In the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, even the most responsible renters can fall victim to eviction because of the financial woes of building owners.
“Once the landlord’s in foreclosure, the tenant really is going to have to move if that’s what the bank wants,” said John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. Experts said that ultimately renters may have to leave their apartment, but that a basic understanding of their rights can buy valuable time to hunt for a new apartment or home.
Below are some tips they said can protect renters from premature eviction:
Before a lease is signed:
* TRUST IN INSTINCTS. A renter who senses that the owner is in financial trouble can contact the Chancery Division of the Office of the Clerk of Circuit Court of Cook County at (312) 603-5133 and ask if the landlord is a defendant in a foreclosure case. If the landlord’s name is not known, the renter can contact the Cook County Recorder of Deeds’ office at (312) 603-5050.
* GET LEASE IN WRITING. Tenants can have their leases cancelled by their landlord or new property owner within 30 days if they are on a verbal or month-to-month lease. More time can be allowed for tenants who have leases that are written and have longer terms.
* STAY CURRENT ON RENT. This will strengthen a tenant’s defense in case of a foreclosure.
* KEEP GOOD RECORDS. Maintain a copy of the lease, and request and save receipts for rent, security deposit and utility payments. Another way to provide proof of payment is to purchase a money order or use a personal check to pay for rent and utilities.
* OPEN ALL MAIL. Notices regarding foreclosure may be addressed to an “unknown occupant,” especially if the landlord’s bank doesn’t know a renter’s name.
* WARNING SIGNS. Be aware of signals that a landlord may be in debt. Junk mail offering the landlord bankruptcy relief or notices for the landlord from banks and utility companies, or letters expressing interest in the property are red flags.
After the foreclosure:
* PROVIDE PROOF OF IDENTITY. If the sheriff arrives at the door to serve eviction papers, tenants should state that they are a renter, not the owner, and that they have received no notice of the situation. * KNOW THE LAW. Tenants current on their rent who are summoned to eviction court can invoke the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Law, giving them an extra 120 days to move out or the duration of the lease, whichever is shorter.
* GET A LAWYER. Free legal representation is often available and can be arranged through the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing at (312) 347-7600 and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago at (312) 341- 1070. Referrals to legal help can be made through the Metropolitan Tenants Organization hot line at (773) 292-4988.
* NEGOTIATE. Cutting a deal with the new owner’s lawyer can save the trouble of appearing in court, and could keep the word “eviction” off a renter’s record. Between the time that a judge orders an eviction and the sheriff arrives to do the eviction, tenants have an opportunity to vacate the property without permanently damaging their rental records. To avoid permanent damage on a renter’s record, the renter can have an order of eviction vacated in court.
If all else fails:
* WHEN THERE’S NO ONE TO ACCEPT THE RENT. State law requires a tenant to be current on the rent in order to remain in an apartment for additional time after a foreclosure. In some instances, however, the landlord is no longer available to collect rent, preventing tenants from making payments. Experts suggest tenants band together to share the cost of common utilities because in court an argument can be made that this is an acceptable form of payment toward rent.
* REQUEST A JURY. A tenant can pay $418 to file a jury demand with the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk at (312) 603-5133, asking that a group of peers, who might be more sympathetic, determine the case instead of only a judge. Some waivers are available for individuals unable to pay the cost to file a jury demand.