Blog: Eviction

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.

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing thanks the seven judges who attended the Eviction Diversion Program open house Friday, November 2.

Judges and clerks involved in eviction court are able play an important role in creating alternatives to eviction, and we at LCBH appreciate the time and expertise of all who were able to attend.

The Eviction Diversion Program (EDP) is a pilot to help low- to moderate-income Chicagoans avoid potential eviction judgments by facilitating mutually beneficial agreements between tenants and landlords.

First, the pilot program will connect qualified clients to homelessness prevention funds. These funds can be used for rent arrearages to prevent eviction, for security deposits, and to cover first month’s rent for new apartments.

Case management is also part of the pilot program. Tenants will receive short-term, intensive case management services aimed at stabilizing the renters’ housing situation, addressing the underlying issues that led to the eviction, and educating the client on resources to utilize in the future prior to a housing crisis.

A third component of the program is resolution services. Case managers will work with tenants to advocate with their landlords for a mutually beneficial alternative to an eviction order.

Executive Director Mark Swartz discussing eviction court with Osher students at the LCBH office

Students in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute civic engagement program of Northwestern University received a "guided tour" and briefing session on eviction court October 18.

After observing part of the eviction court call at the Daley Center Thursday morning, the group of 16 adult learners debriefed the experience with Executive Director Mark Swartz and Supportive Services Director Jude Gonzales. The students remarked on the obvious disparity in legal representation. Their experience was in line with the recent Prejudged report finding that while 81% of landlords had attorneys, only 12% of tenants did. Students commented that they could see how this put tenants at a disadvantage in the court cases they observed.

Prejudged: The Stigma of Eviction Records

A new report by Housing Action Illinois and the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) explores how an eviction filing on the public record is a serious obstacle to finding housing for people whose cases did not result in them actually getting evicted. This is true even in cases where the tenant didn’t violate their lease in any way. Prejudged: The Stigma of Eviction Records shows that 39% of eviction cases filed in Cook County during the past four years did not result in an eviction order and/or other judgment against the tenant. The report recommends enacting state legislation that would hold eviction case records from public view until cases are completed to protect these individuals from unfair barriers to renting a home in the future.

"This is an issue that affects about 15,000 people in Cook County each year," estimates Mark Swartz, Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing. "There is no judgment against them, but there is a filing on their record. When they go to rent, prospective landlords too often reject them based on screening reports that don’t reflect the outcome of a case."

I Wouldn't Wish It On My Worst Enemies

In 30-plus years in the Logan Square area, Margie had only lived in four different apartments. When a new owner bought her building, she was going on her seventh year in the apartment she shared with her son. It was cramped to share a one-bedroom with him, and she wished they had a shower instead of a bathtub, but it was affordable. They both work hourly wage jobs—he’s been Employee of the Month time and again at a large retailer, and she loves the job at a restaurant where she has worked for more than a decade.

The property management company that took over Margie’s building informed her that their rent would spike from $700 to $1000 in just three months. When Margie told them there was no way she could afford the increase, they agreed that she could pay $800 per month for the next year. In return, they would leave her apartment "as-is" and not include it in the renovations they were undertaking in the rest of the building—which is located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Ms. Thomas

Imagine you’re sprawled out on your couch after getting home from work, taking a moment to unwind from the day, thinking about what you might make for dinner. In the midst of your thoughts, you hear a knock at the front door, so you roll off the couch and answer it. The next thing you know, you’re standing on the street as you watch the sheriff lock you out of your house, with no warning, no explanation.

For thousands of families across Chicago, what happened to Ms. Thomas—unjust eviction from her home—is more than a simple hypothetical; it’s a frightening reality. Standing on the street with her son and two grandchildren, Ms. Thomas watched as she was suddenly barred access from the house she’d rented for years. And then she heard the word that she should’ve heard months ago: foreclosure. Knowing that she needed legal assistance, Ms. Thomas called Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH).

HUD TO Ban Smoking in Public Housing Nationwide

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued a new federal rule that will ban smoking – cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and water pipes (hookah) – in all public housing units nationwide. HUD’s rationale for the rule is to “improve indoor air quality in public housing; benefit the health of public housing residents, visitors, and PHA staff, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires; and lower overall maintenance costs.” The rule, which will take effect in the fall of 2018, was first proposed last November and has been met with praise and criticism since its formal announcement was issued last week.

Currently, around 200,000 public housing units are smoke-free under voluntary smoking bans enacted by public housing agencies (PHAs) across the country. The nationwide ban would expand this to impact upwards of 1.2 million households. Here’s a basic summary of this rule: residents or visitors may not smoke in public housing units or within 25 feet of housing and office buildings. Individual PHAs may designate additional restrictions or ban smoking from the grounds altogether.

So, let’s assess what this means.

Staff Attorney Noah Magaram

For this month’s Q&A, we sat down for a conversation with Noah Magaram, an LCBH staff attorney who focuses much of his work on eviction defense. A graduate of DePaul University College of Law, Noah came to LCBH in Fall 2011 as a volunteer, and has been a staff attorney since September 2012.

Q: What made you choose to work at a legal aid agency?
I resolved when applying to law school to enter a practice area that was oriented toward the public interest. I became interested in housing law specifically after writing a legislative history of the Fair Housing Act in undergrad.

Q: What program(s) do you work on at LCBH?
My time is spent mostly in the Tenant Advocacy Program. Most of my caseload is composed of eviction defense, with a minority of cases relating to affirmative lawsuits for illegal lockouts and Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) violation cases.

Q: How many cases are you working on at a time? How do you manage?
I usually have 30-40 open cases at any given time. I use our case management system and my calendar to schedule and document as many details of the cases as possible so that my mind is free to deal with the client in front of me.

Rachel’s Paycheck-to-Paycheck Reality

We may not realize it, but many people are “one paycheck away from being homeless.” Unfortunately this is the reality for many of those we see at LCBH. They can pay for rent, utility bills, childcare costs, food, medicines, etc. only as long as their next paycheck lasts. For many individuals, a single paycheck can mean the difference between being housed and being homeless. At LCBH, the attorneys and social workers understand that being “at risk of homelessness” is rarely ever an isolated issue and is often related to greater issues of economics, mental health, familial stability, etc. Faced with situations in any of these areas, an individual can go from paying their bills on time to facing homelessness without the help of an external source.

Rachel Jones was on maternity leave when she arrived at LCBH with a 5-day notice for eviction due to non-payment of rent. Rachel is a mother to a happy-go-lucky nine-year-old son named Devon and recently gave birth to her daughter Grace. Together the family lives in a two-bedroom apartment that she has been renting for the last several years. Rachel’s top priority is taking care of her two children and her full-time job.

In the Case of Occupants Known

Amanda and George Fullerton have lived in Chicago all their lives. They had recently moved into a three-bedroom apartment, which costs $850 a month, on the Southside of the city with their adult daughter. George Fullerton makes a modest living as a truck driver and is the sole breadwinner for his family (his wife and daughter are not employed). The family lived peacefully in their home and paid their rent on time. This spring Mrs. Fullerton came to LCBH with a pending eviction case. She was confused, because she had recently paid rent and was unsure of why this case was being filed.

Apparently, George and Amanda had seen someone new around the property that had informed them that there was a “new owner” and that the previous owner had gone into foreclosure. The “new owner” assured the Fullertons that he would still be renting to them. That was the first and last time they ever heard from the new owner. An attorney at LCBH was able to access the case and explained to Mrs. Fullerton that she had not properly received the compliant and court summons. LCBH informed her that the case had been filed against unknown occupants by the purchaser at the foreclosure sale.

However, Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton had been known. They had signed a lease that was still valid until the end of October with the former landlord, their name was on the mailbox, and Mr. Fullerton had recently spoken to the new owner in March.

Edna’s Ordeal Ends Well with LCBH at Her Side

Edna is a funny, vibrant single mother of three small children. For five years she provided a wonderful home for her family in a building where she a great relationship with her landlord and property manager. Having a stable, decent and affordable place to call home gave her a lot of comfort and gave her the ability to focus on her job and her kids. She was looking forward to many more years in a neighborhood she loved and in a school that was great for her kids. That is until one day, it all changed – her landlord lost the building, including her home, to foreclosure.

Thanks to the hard work of many Chicago advocates, including LCBH, Chicago now has an ordinance that helps to protect renters who are scooped up in the foreclosure process through no fault of their own. When a landlord loses an apartment building to foreclosure, the new owner must either offer to renew (or extend) the existing tenants’ lease or offer to give them relocation assistance. Edna was relieved that the new owner of her building was going to work with her to keep her in her home rather than evict her.