Chicago Sheriff Halts Foreclosure Evictions on Renters

10/10/2008 03:04:00 AM

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005 Illinois law was recently revised to require the owner of the property and mortgage holder to notify whoever lives there 120 days before an eviction is carried out.  But some landlords are disappearing with the renters rent money without notifying the tenants.

Katrina McMullin, 34, was paying her rent on time, but that didn't stop a deputy from coming to her Northwest Side door with a notice of eviction.  She had received no notice from her landlord. 

"How dare they take my rent and still evict me?" said McMullin, who is staying in the apartment after hiring a lawyer.  "It wasn't fair."

The Chicago metropolitan area ranks 35th in the U.S. in terms of foreclosure rates.  Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the sheriff of the third-most populous U.S. county, halted evictions on foreclosed properties on Thursday, saying innocent tenants were being put on the street. 

On the Cook County Sheriff's Website was posted an official press release on the situation.

"With Cook County on pace to conduct a record number of evictions this year - and an unprecedented number of evictions due to mortgage foreclosures - Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Wednesday he is suspending all foreclosure evictions."

The move comes as a result of the growing number of evictions that involve renters - most of whom are dutifully paying their rent every month, only to later learn their landlord has fallen behind on mortgage payments and the building has gone into foreclosure.  While mortgage companies are suppose to conduct a basic due diligence investigation before requesting an eviction - identifying all occupants - sheriff's deputies are regularly finding no work done by the mortgage company in advance, leaving the identifying work to deputies working at taxpayer expense.


Other evictions due to such issues as failing to pay rent would continue, Dart says.

"Those mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don't care who's in the building," Dart says.  "They simply want their money and don't care who gets hurt along the way.  On top of it all, they want taxpayers to fund their investigative work for them.  We're not going to do their jobs for them anymore.  We're just not going to evict innocent tenants.  It stops today."

More than 1/3 of all trips by sheriff's eviction teams results in finding nobody home to verify who lives there or finding someone other than the mortgage-holder.

By refusing to do any foreclosure-related evictions, the hope is that banks will change their policies.  Dart acknowledges that he is at risk of violating court orders to evict and could be found in contempt.  But he says he is also responsible for making sure justice is being done. 

"We will no longer be a party to something that's so unjust," he said.

The sheriff's complaint stems from the extra work his office does on behalf of lenders.  Dart says he is tired of his deputies showing up at homes for an eviction and finding tenants who are not on the mortgage.  Taxpayers foot the bill for that work.

Dart said he will resume foreclosure-related evictions when lenders agree to do their own due diligence in figuring out who is living in foreclosed properties.

Cook County Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Evans could not be reached for comment.  Dart planned to meet with judges Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff said there were more than 500 evictions for foreclosure scheduled over the next six weeks and the office was on pace to conduct 43,000 evictions for the year with 4,500 of them being for foreclosure-related evictions.  About one third of those are rent-paying individuals.


But bankers say he is breaking the law. IBA said Dart was ignorning the law and was engaging in "vigilantism."

"In announcing his plan, Dart acknowledged that he could be found in contempt of court," the IBA said in a statement, adding that the sheriff's decision "should not be tolerated."

"We don't have the ability to take over collateral upon default, and if we don't have that assurance, or we think evictions won't be made.. we simply won't make the loan," Koch said of the moratorium

Frank Binetti, vice president of the Illinois Mortgage Bankers Association stated

"It would have a significant impact because obviously lenders would be hesitant to lend if they knew that if someone defaulted they wouldn't be able to take the property back. "  "It would create higher risks for lenders and they would have to price that into the loans, if they even chose to lend in Cook County."  "The only thing you have as a lender is the collateral, and if you aren't able to retrieve the collateral, why are you even lending in the first place?"


Most officials in surrounding counties, also struggling with unprecedented levels of foreclosures, found the move beyond the scope of a sheriff. 

In Will County, Sheriff Paul Kaupas was apprehensive about halting evictions and suggested the courts should suspend eviction orders.  Pat Berry, spokesman for Kaupas, said "If we disregard the law, what kind of message are we sending?"

Kane County Sheriff Patrick Perez said he understood Dart's motivation, having worked in the civil division dealing with evictions. 

"I saw more misery in those two years than I did in the 14 or 15 years of criminal law enforcement before it," he said.


Last year, Dart pushed a bill before the Legislature that owuld have required mortgage companies to identify any children or senior citizens living in a unit before requesting an eviction.  Dart hoped to link those vulnerable residents with social service agencies, but banking and real estate industry lobbyists killed the bill, according to the Cook County Sheriff's website.




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