Mark's Musings – October 2020 Edition

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

We are living in uncertain times. Eviction court is no exception. While the governor continues to extend the statewide moratorium on eviction filings in 30-day increments (the longest timeframe allowed by law) there is no certainty that these extensions will continue to be granted. The latest extension is set to expire on November 14th. LCBH is advocating for further extensions at least until all of the state’s emergency rental funds have been disbursed.

How has LCBH responded in the face of the uncertainty surrounding eviction court? We doubled our staff size. Last month, LCBH hired 19 people for the Eviction Prevention Project (EPP) to respond to the avalanche of eviction filings we expect to see once court reopens. This Project is funded through the Chicago Department of Housing using funds appropriated by the CARES Act and these funds need to be spent down by December 31, 2020. I was initially concerned that we wouldn’t be able to hire all the staff attorneys we would require in such a short window of time. I needn’t have worried. With the bar exams delayed until this month, there was an enormous amount of pent up energy and talent that wanted to join the cause. We currently have nine, mostly new, housing attorneys raring to go.

I was also worried about LCBH’s ability to supervise so many new staff without diverting current staff from the important work they are already doing. So, I reached out for some supervision ringers. My first call was to Ed Grossman, who founded the Chicago Legal Clinic (CLC) in 1981, just a year after LCBH started. At CLC, Ed was able to obtain unprecedented access to the Daley Center and he has been invaluable to launching this program. I also brought on Kelli Dudley and Ed Campbell, two formidable litigators that I have collaborated with from time to time. Still, even with all this talent, given the difficulties inherent in remote onboarding and supervision, I don’t think we would have been able to roll this out so smoothly without the deep litigation and supervision experience that our new legal director, Michelle Gilbert, brings to the agency.

Given the continued eviction moratorium, the Eviction Prevention Project had to pivot from the in-court work. The Project’s focus until court reopens has shifted to combatting illegal lockouts in all the various forms they present themselves and identifying and defending any of the wrongfully filed evictions that have been brought during the moratorium. We are engaging in a massive outreach campaign to let the community know that we have enormous capacity to take lockout and eviction defense cases.

When eviction court does reopen, LCBH has several new tools at our disposal, the result of efforts that have been in the works for years and that LCBH played a central role in achieving. A new Illinois Supreme Court Rule 139 now requires that the demand, notice, affidavits of service, and relevant lease provisions be attached to the Eviction Complaint. No more will the allegations against the tenant be a moving target without discovery. With these notices now part of the record, LCBH will be able to more easily triage cases and apply appropriate levels of resources during the COVID crisis and beyond.

In addition to Chicago's temporary COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance that requires landlords to enter into good-faith negotiations with tenants who fall behind in their rent due to COVID-19, Chicago passed the Fair Notice Ordinance, which not only increases the amount of notice a landlord must give before terminating or non-renewing a lease, but extends the time that a renter who is behind in their rent can pay what they owe and stay.

Under the Fair Notice Ordinance, renters now have the right to pay the rent they owe and get their eviction case dismissed all the way up to the eviction judgment. Under state law, landlords do not have to accept the back rent after the 5-day notice period expires. Because these notices expire well before court and LCBH involvement, there was little we could do to keep tenants in their homes. Now, while the attorneys are defending the case, supportive services can be seeking out additional resources so that renters don’t have to move. This is a paradigm shift and I expect it to change the kinds of outcomes we will see in court.

In closing, please save the date for our fall virtual event and award ceremony on November 12th so you can connect with old staff, the new staff members on the Eviction Prevention Project, and old friends and colleagues, while we present LCBH’s annual awards to recognize excellence in housing justice advocacy.

Keep safe everyone!

Best regards,
Mark