This month, we decided to sit down with staff attorney Lacy Burpee, an Equal Justice Works Foreclosure Fellow to find out a little more about the work she does at the Tenants in Foreclosure Help Desk at the Daley Center.
Lacy, you are an attorney as well as an Equal Justice Works Foreclosure Fellow, can you tell us where you went to law school and more about that program?
I attended DePaul University College of Law. After graduating, I was selected as one of four Equal Justice Works (EJW) Foreclosure Fellows. This fellowship is a three year position, which is funded by the Attorney General through the mortgage foreclosure settlement. The purpose of these fellowships is to provide services to people impacted by the foreclosure crisis. In my work, I primarily assist tenants who are living in apartment buildings that are going through foreclosure. I spend most of my time at the Tenants in Foreclosure Help Desk, which is located on the 14th floor of the Daley Center, where many eviction courtrooms are located.
So, you run the Tenants in Foreclosure Help Desk at the Daley Center, what sorts of things do you do there?
We provide a lot of information to people who are living in a rental property that is either currently going through the foreclosure process or has been taken over by someone else after foreclosure. For renters who are unsure about whether their building is in foreclosure or not, we are able to look up whether a case has been filed and where it is in the foreclosure process. We are located right outside of the eviction courtrooms, which is helpful, as so many renters are evicted because of foreclosure. We also provide people with basic procedural information. We try to help people feel comfortable articulating their defenses, and for those needing it, we are able to ask for and obtain an interpreter for their court call.
What is a typical day at the help desk?
Before the court call starts, we explain basic procedural information, such as how to check in with the court or how to request a continuance to consult with an attorney about their issue if they wish to obtain legal assistance prior to trial. We also answer basic questions about renters’ rights during a foreclosure. If someone needs more in depth assistance, we ask them to return when they have received a continuance. This allows us to give them more in-depth information about their building and their rights without worrying about the time constraints of trying to adequately advise them before they are due in court. If it is a legal issue that we cannot assist with, we try to get enough information from them in order to refer them to an appropriate resource.
What are some common issues people are having when they stop by the help desk for assistance?
Because we are located right outside the eviction courtrooms, we see a lot of confusion about the court process and procedures, which is often further exacerbated by the stress that people are experiencing because of the threat of losing their home. We also see a wide range of issues relating to foreclosure evictions. An issue that we see pretty often at the help desk is tenants receiving a post-foreclosure 90-day notice to vacate, but the tenant has a bona fide (valid) lease that extends beyond the 90 days. Sometimes the bank refuses to acknowledge their lease, other times the tenants don’t know they have a right to stay in the property until the end of their lease. We see a number of tenants being evicted for a failure to pay rent to their landlord whose building is in foreclosure, but hasn’t yet been lost, because they have heard (mistakenly) that they no longer need to pay rent to the landlord once a foreclosure has been filed against the property.
The hours of the desk have recently been extended to include both morning and afternoon court calls. How is that going?
The expansion of the hours has really benefitted people whose cases are assigned to the afternoon call. Most of the renters that we assist discover the help desk when they see us on their way in and out of court, so it is really important to be available for everyone, regardless of what time their court call was scheduled.
The help desk is a great place for lawyers and law students to volunteer, what should people do if they want to get involved?
The help desk is a unique opportunity to volunteer because it allows the volunteer to directly impact tenants’ lives in a substantial way, with a predictable and manageable time commitment. Anyone interested in volunteering at the help desk should contact Samira Nazem, the LCBH Pro Bono Coordinator, at Snazem@lcbh.org.