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.
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.
LCBH attorneys Samira Nazem and Aileen Flanagan (pictured), recently spoke with an ESL class at the Howard Area Community Center (HACC) in Rogers Park about housing issues including landlord and tenant responsibilities, maintenance problems, evictions and lockouts, and foreclosure.
The class is made up of recent immigrant adults to the United States who are trying to improve their literacy and comprehension skills.
Referral information and fact sheets were also shared with the group. Megan Thompson, an AmeriCorps VISTA with LCBH, is a volunteer tutor for the community center and helped organize the event.
In our system of justice, we often take for granted the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, this fundamental idea of fairness is not exhibited in our credit reporting and tenant screening systems, particularly in regard to evictions. When a landlord files an eviction case against a tenant in Cook County, that information is public and often filed with reporting and screening agencies prior to the case being heard. The problem with this, of course, is that many eviction cases are dismissed and most foreclosure related evictions are by no fault of the tenant, yet the negative report appears in the records of these reporting and screening agencies.
In 2009, Veeda, a teacher with two children, was living in an apartment building that went into foreclosure. During the foreclosure process, the landlord, dealing with his own financial problems, allowed the conditions of the building to deteriorate. Veeda found herself living without heat or hot water and mice had infested her unit. After several weeks of unsuccessful attempts at contacting her landlord to have the problems fixed, she began to withhold rent.
LCBH accepted Veeda’s case in November of 2009, and our diligent legal team settled Veeda’s case the following January. The agreement we reached waived all back rent (the rent Veeda had withheld), and stated that as long as Veeda moved out of her apartment by February 15th, the eviction case would be dismissed.
Unfortunately for Veeda, the eviction and back rent already appeared up on her credit report. As a result of this negative information, several prospective landlords would not rent to Veeda, and it took her a long time to find new housing. Most people know that a good credit report is needed to get a mortgage, take out a loan for college or a new car, or apply for a credit card. Yet many do not realize is that landlords often perform credit checks as part of their tenant screening process.