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 (LCBH) is proud to introduce our six 2015 – 2016 social work interns who will be assisting LCBH clients with wraparound services to help to break down housing barriers. They will be here at LCBH through the spring and are excited to learn and assist in the struggle for affordable housing and we are excited for their help!
Mary Difino – Mary is a first year student at Jane Addams College of Social Work at University of Illinois at Chicago . After working and volunteering with Chicago Public Schools in the Austin and Cabrini Green neighborhoods, Mary decided to pursue a degree in School Social Work to become a better equipped and informed advocate for Chicago’s youth. She hopes to one day take the skills she has acquired to serve the Native American population of Northern Minnesota.
Nicol Elio – Nicol is in her final year of the Masters of Social Work Program at DePaul University. Nicol is originally from New York and has had many new experiences while in Chicago. She wants to become a social worker in order to help those less privileged. She is looking forward to gaining a macro level experience at LCBH.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helps preserve the vitality and affordability of Chicago’s neighborhoods. The attorneys and staff at LCBH work with community partners to ensure those affected by unfair evictions, deplorable living conditions or foreclosure have viable and affordable housing options currently and in the future. The LCBH Supportive Services team is available for the most vulnerable LCBH clients and their families to avoid homelessness and achieve stable housing. This includes assessment of needs, assistance in locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing links to essential services. The multi-disciplinary and holistic approach that LCBH provides has proven an effective way to assist clients moving towards a goal of attaining more stable housing beyond the immediate crisis of eviction.
Last winter, tenants living in an 18 unit apartment building in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood found out the building they called home had a new owner. Shortly after they were informed of the new ownership, tenants received a letter with two options: either leave their unit in 30 days or re-apply to remain in the building. Most of the tenants had limited resources and were unable to move within thirty days. Most of the tenants took the option to re-apply as a genuine invitation to remain in their homes with no interruption to their lives. However, the so-called re-application process was only a disguise of goodwill when, in fact, the new owner’s plan was to remove all the tenants. The terms of the new rental application and rental agreement were designed so that none of the current residents could qualify. Frustrated and upset, and now threatened with eviction, the tenants contacted Centro Autonomo, a community based organization located in Albany Park for help. Centro Autonomo helped organize the tenants and they contacted LCBH to help form a tenants association. After much negotiation, the new owner responded to the formation of the tenants association and the threat of fighting the evictions in court and decided to negotiate with the tenants.
Following is a recent letter from a client describing her experiences living in a recently foreclosed apartment building and dealing with the new bank owners. Her words resonate in a way that ours cannot. We wanted to share her letter with you, as your support is what makes our interventions in these situations possible. Thank you!
I, and most of the tenants in my bank-owned building, would have given up our rights out of frustration and fear if it were not for the services of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
We had known for some time that our building was in the process of foreclosure. But we were not worried because we knew the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) required the bank to either renew our leases or pay a $10,600 relocation fee. However, our collective peace of mind began to crumble as we came to understand that the bank was neither equipped nor inclined to perform the basic duties of a landlord. Soon after, our anxiety rose even further, as the bank engaged in scare-tactics designed to persuade us to move out on our own accord (therefore circumventing the requirements of the KCRO).
Thus far, the bank has used two tactics. The first is a passive approach: they benignly neglect the responsibilities of building management. The second is more aggressive, entailing periodic eviction threats. The only reason these tactics are not working is because we are represented by Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
The housing landscape of many Chicago neighborhoods is changing quickly, especially in terms of affordability and stability. Buildings are being sold to developers, many times from outside Chicago, who increase rents and push out long-term residents. Humboldt Park is one of these neighborhoods. Tenants living in a 44 unit apartment building in Humboldt Park received notices informing them the building had a new owner and they had 30 days to move. As soon as the notices expired, the remaining 20 remaining tenants, who were unable to move, had evictions filed against them by the cash investors who purchased the building. LCBH attorneys tackled this matter head on in both eviction and building courts.
With the assistance of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), a citywide organization that helps tenants organize to assert their collective rights, LCBH was able to form a tenants association to request more time and relocation assistance from the new landlord. These requests were ignored.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court recently issued an opinion in the case of Shadid v. Sims involving the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) and whether attorneys are entitled to recover their fees for counter-claims in eviction court.
We sat down with LCBH’s Legal Director, Mark Swartz, to get an understanding of how the court’s decision impacts renters.
What was the original case that led to the appeal?
It was Shadid v. Sims, and it began as a typical eviction case for non-payment of rent. But as LCBH attorneys know too well, not all eviction cases are simply a question of “did you or did you not pay your rent?” In this case, the Sims, who were the renters, counter-claimed that the landlord had failed to maintain the premises free of bedbugs, cockroaches, and rats in violation of the RLTO. The judge agreed with the Sims, their rent was fully offset and they were allowed to stay in their home. LCBH, itself, has alleged any number of habitability counter-claims similar to the Sims.
Thank you to all the guests who joined LCBH at DINE OUT 2015 on Thursday, July 30 at Zella. Guests had a great time networking and enjoying the patio. The 50/50 raffle was a success and a round of applause to YPB newest member Megan Burke for donating her 50/50 raffle winning back to the agency! Thanks to everyone who attended and special thanks to the LCBH Young Professional Board for organizing the event!
This summer, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) teamed up with the John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program and Heartland Alliance to help a family in crisis get a fresh start. The Ali family had recently fled Syria during the civil war and escaped to the US where they hoped to establish a new life. They moved into an apartment building that had a bedbug infestation, and soon their small children suffered from bed bug bites that required ongoing medical attention. To make matters worse, the landlord refused to treat the infestation and had threatened the family suggesting he could interfere with their application for asylum.
The family did not speak much English and they were at a loss about how to best to protect themselves. Without steady income and paying for mounting extermination and medical cost, soon the Ali family found themselves in eviction court. For any family, facing a legal system can be very intimidating and foreign, even to those who have lived their entire lives here in America.
This summer, five legal interns spent their summer working with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), advocating for the rights of renters. Without these students, and recent graduates, who come to spend their summer with us, LCBH would have a tough time offering the legal services our clients need to resolve their housing issues. We asked each intern to share highlights from their LCBH experiences this summer:
Chloe Noonan came from Boston University School of Law to work with LCBH’s affordable housing preservation efforts. As part of her internship, Chloe regularly travels to buildings throughout Chicago to work with tenant unions. One of her favorite collaborations has been with a group of tenants on the south side living in a building that had fallen into disrepair. Chloe worked with the group to help them identify their common goals and used her knowledge of housing law to empower them to push for better management in the building.
This summer, staff took time to enjoy an afternoon of bowling at Timber Lanes bowling alley. With the number of tenants in need of LCBH services increasing each year, the event was a nice break from staff members’ normally hectic schedules. Congratulations to staff attorney Frank Avellone for bowling 3 strikes in a row!!!