Cook Eviction Stats Part 4: Comparing Districts

How this article started

It is a peculiarity of American evictions that they are held at the county/parish level instead of at the city/municipal level as one might expect. This means that even though Chicago rentals are generally protected by Chicago-specific laws, evictions are handled by the Cook County District courts, of which there are six.

District/Location Coverage
1st, Chicago City of Chicago
2nd, Skokie Northern Suburbs
3rd, Rolling Meadows Northwestern Suburbs
4th, Maywood Western Suburbs
5th, Bridgeview Southwestern Suburbs
6th, Markham Southern Suburbs

The data in this part of the series is really what started the whole thing. Last year I was involved with some clients who unfortunately had to evict their tenant. The apartment was located in Chicago. However, this particular case was tried in the 2nd District court in Skokie. This naturally raised my curiosity, so I sent off an email to Rich Magnone to find out how this was possible.

His response corresponded with my belief that a case generally must be tried in the district court that handles cases for the town where the apartment is located. So, this particular eviction would normally be handled in Chicago. My supposition was that since one of the landlords lived in a town that was covered by the 2nd district, they were able to take advantage of a loophole and try the case in a court that was closer to their home.

The next question was, why would they choose to do this, other than to minimize the distance required for the landlord to travel to court? was there some sort of advantage to be gained in trying the case in the suburbs instead of in the city? The answer is a psychological one which does not hold up when the statistics are subject to close review.

The myth of easy evictions in the suburbs

There is an urban legend out there that suburban courts are easier on landlords. One can surmise that this is related to the concept of income-based prejudice. A town full of rich people will theoretically make decisions that favor the “haves” – in this case, the landlords. A town with poor people will favor the “have nots” – the tenants. It’s an easy assumption to make.

The northern and northwestern suburbs are known to have a higher median income. Recent census data backs this up, as the map of towns in Cook County below will show.[1]Map source: Cook County Data Median income levels are indicated by color, with red and yellow indicating the lowest incomes, and blue and violet markers indicating the highest incomes.

(Editor's Note: There was a Fusion Tables map here but they're no longer a thing, sorry.)

Looking at the maps, it’s pretty clear that the assumption of greater wealth in the northern suburbs of Cook County is an accurate one. So, if the legend is true, one would see a greater success rate for evictions handled by the 2nd and 3rd district courts – Skokie and Rolling Meadows – than one would see in the other districts.

Comparing verdicts

So if the urban legend is true, we’d see a higher success rate in Skokie and Rolling Meadows than we see in Chicago. Let’s take a look at the data I obtained from the Clerk of the Courts and see if we can verify.

… Nope.

In fact, the data points in exactly the opposite direction. The northern districts are the only two that make it tougher for a landlord to succesfully evict!

However, if you look at the range of percentages at the bottom, you’ll realize that we’re really splitting hairs here. It’s a matter of a few percentage points between one district and another. A single percentage point even in the slowest of the districts is only 100 cases spread over 8 years.

The takeaway here is similar to what we learned in part 3. A successful eviction case is not based on the bias of the courts or the judges, but on the merits of the individual cases. People with lower incomes are the ones most likely to wind up running out of funds to pay rent. Landlords who really need the money are more likely to do the hard work required to make sure their eviction suits are bulletproof. The chances of having a justifiable eviction case are much higher in the southern parts of the county.

This myth is busted. But before you go running off to file your eviction in Markham to get that slight advantage, there’s more to consider.

Suburban Courthouse capacity

The District courthouses are set up to handle cases that fall within their geographic purview. A landlord is not supposed to be trying a Chicago case in Markham unless you’ve got a darned good reason. Both landlord and tenant should be able to get to the courthouse without hardship, and asking your tenant to haul down to 16000 south is going to raise quite a few eyebrows. Besides, the suburban courts are simply not structured to take on the volume of cases that flow through Chicago.

The capacity limits are apparent in when eviction hearings occur in these courthouses. 1st District in downtown Chicago has at least five courtrooms running all evictions, all the time. That means you’ve got 25 potential venues per week (five rooms x five weekdays) to get your case heard. By contrast, tiny 2nd District Skokie only holds eviction hearings on Fridays in a single courtroom. If you try to squeeze your case in up there, you’re going to be making the folks with a legitimate cause to be there wait longer to get their money back.
The infographic below will give you an idea of the respective capacities of each courthouse.

So yes, if a landlord lives in one of the south suburbs they could technically go file their Chicago eviction case in Markham to gain that extra 3% chance of victory, but the system really isn’t designed to handle too many people doing so.

Comparing caseloads

The efficiency of the different districts is even more apparent when you look at their respective eviction caseloads compared with their capacity. The interactive graphic below will allow you to click back and forth between the two.

1st District Chicago handles over 14 times more cases than the next busiest district, Markham, even though their capacity is just 2.5 times larger. 1st District is just an eviction factory. Remember how I started this article discussing the odd combination of city laws and county courts? A 1st district judge is far more likely to know the CRLTO inside and out, since those cases make up the majority of their caseload. They know the city laws, they know the city eviction volume, and they are fully equipped to handle the complexity of a Chicago eviction case in ways that the suburban courts simply cannot match.

So I hope we’ve settled this part of the eviction bias myth once and for all. Courts in wealthier towns do not make it easier for landlords to evict. In fact, it’s the other way around. Not only that, but even if you could get your Chicago case heard out there, they simply do not have the capacity to handle a mass influx of landlords looking to game the system.

Friday I’ll be discussing whether or not evictions filings have gotten better or worse over the past eight years. In the meantime, if you’re enjoying this series please click on the “share” button below to help spread the word?

This is part of a series on Chicago evictions. You should probably start at the beginning. Here are the rest of the articles:


1 Map source: Cook County Data