Blog: Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO)

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.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

It is a beautiful fall day. My kids have returned to school and the tree leaves in my neighborhood will soon turn from green to bright, vibrant colors. This process of change and renewal is a fitting description for LCBH’s work this year.

For the past 18 months, we’ve adapted to working during the pandemic and responded to frequent changes to the Illinois eviction moratorium. This month’s "LCBH Scoop" includes an update on what will happen the Illinois eviction moratorium ends. It's also an invitation to join us November 18th at Revolution Brewing for our annual fall benefit, "Bringing Justice Home."

I am sad to report that the Illinois eviction moratorium is expiring, so this will be my last update on it. While the Governor's eviction moratorium order was already partially lifted to allow for new eviction filings starting August 1st, the moratorium continues to protect renters by prohibiting the sheriff from actually evicting renters, but these protections will end on October 3rd.

Caitlin Ewing is a former LCBH staff member and Young Professional Board (YPB) Chair. While at LCBH, she served as the pro bono coordinator during the height of the mortgage foreclosure crisis. We recently had time to chat with Caitlin and she shared some of her experiences.

How did you first get involved with LCBH?
Full credit goes to Claire Battle. We were Craigslist roommates during law school and she was involved with LCBH during her undergraduate career. By her invitation, I attended the Hearts for Housing event in 2007. This led me to connect with a lot of people affiliated with LCBH. Upon graduation, I was looking to find opportunities to get my feet wet as an attorney. I started volunteering with LCBH in late 2008. I started volunteering as a staff attorney and the opportunity presented itself to apply for a pro bono coordinator position, which I started in 2009. I stayed for about a year and loved it. I got to work with Mark Swartz, LCBH's Executive Director, when he was relatively new to the agency and I learned a great deal from him. At the time, I was heavily involved in eviction court; it gave me a new perspective and a much more tangible respect for the people that we serve.

While much of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing’s (LCBH) recent work has focused on preventing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, reminders of a previous housing crisis that placed tenants in peril came roaring back this spring. In late April, an adverse court decision struck down the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO). Thanks to the collective action of LCBH, Communities United (CU), and First Ward Alderman Daniel LaSpata, the City Council passed a revised and improved KCRO on July 21st. This urgent response rested on the likelihood that large numbers of tenants may once again face eviction due to building owners being unable to pay their mortgage.

The KCRO was originally passed in 2013 after years of advocacy by LCBH and community partners responding to the housing crisis that began in the late 2000s. For several years following the housing crash, tenants living in foreclosed buildings were left in legal limbo, often unable to pay rent to the original owner while knowing next to nothing about the fate of the building and any potential new owners. In those circumstances, many renters were evicted from their homes or were not extended new leases by new ownership, leading many to heightened housing instability thereafter.

What was happening that led you to need LCBH's services?
We were renting an apartment and started to notice that people were coming to see the building pretty frequently. My sisters took notice of these strangers and eventually asked them why they were routinely stopping by. To our surprise, they said the building was in foreclosure. Meanwhile, we were still paying rent. I called the landlord and he said that he was behind in some of his payments, but it was nothing to worry about. Some months down the road, we finally learned that he no longer owned the building and he wasn’t paying the mortgage. One of my landlord's siblings lived upstairs so we thought we were fine. We weren’t. The landlord took a bank offer and we were almost immediately served with eviction papers. I reached out to Legal Aid Chicago and they connected me with LCBH.

We recently caught up with two LCBH alumni, Rachel Blake and Charles Nicholls. Rachel is Associate Director for Regional Housing Legal Services in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Her work is a mix of policy advocacy, organizational strategy and strategic planning. Charles is an attorney at Nicholls Law Offices in Chicago, IL. His firm deals with civil litigation, income, civil rights, employment and housing issues.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

Summer's finally here and it feels like things are slowly starting to get back to normal again. I was elated to go to the Justice Entrepreneurial Project's graduation - my first in-person work event since the pandemic. Congrats to the JEP grads.

As things continue to normalize, I hope that the eviction court will evolve into a place where resources are adequately distributed before a rush to evict. With the judicious use of emergency rental assistance coupled with legal assistance in court, nonpayment cases don’t need to end in eviction. And once we return to normal, we still must contend with the ongoing housing crisis: there is not enough affordable housing and too many tenants are severely rent-burdened, with more and more of their income going to just covering rent.

Staff Attorney Noah Magaram

For this month’s Q&A, we sat down for a conversation with Noah Magaram, an LCBH staff attorney who focuses much of his work on eviction defense. A graduate of DePaul University College of Law, Noah came to LCBH in Fall 2011 as a volunteer, and has been a staff attorney since September 2012.

Q: What made you choose to work at a legal aid agency?
I resolved when applying to law school to enter a practice area that was oriented toward the public interest. I became interested in housing law specifically after writing a legislative history of the Fair Housing Act in undergrad.

Q: What program(s) do you work on at LCBH?
My time is spent mostly in the Tenant Advocacy Program. Most of my caseload is composed of eviction defense, with a minority of cases relating to affirmative lawsuits for illegal lockouts and Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO) violation cases.

Q: How many cases are you working on at a time? How do you manage?
I usually have 30-40 open cases at any given time. I use our case management system and my calendar to schedule and document as many details of the cases as possible so that my mind is free to deal with the client in front of me.

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.

Edna’s Ordeal Ends Well with LCBH at Her Side

Edna is a funny, vibrant single mother of three small children. For five years she provided a wonderful home for her family in a building where she a great relationship with her landlord and property manager. Having a stable, decent and affordable place to call home gave her a lot of comfort and gave her the ability to focus on her job and her kids. She was looking forward to many more years in a neighborhood she loved and in a school that was great for her kids. That is until one day, it all changed – her landlord lost the building, including her home, to foreclosure.

Thanks to the hard work of many Chicago advocates, including LCBH, Chicago now has an ordinance that helps to protect renters who are scooped up in the foreclosure process through no fault of their own. When a landlord loses an apartment building to foreclosure, the new owner must either offer to renew (or extend) the existing tenants’ lease or offer to give them relocation assistance. Edna was relieved that the new owner of her building was going to work with her to keep her in her home rather than evict her.

Foreclosure: a Renter’s Perspective

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.