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.
In 2014, 55 attorneys donated more than 3700 hours to the Pro Bono Program at Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helping families in crisis. In the process, these attorneys developed their litigation skills, learned a new area of law, created new professional relationships and most importantly MADE A DIFFERENCE in the lives of many Chicago renters! Here are some highlights from the LCBH Pro Bono Program from just the 1st quarter of 2015:
On Saturday March 14, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing attended Second District Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s Second Annual Housing Expo. During the event, LCBH provided extended foreclosure counseling to renters living in foreclosed properties and renters visited our table with questions that we were able to address.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing staff attorney Frank Avellone and clients recently contributed to an ongoing series of exhibitions by ART WORKS Projects. ART WORKS Projects’ mission is, “to use design and the arts to raise awareness of and educate the public about significant human rights and environmental issues.” ART WORKS Projects accomplishes this by doing focused exhibits centered on humanitarian issues, using a combination of storytelling, photography, and videography, to portray and disseminate a given issue. The current project they are focusing on is the nationwide affordable housing crisis as the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the U.S., and the individuals and/or families who have been directly impacted by this crisis in America.
The ART WORKS Projects is titled House of Cards: Rebuilding
Opening Reception with Artists & Experts
April 8, 6:25 PM - 9:00 PM
Panel: Confronting Housing Insecurity
April 29, 6:25 - 8:00 PM
All events are held at 625 N. Kingsbury Street, Chicago FREE & Open to the Public
Gentrification. We hear that word a lot about Chicago’s neighborhoods on the city’s north and northwest sides. What is gentrification? Gentrification is defined as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
Renters in one building in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood know the effects of gentrification first hand. Over the last three years, their building had gone through foreclosure and the court appointment of a property manager. Last year, a developer purchased the property. The developer appeared to be doing things correctly, providing tenants with proper notices and managers to handle the needs of the building. Then construction began on the building; residents were enthusiastic about the improvements to be made to the building. However the construction turned into unsafe conditions; porches were torn down without notice; unannounced water shut-offs; and loud construction. After the improvements started to take place, each tenant received a thirty-day notice to move. They soon realized that after the building received upgrades, they would no longer be able to afford to rent their current homes.
January in Chicago usually consists of sub-zero temperatures and high winds. The kind of weather that insists that you stay inside, nice and warm in your home, with your family. Sadly, that nice, warm home was not an option for some tenants in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood whose building had serious issues affecting their health and safety.
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) often collaborates with various community organizations, like the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), to address building issues in Chicago. MTO offers a tenants’ rights hotline for people to report building problems, and MTO had received calls from multiple tenants at the South Shore building complaining that they did not have heat. MTO went to the building to investigate. The building conditions were poor. Not only was there no heat, but tenants also had no running water due to frozen pipes and parts of the ceiling were breaking off inside some of the units.
Chicagoans now have access to a useful new tool when looking for an apartment to rent – a list of “Problem Landlords.” The list identifies residential building owners who have been repeatedly cited for failing to provide tenants with basic services and protections, such as adequate heat, hot water, and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The landlords listed have three or more serious building code violations, or have been found liable in two or more administrative hearing cases about their building(s). The list will be updated every six months. This list is available at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/building-code....
The City also publishes another useful list for tenants to review – the Building Code Scofflaw List. This list (also found at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/building-code...) identifies residential building owners who have three or more properties that are the subject of active Circuit Court cases and the building code violations remain uncorrected after the second court hearing . This list is updated once a year.
In Illinois, if a renter is taken to eviction court after the property is in foreclosure, the law requires that the court file be sealed. In fact though, as LCBH noted in its 2013 Annual Tenants in Foreclosure Report, Chicago’s Foreclosure Crisis: Community Solutions to the Loss of Affordable Rental Housing (http://lcbh.org/reports/foreclosure/2013), only 46% of foreclosure-related eviction cases were sealed from the public record in 2013. LCBH clients who were entitled to have their records sealed were reporting problems finding new housing due to having an eviction case on their record. Credit reporting agencies and landlord-tenant “blacklists” were not necessarily interested in the outcome of a case, but focused only on the fact that an eviction case had been filed.
After the 2013 foreclosure report was published, LCBH met with Judge E. Kenneth Wright, the Presiding Judge of the First Municipal District of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and shared with Judge Wright the experiences of LCBH clients.
Leo Jones heard about LCBH’s Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline and called looking for help. Mr. Jones believed he was within his rights to live out the term of his lease and that he was being misled by the new property manager at his building. Mr. Jones’ landlord had recently lost the apartment building due to foreclosure.
Mr. Jones called LCBH’s foreclosure helpline about his situation and LCBH helped him understand applicable laws. Mr. Jones then filed complaints with both the Illinois Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Complaints and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation alleging that his current lease should be honored, and that the new property owner and property management company were not complying with the law. The Attorney General’s office investigated the property management company and continued to watch the company’s conduct. After several months of Mr. Jones’ efforts to have the new property owner acknowledge his tenancy, and follow the terms of his existing lease, the new owner filed an eviction case against Mr. Jones.
LCBH represented Mr. Jones in the eviction court case. The court analyzed the federal Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act (PTFA) and Illinois law, and ruled that Mr. Jones had a valid lease. Mr. Jones would be able to remain in his home!
Going to court can be a very intimidating experience. Imagine finding yourself as a renter, paying your rent on time each month, and then being brought into eviction court because your building went into foreclosure! Do you have to move? When? What about your security deposit?
Many people believe that a person’s right to live in a rental property is contingent on the landlord continuing to own the property, or that when the landlord loses ownership of the building that the renters also lose their leases. In fact, this is not always the case. For renters, foreclosure does not mean “Get Out Now”!
Timely and accurate legal information can be crucial for renters. LCBH’s Tenants in Foreclosure team works to make people aware that renters may be able to stay, even if their landlord loses the property. LCBH shares this information with stakeholders throughout Illinois, hosting free renters’ rights workshops, distributing brochures, and referring renters to our helpline.
LCBH staff have been on the road throughout Illinois, providing brochures to Illinois Township Supervisors, meeting librarians and sharing resources at the Illinois Library Association annual conference, forging new partnerships, and strengthening current collaborations. Thanks to these visits, our Tenants in Foreclosure Helpline will now be included in the Peoria Landlord Tenant Handbook published by Housing Action Illinois.
Following is a recent letter to LCBH from a client expressing her gratitude for the support she and her family received from LCBH. We want to share this heartwarming story with you, as your support is what makes these stories possible. Thank you!
My name is Charlotte. I came to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing in February, very distressed and afraid of being put out on the streets of Chicago. My landlord, I had been renting with for 8 years, went into foreclosure. I found out when the bank came and put a sign on the front door while I was shoveling snow. They told me I could call the bank and they would tell me what to do. I did not know anything about foreclosure, 90 day notices or being served a forceful eviction notice. I called the bank and they told me I would probably have to move.