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.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I hope you, your family, and your colleagues are safe and healthy. As we stand in support of the Black Lives Matters movement, we do so in recognition that the majority of LCBH’s clients are Black and that the structural racism and racial disparities in our health, criminal law, and other systems are equally evident in our eviction system. As such we will continue to prioritize LCBH’s advocacy in Chicago’s hardest-hit Black communities.

As we have for 40 years, LCBH pledges to partner with you to reform eviction court and leverage technology to better serve renters facing serious housing issues. In this newsletter, I invite you to learn more about Renny and how you can help prevent COVID-19 related evictions.

Renny is Here to Help

Rentervention - Housing Problems Solved

In 2019, LCBH, with support from the Lawyers Trust Fund, launched Rentervention.com, a free tool for Chicago renters who have questions about their rights when it comes to eviction, security deposits, and repairs needed in their homes.

Tenants who use Rentervention.com can now find answers to questions about their housing amid the current health crisis. This expansion is already proving to be a valuable resource. In March, there were 804 visitors to Rentervention.com, followed by 2,898 in April and nearly 3,750 in May.

Renny is programmed to address users' concerns and provide them with the appropriate resources. For example, Renny provides sample letters for tenants to edit and send to their landlords about issues such as difficulty paying rent or needing repairs done.

Moreover, Renny informs renters what their landlords can and cannot do and connects them to free lawyers who can review the user’s conversation with Renny to provide legal help.

During this crisis, the common types of questions that Renny receives are about not being able to pay rent and COVID-19 specific issues. As the laws and guidelines change, Renny is provided with the most current legislation to inform tenants about their rights during this unprecedented time.

Laurel Chen

Laurel Chen was an intern in LCBH's supportive services department during the 2018-2019 academic year. LCBH is grateful to have Laurel's voice and advocacy. If you are a former pro bono attorney, supportive services intern, or legal fellow, we encourage you to Share Your Story.

How did you get involved with LCBH?
I was an intern at LCBH during my 2nd year at the University of Chicago School of Service Administration (SSA). Before applying to SSA, I worked for the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, where I focused on a range of homelessness prevention strategies.

Why did you want to intern at LCBH?
I was interested in learning more about on the ground housing issues. I found LCBH in SSA's field placement catalog and I liked its holistic approach to housing issues by combining social work and legal-aid. So, I reached out to Jude Gonzales, LCBH's Supportive Services Director, about a position.

What was it like to be an intern at LCBH? What work did you do?
I worked with clients who were receiving legal services. I assisted them in finding a new housing situation. I would check in with clients by phone or person. A lot of this involved reaching out to landlords, going through affordable housing listings and supporting clients to find a good match for them. I did this in partnership with the attorneys on the case.

Q & A with Renny the Robot

In 2019, LCBH, with support from the Lawyers Trust Fund, launched Rentervention.com, a free tool for Chicago renters who have questions about their rights when it comes to eviction, security deposits, and repairs needed in their homes.

We sat down with Renny for a Q & A to learn more about him.

Q: How many renters have contacted you since the start of the pandemic?
A: Since about mid-March through Memorial Day about 6,800 renters have contacted me. It feels so good to help so many! Rentervention has really grown.

Q: What is the most common question you receive?
A: The most common type of questions I get are about not being able to pay rent and Coronavirus-specific issues. Renters want to know what rights they have since the law and guidelines can change from day-to-day. About 2 of every 3 questions I get are on this topic. I’m taught new information all the time so I provide the best possible service.

    Should I tell my landlord if I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • Should I tell my landlord if I can’t pay rent?
  • Can I be evicted during the COVID-19 emergency?
  • What does the CARES Act do, and who is covered by it?
  • What do I do If I already have an eviction case filed against me?
  • Should I participate in a rent strike if I can afford to pay my rent?
  • Can my landlord come into my apartment for an in-person showing?
  • Can I move to another apartment during COVID-19?
  • Can my landlord ask me questions to find out if I’m sick, work in healthcare, or an industry that has been severely impacted by COVID-19?
  • Can my Landlord bar non-residents from coming into my apartment building?
  • What do I do if my lease ends soon, and my landlord gave me a Non-Renewal Notice?
  • Can my utilities be shut off if I can’t pay?
  • What do I do if my home needs an emergency repair?

Statement of Support for HB 5574, House Amendment No. 1

COVID-19 Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act

Following is LCBH’s statement of support for HB 5574, House Amendment No. 1, the COVID-19 Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act.

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) is one of the few legal aid organizations in Chicago that provides free legal assistance to working-class and low-income tenant families. Though LCBH represents primarily Chicago tenants, we are all too aware of the widespread perils of eviction court and the scars that housing instability and forced displacement can leave on a family and a community.

Money is certainly needed to maintain housing. But if we ignore tenants’ due process rights and the devastating effects of eviction, Illinois will face an unprecedented crisis that will devastate the housing market and lead to homelessness and housing instability for thousands. Around 57,000 eviction cases are normally filed in Illinois every year, with almost two-thirds of those cases arising outside of Chicago. Yet today, over 605,000 Illinois renters are expected to suffer from COVID-19-related income and job loss. Eviction filings and homelessness are likely to astronomically increase across the State unless tenants are provided with protections that extend beyond mere financial assistance. Passing HB 5574 is necessary to preserve the housing market, safeguard public health, and ensure that Illinois can recover from this crisis.

On March 13th, 2020, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County issued General Administrative Order 2020-01, which lays out the emergency measures being taken by the court to address widespread concerns about transmission of COVID-19. The order communicates important information for tenants who are facing eviction, or are currently involved in eviction proceedings:

Rentervention - Housing Problems Solved

In response to the public health crisis, Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) has closed its office to the public until further notice. LCBH staff is working remotely, and LCBH is still taking applications by phone at 312-347-7600. However, the quickest way to get help if you have a problem with a housing issue and see if you qualify for legal representation is to visit www.rentervention.com to start a conversation with Rentervention, and Renny, LCBH’s bot.

The Circuit Court of Cook County has also announced that most civil legal cases like evictions will be postponed for 30 days starting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17th, through April 15th, and no eviction orders will be entered during this time. Additionally, Sheriff Tom Dart has announced that the Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing Eviction Orders until further notice.

Keep in mind that even though courts may not be hearing eviction cases, renters should still be responsive to any lawful notices (5-day or 10-day notices) so that they can remain in their homes after this public health crisis passes.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I hope that you and your family had a happy month of February! The year has begun to ramp up for LCBH, and I’m pleased to share two critical updates:

The Just Housing Amendment (JHA) took effect on January 1, 2020. Before JHA, landlords could ask prospective renters about prior arrests and convictions and deny their application solely based on their criminal history. In many cases, this blanket form of discrimination leads to homelessness and family instability for returning citizens and their families who have served their time and pose no threat to personal safety or property.

LCBH is an Access to Justice Grantee. Access to Justice is a new statewide program administered by the Westside Justice Center and The Resurrection Project. It seeks to mitigate the devastating consequences of incarceration and family separation related to immigration on vulnerable communities by expanding effective and holistic community-based legal services.

Mayor's Poverty Summit

I had the privilege to attend Mayor Lightfoot's Chicago Solutions Towards Ending Poverty (STEP) Summit on February 20, 2020. The Summit convened academics, researchers, artists, grassroots community activists, business leaders, and government officials to launch a year-long movement to address poverty and economic hardship affecting Chicago residents. Among the many thoughtful panel discussions, a few remarks stood out to me. Dr. Luke Shaefer, from the University of Michigan, stated, "we can also intervene to make sure people have more money so that they can pay more of their rent." LCBH couldn’t agree more!

One of the key findings our Chicago Evictions Data Portal revealed is that 82% of Chicago eviction cases filed in 2010-17 made claims for back rent. In 18%, the rent owed was less than $1,000, and an additional 44% were under $2,500. LCBH's new Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program provides eligible Chicago renters with supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds—up to $5,000—for back rent and or security deposits as a means of resolving unpaid rent claims.