Blog: Rentervention

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 nine 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.

Farihah Syed joined LCBH in July 2021 as our new Rentervention Staff Attorney. We are so excited to welcome her to the team. We recently sat down with Farihah to talk about her background in the legal field.

What have you done prior to joining LCBH?
I graduated from Chicago-Kent in May of 2019. I specialized in criminal prosecution in and out of law school. Following graduation, I served as a law clerk at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office Juvenile Delinquency, Child Protection, and Felony Trial divisions. I also was a City prosecutor law clerk at the City of Chicago Department of Law.

How did you become affiliated with LCBH?
I saw a great opportunity as LCBH’s Rentervention Staff Attorney and was interested in seeing what it was about. I reached out and LCBH showed interest in having me on the team.

How do you feel connected to the mission?
I feel like I'm genuinely helping people who are dealing with difficult circumstances and providing them with some semblance of justice. It’s a very fulfilling role. I like that I'm helping people navigate difficult times in their lives. This is most important for me.

After LCBH closed its doors in March, we pivoted our services to a digital and virtual world where we continue to provide the same level of services and advocacy for Chicago tenants. Through "Renny" and Rentervention, LCBH provides legal information available to Chicago tenants 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, in some cases, connects tenants with LCBH attorneys through Rentervention's Virtual Legal Clinic. In May, LCBH launched "Tenant Thursdays," a Facebook Live series that hosts segments on essential topics for Chicago tenants. Tenant Thursdays allow viewers to directly ask their question's to our subject matter experts on the live stream.

LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz

I hope you, your family, and your colleagues are safe and healthy. As we stand in support of the Black Lives Matters movement, we do so in recognition that the majority of LCBH’s clients are Black and that the structural racism and racial disparities in our health, criminal law, and other systems are equally evident in our eviction system. As such we will continue to prioritize LCBH’s advocacy in Chicago’s hardest-hit Black communities.

As we have for 40 years, LCBH pledges to partner with you to reform eviction court and leverage technology to better serve renters facing serious housing issues. In this newsletter, I invite you to learn more about Renny and how you can help prevent COVID-19 related evictions.

Renny is Here to Help

Rentervention - Housing Problems Solved

In 2019, LCBH, with support from the Lawyers Trust Fund, launched Rentervention.com, a free tool for Chicago renters who have questions about their rights when it comes to eviction, security deposits, and repairs needed in their homes.

Tenants who use Rentervention.com can now find answers to questions about their housing amid the current health crisis. This expansion is already proving to be a valuable resource. In March, there were 804 visitors to Rentervention.com, followed by 2,898 in April and nearly 3,750 in May.

Renny is programmed to address users' concerns and provide them with the appropriate resources. For example, Renny provides sample letters for tenants to edit and send to their landlords about issues such as difficulty paying rent or needing repairs done.

Moreover, Renny informs renters what their landlords can and cannot do and connects them to free lawyers who can review the user’s conversation with Renny to provide legal help.

During this crisis, the common types of questions that Renny receives are about not being able to pay rent and COVID-19 specific issues. As the laws and guidelines change, Renny is provided with the most current legislation to inform tenants about their rights during this unprecedented time.

Q & A with Renny the Robot

In 2019, LCBH, with support from the Lawyers Trust Fund, launched Rentervention.com, a free tool for Chicago renters who have questions about their rights when it comes to eviction, security deposits, and repairs needed in their homes.

We sat down with Renny for a Q & A to learn more about him.

Q: How many renters have contacted you since the start of the pandemic?
A: Since about mid-March through Memorial Day about 6,800 renters have contacted me. It feels so good to help so many! Rentervention has really grown.

Q: What is the most common question you receive?
A: The most common type of questions I get are about not being able to pay rent and Coronavirus-specific issues. Renters want to know what rights they have since the law and guidelines can change from day-to-day. About 2 of every 3 questions I get are on this topic. I’m taught new information all the time so I provide the best possible service.

Conor Malloy, Rentervention Project Director

LCBH is proud to announce our new upcoming project, Rentervention, in partnership with Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) and Lawyers Trust Fund (LTF)!

Rentervention is a chatbot service that will offer support to low-income tenants in unsubsidized Chicago housing dealing with conditions issues, eviction, and security deposit disputes. Tenants will be able to access help 24/7 though either a website or by texting. When appropriate, the chatbot will refer tenants to a free lawyer providing limited scope support through Rentervention’s Virtual Clinic.

Conor Malloy joined our team in December last year as the project director of Rentervention. In this role, he develops content for pro bono attorneys, creates scripts for the chat interface, and trains pro bono attorneys. Conor is excited to lead this pilot project in utilizing technology to easily provide legal guidance to those most in need.

Rentervention will go live on May 1, and a public awareness campaign will help promote the project to renters throughout Chicago over the summer.