In the Case of Occupants Known

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.

Eviction cases filed against Unknown Occupants present a myriad of issues and potential problems for tenants. Filing evictions against only “Unknown Occupants” is not that commonplace, but is was heavily used during the foreclosure crisis to avoid proper service of process requirements and to evict renters that might have perfectly valid leases and a defense to the eviction. Known tenants often have difficulties adequately presenting their rights and interests in these “Unknown Occupants” cases, and sometimes they do not even learn of the eviction against unknowns until the sheriff is at their door.

A post-foreclosure owner filed the Fullertons eviction case, and because they were known occupants they were legally entitled to several notices that they did not receive. LCBH felt we had many defenses to their case. Once the landlord’s attorney saw LCBH’s legal argument, he spoke with his client, the new owner. Within minutes, the new owner and his attorney informed the LCBH attorney that they would honor Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton’s lease through the end of October. The eviction case against “Unknown Occupants” was then dismissed with prejudice and the case was sealed. Sealing an eviction case is crucial for tenants. An unsealed case would otherwise result in an eviction on their record no matter the outcome of the case. The Fullertons will be able to rent in the future without the burden of an eviction haunting them.

In this case, where the new owner recklessly filed an eviction case against “Unknown Occupants” trying to empty the building, he did not succeed. The family was not only entitled to stay in their home for the remainder of their lease, but they are protected under Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) and still entitled to $10,600 relocation assistance if the new owner chooses to evict the tenants at the end of the lease term. This outcome would not have been possible without legal representation. The Fullertons no longer have to worry about an eviction and are able to find new housing on their own terms.