Saturday, February 27, 2016

Winter Evictions in Chicago

The Cook County eviction courts are busy places and people fall behind on their rent all year round.  Chicago has a long, cold winter and tenants sometimes think that the Cook County Sheriff will not evict them during the winter.  This is actually an urban legend.  

Here is when the Cook County Sheriff will not evict:  (1)  during the Christmas moratorium imposed by the Court every year from around December 18 to January 3;  (2)  when it is 15 degrees or colder on the day of your eviction; and (3) whenever extreme weather conditions endanger the health and welfare of those to be evicted.  Source - Cook County Amended General Order 2013-07.  

Over the last two winters we had a lot of days below 15 degrees and a huge Chicago eviction backlog piled up. I saw evictions take as long as 8 weeks to complete. 

According to the news, winter 2015-16 will have a strong El Nino in the Pacific Ocean.  That means we may be in for a very mild winter.  Don't expect a lot of 15 degree or colder days in Chicago. 

The 5-Day Notice for Chicago Tenants

Monday, February 8, 2016

When Can A Chicago Landlord Raise Rent?

Landlords love to pass costs off on to tenants and sometimes they use the flimsiest excuse to raise the rent.  The landlord can raise the rent as high as he likes, assuming he doesn’t do so for an illegal reason like retaliation or prohibited discrimination, but he can only raise the rent at certain times. 

If the tenant has a one-year (or longer) written lease, the landlord can only raise the rent when the lease comes up for renewal.  

If the tenant has a monthly or “oral lease,” the landlord can raise the rent with a 30-Day Notice that must in writing and hand-delivered 30 days before the next time the rent is due.  So, if the landlord wants to increase the rent for January 1, the landlord must give the tenant a 30-Day Notice on December 1 or earlier.   If the landlord drops the ball and serves the 30-Day Notice on, say, December 15, the Notice is technically good, but it’s not effective until February 1st’s rent payment.   

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How Can I Work Out a Stay and Pay Agreement with My Chicago Landlord?

Some Chicago tenants like to work out “stay and pay” agreements with their landlords.   Typically, in exchange for the eviction being dismissed, the tenant starts paying the current rent going forward plus something extra towards the back rent.  

These arrangements are great if you want to work things out with your landlord.  They avoid the eviction, you don’t have to move, and your case will be dismissed instead of resulting in an eviction judgment against you.  But you must be very, very careful.  Your landlord is already frustrated with you. He’s not going to be very forgiving if you mess up again.  And there is a lot that can go wrong with a pay and stay agreement.  

First, the agreement will be in writing and it will provide a payment schedule for you to follow.  It will also provide that if you miss a payment, the landlord is automatically entitled to an eviction order and money judgment without trial.  This means any defense you had to the eviction (I didn’t get a 5-Day Notice, I didn’t own any rent, or the apartment is a dump) are waived.  That’s a huge penalty if you miss a payment because you might otherwise get the eviction thrown out entirely.    

Second, you must follow agreement precisely as it’s written.  If you agree to pay $500 by the 7th day of the month, you must pay $500 by the seventh of the month.  Even paying on the 8th day of the month is a breach of the agreement.  And Chicago eviction judges may evict you based just upon that.  Excuses like “I was going to try and pay but I was too sick,” “I used the money to buy my kids Christmas presents,” or “I got mugged as I was going to pay the rent,” just aren't going to fly no matter how sympathetic.   

Third, make sure you can afford the payments.  I've seen too many people promise to pay and then fail because they thought their pay day was on a different Friday, forgot that their car payment was due on the same day that they were going to make the rent payment, or the cousin who promised to help disappeared the day the money was due.  Don't let these happen to you.  Chicago eviction court is a complicated place.  Be careful. 

How to Request a Continuance in Chicago Eviction Court

Normally, in a Chicago eviction case, your first court date is going to be your trial date.  You are generally entitled to a brief continuance (a new court date) if you ask for one. 

If you want a continuance, there is a special way to ask for it.  When your case is called, approach the bench where the judge is sitting, and when the judge looks at you and asks you “what do have to say?,” just say “I want a continuance to get a lawyer", or "consult with a lawyer", or "to get evidence" or "have a witness come here.”  That's all you should say.  Don't say anything else.  Tenants are generally granted a one-week continuance without any problem. 

The reason for not saying anything more is that once you start telling the judge your side of the case, you have started your trial.  If you then realize that you need a witness, want to hire a lawyer, or need to get some papers you left at home, it is very unlikely that the judge will grant you a continuance then.  I see tenants with great defenses lose because they didn’t ask for a continuance and they went to trial unprepared.  Don’t let it happen to you.