Thought this might make an interesting topic for debate in the current political and economic climate.
The Sheriff of Cook County, a county which encompasses the city of Chicago and has over 5 million people, has announced that he is refusing to serve eviction notices on people living in foreclosed homes. The sheriff, Tom Dart, acknowledges that failing to act on eviction orders leaves him open to contempt-of-court charges, although a judge hasn’t made any such ruling yet.
Before debating this further, it’s worth noting exactly what he is (and is not) doing with this stand. By deciding not to enforce eviction orders on foreclosed homes, he is sparing both tenants who have become the victims of someone else’s mortgage default, as well as mortgage holders who are, themselves, in foreclosure.
Also, note that he is not halting all evictions. In cases where the tenants themselves are the subjects of the eviction action (e.g., they didn’t pay their rent, they violated the terms of their lease, etc.), evictions are still taking place.
What appears to have motivated his actions is that, in many cases, mortgage holders are defaulting on their mortgage payments, the bank takes over the property, and then serves an eviction on the tenants. According to Dart, he often arrives to serve the eviction orders and finds that the tenants have been paying their rent on time, and allegedly have absolutely no knowledge of their landlords’ mortgage problems, or that they have been evicted.
One of Dart’s central arguments is that the banks are not doing their duty, when they gain control of the property, of finding out who is actually living there and giving them proper notice to vacate. He says that this leaves his office in a position where they are using their own resources (and taxpayer dollars) to do something that is the banks’ responsibility.
Dart wrote a piece explaining his actions in the Chicago Sun-Times, and he says:
Here are a few more stories on the subject:
I’m a little conflicted about all this.
As someone who has been consistently critical of police who violate the law and their responsibilities as defenders of the peace, i’m a little worried about a Sheriff deciding that he’s not going to enforce a particular law. I might have a lot of sympathy for his moral position, and for the results that it brings in this particular case, but i’m still worried that he’s not fulfilling his ethical obligations as a member of law enforcement.
On the other hand, if the banks and other mortgage holders have not been following the law in giving tenants proper notice to vacate, i also agree that the Sheriff’s department should not do their dirty work for them, and that taxpayers should not foot the bill for the sort of work the bak is meant to do.
As far as i can tell, Illinois law requires tenants to be given 30 days’ notice of eviction in cases directly involving the tenants themselves (i.e., when the lardlord evicts the tenants). As i understand it, however, when the tenant is evicted as a result of issues that do not involve the tenant (such as the landlord defaulting on the mortgage, and the bank taking over the property), a recent change to the law requires that the tenant be given 120 days’ notice of eviction. (This is what i’ve gleaned from my reading on this matter; if i’m in error, can someone correct me).
I think what should happen is that, before any eviction notices are served on tenants in these cases, the banks should be forced to show evidence that they have, in fact, given the tenants proper notice to vacate the property. Sending a notice to the defaulting landlord should not be sufficient; they must show that the tenant knows of the situation, and has been given adequate notice to leave. There should also be a set of guidelines as to what constitutes proper notice, including some form of registered or confirmed delivery of the letter to the person living at the property. It’s not clear to me, from the news stories, exactly what has to happen for an eviction notice to end up with the Sheriff’s office.
I also think that, in this case, Sheriff Dart should continue to enforce eviction orders on mortgage holders who are still living in the property that is no longer theirs. While i feel very sorry for them, and also wish that the banks (or our $700 billion bailout) might help them in some way, the fact is that they are responsible for their own default. The tenants, on the other hand, are caught in the middle, between the defaulting landlord and the bank that now owns the property. The very least we should require is that these tenants receive the legally-required notice (120 days, if i read it correctly) before they have their stuff thrown on the street. To that extent, i support Sheriff Dart’s actions in this case.