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.
During a hot and sticky Chicago summer, Grace and Robert Merkel moved into a single-family home with their six children. Shortly after moving in, the Merkels encountered mold and mildew growing on the walls, ceiling, and carpets. There were roaches and bed bugs in the home, holes in the walls and ceilings, and leaky plumbing. During each of the three winters that the family lived in the home, there was also insufficient heat.
At first, Mr. Merkel attempted to resolve the heating issue himself. He paid to have the furnace fixed, and eventually bought space heaters for each of the bedrooms. Still, the temperature hovered in the 40’s, and the family was forced to wear their winter coats indoors. To address the mold and mildew issues, Robert bought various cleaning supplies but they did not help. The Merkels told their landlord of their issues and he refused to hire a qualified professional to remove the mold. In the meantime, several of the couple’s children developed chronic respiratory irritation due to the constant cold, mold, and mildew they experienced during the winter months. The landlord refused to hire an exterminator, so Robert bought sprays to deal with the bed bugs and roaches, but they repeatedly returned.
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.
Your gift to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing is a meaningful investment in our very own Chicago community to ensure everyone has a safe, decent and affordable place to call home. You can take a stand to show support for families who are living in terrible conditions, or facing homelessness, with little or no access to the courts that are supposed to protect them.
I would like to share with you the story of Daniela, a strong, funny, and determined single mother of three sons, Alex, Gabe, and Tom. Daniela works over 45 hours a week at two part-time minimum wage jobs, making less than $18,000/year, trying to provide a good home for her family.
Daniela’s family had previously been living in a building that went into foreclosure. Even though she had been paying rent and had a lease, the family was evicted when the lender took over the building. Daniela was able find a two bedroom apartment in a modest neighborhood for $950/month, more than 60% of her gross income. It was not in her previous neighborhood where all of her family, friends, and children’s schools were located, and the apartment had problems that needed to be fixed, but it was the best she could find. Prior to signing the lease the landlord assured Daniela that all of the problems would be fixed, but when the fall’s cold snap arrived Daniela and her boys had no heat. After Daniela made numerous requests for heat, she received an eviction notice.
Ms. Wiles lived peacefully above her landlord in an owner-occupied building for over a year. During this time, she underwent training to become a foster parent, with the hope of adopting a child one day. To her surprise, she had the opportunity to adopt three siblings and keep a family together.
Unfortunately, Ms. Wiles’ landlord did not share her enthusiasm about the situation or like the idea of three children joining her in the upstairs apartment. The following month, the owner demanded an immediate rent increase of 47% and refused to accept the previously agreed upon rent listed in the lease. When Ms. Wiles was unable to pay the higher rent, the owner served her with a five-day notice to terminate the tenancy and then filed an eviction lawsuit.
Ms. Wiles came to LCBH seeking legal representation in eviction court where she was referred to the LCBH’s Attorney of the Day (AOD) eviction defense program. Ms. Wiles had a compelling defense based on discrimination against her due to her parental status, which is protected both in Chicago and Cook County. She also had a strong technical defense based on her landlord’s failure to provide her with proper notice.
Ruby is a disabled, single mother and struggling to get by month to month. Financially, it helps that Ruby’s family lives in a subsidized building. Ruby recently fell behind on her rent payments because her building’s management company refused to accurately record the changes in her income and adjust her rent as required by the Chicago Housing Authority. This kept a balance on her rent account and the management company consistently refused to make the necessary adjustments and through these disputes Ruby fell further behind on her rent. Ruby received a series of termination notices that did not accurately state her rental rate, rent payments, or her outstanding balance. Upon receiving each termination notice, Ruby approached management in an attempt to clear up any inconsistencies but to no avail. Her plan was to repay any deficiency in the rent she might owe but management refused to accept any payments or to meet with Ruby to resolve the matter. After months of run around, the management company filed an eviction case against Ruby. Fearful of losing her home, Ruby came to LCBH seeking legal assistance.
The mission of the LCBH is to promote the rights of tenant access to safe, decent and affordable housing on a non-discriminatory basis through legal representation, advocacy, education, outreach and supportive services. The Supportive Service Department allows LCBH to provide holistic services to vulnerable tenants to prevent a cycle of eviction, job instability, and homelessness. Approximately 20% of clients accepted for legal representation by LCBH’s eviction defense program are internally referred to receive supportive services. The Supportive Services team considers the individual and family needs to develop a comprehensive plan that will address barriers to maintaining permanent housing and work to achieve greater housing stability.
LCBH assesses renters’ needs, and provides assistance in locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing referrals to other essential services. As LCBH works primarily with low-income renters, affordability is the most common barrier to housing we see, but many clients face other serious obstacles that threaten their housing stability.
The Reed Family had been peacefully living in the Chatham neighborhood since 2010 in a home they rented. Their lives were turned upside down late last year after their landlord lost the building to foreclosure and the foreclosing bank evicted them from their home.
The Reeds knew their building was in foreclosure and they had received the required 90 days’ notice to vacate, so they weren’t shocked or surprised when they were summoned to eviction court. As the Reeds had done nothing wrong nor had the plaintiff alleged any breach of their lease, the Reeds didn't feel they would need an attorney. They showed up to court with their lease in hand only to have the eviction court judge summarily enter an Order of Possession (eviction order) against the family.
Luckily for the Reeds, they were referred to LCBH. The Reeds had a valid lease, and LCBH confirmed that their lease provided them with the right to stay in their home until the end of the lease term. The LCBH legal team jumped into action and filed a motion asking the court to vacate (make void) the eviction order and to stay (put on hold) the execution of the eviction order until the court made a decision on the motion. Not only was the legal team able to reach an agreement that allowed the Reeds to stay in their home through the end of their lease, they also got the Reeds an additional month allowing them time to find new housing, got the case dismissed and had the court record sealed.
Cecelia Blue may not be our oldest volunteer, but she certainly ranks near the top for longtime commitment to LCBH and our clients - she first began volunteering at LCBH over a decade ago! Cecelia started out with the old Attorney of the Day program, stepping up in court to cover status hearings and settle cases. She left LCBH for a time while pursuing other opportunities, and then, late last year, she boomeranged back to LCBH after hearing about a training for new volunteers. What brought her back after all those years? She says, "I remembered what a positive experience it was. You see people floundering by themselves in court, struggling to represent themselves pro se, because they cannot afford a lawyer. I believe people should be able to get a high quality attorney even if they can't afford one."
For Cecelia, those aren't empty words; it's a way of life. She is serious about pro bono work and treats it like it’s her job, often spending more hours on her assorted pro bono projects than on her own business. In any given week you might find Cecelia at the Dwight Correctional Facility, where she helps incarcerated mothers petition to preserve their parental rights, or at the Daley Center, where she serves as a guardian ad litem (court appointed attorney) in family law cases. When she's not doing pro bono work, she finds time to squeeze in her own paying clients through her accounting and law practices.
Rental leases can take many forms, from a contract spanning hundreds of pages to a simple text message conversation. LCBH has encountered any number of ways a landlord and a tenant have chosen to do business. One recent example involved Charles, who resided in a single-unit home that was owned by his uncle James. In 2012, James invited his nephew Charles to live with him and assist with renovating the home. Concerned by his own ill health and mindful that his nephew was also facing major spinal surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation, James drafted a handwritten document purporting to be a codicil (amendment) to his will. The document provided for Charles to reside in the home for a five-year period commencing after James’ death, so long as he maintained the property.
Charles performed various renovations until his uncle passed away in 2013. After his uncle’s death, a development company acquired the property and sought to evict Charles. The new owners were unwilling to honor James’ promise to let Charles stay and instead served him with an immediate demand for possession. They were also unwilling to consider letting Charles remain as a tenant, calling him a trespasser and threatening to oust him by changing the locks and shutting off the utilities. On multiple occasions they sent Charles harsh notices advising him to leave because of the imminent demolition of the home.
Susan is a disabled woman who, like many of our neighbors during this slow economic recovery, fell behind on her rent after losing her job. In September 2013, a Chicago-based real estate company acquired her building and instructed all tenants who were behind on their rent to contact the main office and arrange a payment plan. Susan dutifully called the main office and was transferred to an eviction hotline. Susan spoke with an operator and agreed to a payment plan that would allow her to catch up on her past due rent while continuing to make her current monthly rent payments.
However, before the first payment under her new payment plan came due, the real estate company served Susan with a 5-day notice to vacate for non-payment of rent. Attached to the notice was a document instructing her to call the eviction hotline to arrange a payment plan to avoid eviction. Susan called the number and confirmed the terms of her payment plan. The operator assured her that they would accept her payment when it came due per their agreement. On the due date, Susan traveled to the main office with payment in hand, only to have it refused. The real estate company filed for eviction soon thereafter. Susan, dumbfounded and concerned about losing her home, contacted LCBH for assistance.