones in the eviction court case. The court analyzed the federal Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act (PTFA) and Illinois law, and ruled that Mr. Jones had a valid lease. Mr. Jones would be able to remain in his home!
Going to court can be a very intimidating experience. Imagine finding yourself as a renter, paying your rent on time each month, and then being brought into eviction court because your building went into foreclosure! Do you have to move? When? What about your security deposit?
Many people believe that a person’s right to live in a rental property is contingent on the landlord continuing to own the property, or that when the landlord loses ownership of the building that the renters also lose their leases. In fact, this is not always the case. For renters, foreclosure does not mean “Get Out Now”!
Timely and accurate legal information can be crucial for renters. LCBH’s Tenants in Foreclosure team works to make people aware that renters may be able to stay, even if their landlord loses the property. LCBH shares this information with stakeholders throughout Illinois, hosting free renters’ rights workshops, distributing brochures, and referring renters to our helpline.
LCBH staff have been on the road throughout Illinois, providing brochures to Illinois Township Supervisors, meeting librarians and sharing resources at the Illinois Library Association annual conference, forging new partnerships, and strengthening current collaborations. Thanks to these visits, our Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline will now be included in the Peoria Landlord Tenant Handbook published by Housing Action Illinois.
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.
Our Intake Supervisor, Sue Scholten, has been with LCBH for five years. In this article, Sue shares some perspectives on the integration of supportive services when helping renters with legal problems.
According to Sue, it all starts with the intake interview, which is not really an interview, but rather a conversation that involves listening to the multiple messages the person presents and the environment from which those messages emerge.
In the beginning, when listening to an individual’s story for the first time, we look for factual information that are legal defenses to an eviction and can inform the attorneys when deciding whether LCBH will be able to take the case or not. During this process, there are multiple messages about the “person in environment” that emerge and may be of concern to LCBH’s supportive services team. Underneath the basic facts of their potential legal case, there is the psychological and narrative messages that have evolved from long- term economic disadvantage, non-responsive institutional systems, and family and friend support systems with limited resources to assist this person.
Just as an individual’s personal experiences may create inspiring resiliency, for others there is psychological and social exhaustion that evolves from systems that create disadvantage and exclusion. It is in this undefined area of response to events that an individual may need additional assistance in the form of supportive services.
LCBH welcomes four interns to the Supportive Services team for the Spring semester of 2015. These interns gain valuable professional experience while helping LCBH clients facing housing instability or possible homelessness.
Carla Feger – Carla is a first-year student at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During college, she studied psychology and took some education courses to learn more about equity concerns in education. As Carla continued her learning process, she served with City Year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and mentored seventh-grade students who taught her a lot about the world. This experience affirmed her passion to work with students to help provide them with a rewarding experience and to achieve to the fullest potential. Carla decided to pursue a Masters in School Social Work and chose to intern with LCBH’s Supportive Services department to learn more about the housing issues that families face and how those issues significantly affect students’ lives, including their success in school.
When you donate a tax-deductible gift to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, you become a partner helping to achieve the LCBH mission: to improve housing stability in Chicago by promoting the rights of renters to access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. Your support will provide families with legal assistance and supportive services that help prevent homelessness, improve substandard living conditions, and preserve affordable housing. This is an opportunity to invest in our very own community.
Your charitable donation to LCBH will help:
Provide fair and meaningful access to the justice system;
Deliver supportive services to help stabilize housing; and
Preserve affordable housing units and improve habitability conditions to help ensure access to decent housing.
Other ways you can support Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing:
In Kind Donations
For non-profits, securing adequate resources is always a challenge. Most funders do not provide support for administrative or office capacity. Many of these needs can be met through generous in-kind donations! In-kind donors are recognized at LCBH events, on the LCBH website, and in the LCBH Annual Report. LCBH has a wish list of goods, services, and spaces that would greatly benefit LCBH’s organizational needs and help keep vital LCBH programs running! These include: