Sheriff Gets Safeguards for Evicted Tenants


Renters in Cook County will now be notified before they are evicted from buildings in foreclosure, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart plays a hand game with youth.
Cook County Sheriff web site photo

Steve Patterson, a spokesperson for the sheriff, told Residents’ Journal on Oct. 20 that Dart halted evictions for a few days in October because many renters were evicted without knowing their buildings were in foreclosure.

Dart “was worried that in a foreclosure, the person with the mortgage would know what was going on. But the person paying the rent would have no idea,” Patterson said.

“(The Sheriff) just saw too many cases of people finding out they were being evicted when we knocked on the door. And he just said, ‘I’m done with it. I’m not doing it anymore.”

Patterson explained that the sheriff agreed to resume making evictions after judges agreed to require banks to notify renters. The judges resolved a stand-off after banks and other property owners threatened to sue the sheriff.

“They threatened to and they wanted Sheriff Dart to be held in contempt in court for not keep doing the evictions. And he said he was willing to be held in contempt if that’s what it came to. It never came to that. The judges told him that they would kind of work with him on a solution rather than hold him in contempt of court. And this was the solution,” Patterson said.

“Now there’s a whole form that has to be filled out by the bank saying ‘On this date, we went to this address and talked to these people and they have to name all the people in the building, and told them about this foreclosure. And then they have to sign it swearing that that’s the truth, and that’s the only way he would resume the evictions.”

The new procedures come as a result of several discussions between the sheriff’s office and members of the Cook County Circuit Court’s Chancery Division over a week’s period of time.

Dart stopped making evictions earlier in October after an unprecedented number of evictions in the wake of the growing mortgage home foreclosure crisis, according to a press release at the time. The sheriff stopped the evictions to protect “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.”

Describing the renters as “innocent victims,” the sheriff said many people were oblivious to the financial straits their landlord might be in.

Dart added that the “mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don’t care who’s in the building” and that “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.”

According to the press release, last year, “Dart pushed a bill before the legislature that would have required mortgage companies to identify any children or senior citizens living in a unit before requesting an eviction.”

He said he hoped to link those vulnerable residents with social service agencies, “but banking and real estate industry lobbyists killed the bill.”

Dart – who is believed to be the first sheriff of a major metropolitan area to take such a step – “wants a safety net to be established either by the judiciary or state legislature, to protect those most harmed by the mortgage crisis, and he wants mortgage companies to be forced to provide sufficient information to the Sheriff’s Office in order to conduct an eviction.”

He said “that will provide greater notification to tenants that their building is in foreclosure and will require mortgage companies and their attorneys to do more leg work in advance of an eviction. “Because the banks aren’t doing that now, more than one-third of all trips by sheriff’s eviction teams’ result in finding nobody home to verify who lives there or finding someone other than the mortgage-holder.”

Foreclosure filings have steadily climbed in Cook County since 1999 and the number of foreclosure evictions has almost tripled in just two years, according to Dart.

In 1999, there were 12,935 mortgage foreclosure cases filed in Cook County. Noticeable increases came in 2006, when 18,916 were filed, and last year, when 32,269 were filed. This year, Dart projects more than 43,000 to be filed.

Dart said his office is on pace to conduct evictions stemming from mortgage foreclosures at 4,500 properties this year. “That compares to just 1,771 in 2006,” according to his press release.

New Safeguards for “Innocent Renters”
Banks holding the mortgage are now required to do several things prior to the eviction process. They must provide the court a detailed description of the building and name all its occupants at the time of the initial foreclosure filing. They must provide a date that bank representatives were last at the property for an inspection prior to the entry of an eviction order. The bank must first prove to the court notice of the foreclosure has been given to all building tenants, if the bank requests additional parties be added to the eviction order. Finally, banks must also prove they informed tenants of the 120-day grace period, granted to them by state law, allowing them to secure new housing before moving out.

Additionally, Dart announced that the sheriff’s office “will hire a full-time social worker, who will work with evictions unit personnel to help those evicted find alternative housing and connect them with other community social services; Assign an attorney to the eviction unit to help identify instances of possible mortgage fraud, and expand the Sheriff’s Financial Crimes Unit to include investigations into claims of mortgage fraud.

“Those steps not only protect tenants, but also taxpayers, who will no longer foot the bill for conducting due diligence investigations for the banks,” according to the Sheriff’s office.

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