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.
Veronica Bey came to LCBH in May 2013 looking for help. Veronica, her father, and her four (soon to be five) children participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program. The apartment they were living in was no longer eligible for the program because of failed apartment inspections by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and, as a result, the landlord evicted the Bey family from their home. With the help of the LCBH legal team, Veronica and her family were able to reach a settlement that provided the family with additional time to move out. Housing Choice Voucher holders often encounter difficulty in finding places to rent, and since the Beys were unable to find new housing by the agreed deadline an “Order of Possession” (eviction order) was entered against them.
At this point, the LCBH Supportive Services team stepped in to help. In July, the Beys located a suitable unit with a landlord who was willing to rent to them. The CHA was not able to issue the required moving papers until August and sadly, the landlord decided to rent to another family.
In that same month, Veronica gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby. With the help of their friends, family and church, the Beys were able to temporarily move into an apartment above their church.
LCBH recently had a huge multi-layered victory in the Attorney of the Day Eviction Defense program. A family in need was allowed to remain in their home thanks to LCBH attorneys and a third year senior law student’s strident advocacy at trial and an emergency grant from a great new LCBH partner to help the family recover from a financial set-back.
JaQuan is a single mother caring for her two children (ages 16 and 9) and her 63-year-old disabled mother. The family has lived in a property owned by the Chicago Housing Authority since 2001. In June of 2012, JaQuan’s social security income was reduced and she no longer had the means to pay her rent by the first of the month. She had a supplemental source of income, but she did not receive this money until around the middle of the month. After the change in income, she began paying her rent immediately after receiving her supplemental money, usually around the 20th of each month. The management company accepted her late rent for seven months until January of this year when they served a notice demanding that JaQuan pay her rent within five days, or her tenancy would terminate. JaQuan attempted to pay her rent, plus the late fee, but the management company refused her payment and filed for eviction.
The Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, comprised of community-based organizations, unions, and policy groups, with a policy committee spearheaded by LCBH, crafted a new ordinance designed to increase local renter protections and to hold successors-in-interest (primarily banks) accountable to tenants in buildings acquired at foreclosure sale. Since early 2012, the group has actively promoted the adoption of this ordinance, the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) through meetings with aldermen and other city officials, press conferences, policy reports, and other action intended to draw attention to the problems caused by vacant buildings and displaced tenants.
What’s better than winning a case in eviction court? Not having to go to eviction court in the first place! That’s the philosophy behind the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) at LCBH. TAP relies exclusively on volunteers to resolve landlord-tenant disputes before they escalate, with the goal of keeping tenants in their homes and out of court.
For many months, LCBH was forced to reject many TAP cases that came in because there weren’t enough resources to handle them internally. Last fall, we began a partnership with the West Cook Pro Bono Network (WCPBN), an Oak Park-based group of attorney moms and solo practitioners looking to balance their passion for pro bono with the demanding requirements of family life. Every week, one or two WCPBN members sign up to be “on call” for LCBH and handle any TAP cases that come in that week. WCPBN volunteers are able to work from home on their own schedule and our clients are able to get great pro bono representation from a team of experienced and talented volunteer attorneys.
Since October, WCPBN volunteers have handled almost 20 TAP cases for LCBH! Here are a few highlights of their work:
Do you remember how long your last lease was? A page or two? It probably wasn’t 20+ pages, the typical length of a lease for a resident of subsidized housing in Chicago.
What’s in those lengthy leases? Rules. To qualify for subsidized housing, residents must go through a rigorous background check and application process.
Once approved, residents are asked to sign paperwork agreeing to abide by a comprehensive set of rules. Any violation is grounds for eviction.
Many of the rules that these residents must abide by seem quite reasonable. There are the standard prohibitions on noise and damage. There are bans on criminal conduct, drug use, and gang activity. But other rules seem unnecessarily restrictive, especially to anyone used to the freedom of the private housing market. The following are actual rules enforced in some Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) properties:
In October of 2011, a dozen Albany Park families were on the verge of losing their homes and only had two weeks to move out. The building they lived in was going through foreclosure and to complicate matters, the owners had abandoned the property, leaving it replete with problems including a dangerous heating system, mold, faulty electrical wiring, and sewer backups. The pressing safety issues caused the city to place an order to swiftly vacate the property.
The families in this building included couples with small children, extended families and elderly couples enjoying their retirement years. They were very worried about moving and leaving the neighborhood they had come to love. They wondered whether they could find new affordable homes that were generally accessible, including accommodations for those with limited mobility. They worried about whether they would have to uproot their children from their schools and whether they would make new friends.
In January, Susan, a renter in Palatine, called the LCBH Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline to seek help after hearing about the project through the Cook County Clerk’s office. The building that Susan lived went into foreclosure but her 2-year lease with the former owner of the property doesn’t terminate until August of this year.
Susan’s problems began in September of 2012, when she came home to a notice on her door demanding that she move out within the next 30 days. Susan immediately called the number on the posting to find out more information but her calls went to voicemail and her messages were never returned.
Susan didn’t know what to do without more information and she did not hear anything further until December 12, 2012 when a court summons addressed to “unknown occupant” was posted on her door. Believing she had to follow the summons even though it did not include her name, Susan appeared in court on the assigned date.
LCBH’s Attorney of the Day (AOD) program represents more than 300 families in eviction court each year. LCBH has found that by providing education about the eviction process to our client, having a frank discussion of the merits of his or her case, and identifying a common goal to work toward, it can work cases more effectively and thus take on more of them.
Most of our clients come to us having little or no idea how eviction court works and many have never before been represented by a lawyer. People with little to no experience with the judicial system can often have misconceptions and unrealistic expectations about their legal remedy.
Imagine how startled you would be if you went back and forth to court, thinking you have a good case or maybe a chance at winning, and then suddenly your lawyer tells you that you’ve lost – or have to move out quickly or else!
In addition to helping tenants understand their rights and responsibilities, we also spend time explaining the rules and procedures of eviction court. It is important to us that our clients understand the expected timeline of their case and that they have an idea of how cases similar to theirs often resolve.
The Attorney of the Day (AOD) eviction defense team at LCBH recently represented Juan and Maria Salazar (not their real names) and their three small children. The family was being evicted from their apartment in South Chicago for alleged non-payment of rent. Maria is a woman from Mexico whose status in the U.S. is undocumented. Juan is a U.S. citizen, Maria is from Mexico and their three children are U.S.-born. The Salazars discovered that the utility meters in their two-unit building were arranged such that they were paying the electricity bill for the common areas of the building and garage, which is a violation of the Illinois Rental Property Utility Service Act.