Cook Eviction Stats Part 6: Forcible Entry vs Joint Action

There’s two different types of eviction cases that can be filed by a landlord in Cook County. One is called “Forcible Entry & Detainer,” and the other is called “Joint Action.” In order to explain the difference I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about Buffalo wings. This will make sense in a moment, I promise.
Chicken Evictions
The Wings. The meat of the matter. What you’re really there for. Forcible Detainer & Entry. In other words, the landlord wants to get the tenant out of the apartment. This is the core purpose behind every eviction case.
Celery. The green stuff. Not a reason to go out for dinner on its own. You can make it at home. Also green stuff. The eviction equivalent would be a court-ordered demand that a tenant pay their unpaid rent. Much like celery, this is hardly ever pursued on its own at the court level.
Buffalo wings. The whole thing. Celery and dressing combine their cooling powers to the chicken to make a culinary miracle. In eviction court, a landlord files a joint action case when they want to get the tenant out AND they want the court to enforce payment of back rent.
Got it? Good.

So why bother with FE&D?

So when does it make sense to file a Forcible Entry & Detainer case instead of Joint Action? Well, sometimes you want the tenant out even if they haven’t fallen behind on their rent. Consider some of the following scenarios that might result in an eviction without money owned:
  • Tenant has subleased the apartment without permission.
  • Tenant has is keeping a dog in a building that doesn’t allow them.
  • Tenant is keeping large amounts of garbage in the apartment.
  • Tenant is holding massive, loud parties that have resulted in multiple police calls.
  • A bank has taken over ownership of a foreclosed apartment building and must remove all of the current occupants.
  • Most of the situations are behavior issues, but they could result in the landlord wanting to remove the tenant before their lease is up. No matter what the situation, in Chicago if a landlord wants their tenants gone before the lease is up, they have to go through the courts.
However, most of the eviction cases that make it to the courts are centered on one topic: unpaid rent. Every other annoyance can usually be resolved without paying court fees and getting lawyers involved. By the time a landlord is annoyed enough to file an eviction case, there is probably a large sum of back rent due from the tenant. Accordingly the lion’s share of eviction cases filed in Cook County are Joint Action. As you can see, over 75% of the eviction filings in Cook County have been Joint Action cases, and those numbers are consistent over the past 3 years. (They’re actually consistent going much further back.)

Success and Partial Success

In my prior study of evictions, I determined based on my tiny sample that a lot of the Joint Action cases were only resulting in partially successful cases. I had thought that a large number of them were ending up with the landlord getting back possession of the apartment, but the requests for back rent getting dismissed. With the much larger sample size in hand, I have learned that I was quite wrong in my findings. As it turns out, the success rate in either type of case is pretty consistent at around 62-63%. In Chicago, 49% of the Joint Action cases were fully successful, meaning only a measly 13% of the landlords saw partial wins. What causes a partial win? Well, the judge could find that the landlord has violated one of the many local landlord-tenant ordinances, incurring fines against the landlord that negate back rent due from the tenant. Or the tenant could plead a case that the property is not worth the listed rent due to the landlord’s neglect. There’s any number of reasons but these two are pretty common.

The Skokie Problem

In comparing the results for partially successful joint action cases and the ones that went all the way, I found some inconsistency in the breakdowns from district to district. Unfortunately for those who still think filing your Chicago eviction case at 2nd District Skokie will give you some kind of edge, those breakdowns show an abnormally high rate of failure up there. Check it out:
District Partial Success Total Success Any Success
1st – Chicago 13.3% 49.1% 62.4%
2nd – Skokie 27.7% 33.7% 61.4%
3rd – Rolling Meadows 3.4% 58.7% 62.2%
4th – Maywood 0.4% 64.4% 64.8%
5th – Bridgeview 3.7% 60.4% 64.1%
6th – Markham 2.9% 63.1% 66.03%
So this is the first time that we’re seeing some real pro-tenant bias in the system. Landlords who file Joint Action cases win the whole enchilada slightly less than half the time in Chicago. All of those angry Chicago landlords who were hoping I would find justification for their belief in a system that favors the tenants are probably sitting back and saying “Ha! I told you so!” But we’ve got a little problem with Skokie. You see, the main complaint about supposedly pro-tenant Chicago is twofold. The core problem is that Chicago has many laws governing landlord-tenant rights. Chief among them is the mighty CRLTO, about which I’ve already written an entire textbook worth of blog entries. All those laws combined make it very challenging for a landlord to assemble an airtight eviction case. But most of the towns that file in Skokie don’t have their own municipal landlord-tenant ordinances. They’re covered by the very loosey-goosey state of Illinois ordinance instead. And their landlords only win full joint action suits a third of the time. That’s far worse than Chicago. (It also disproves once again the urban legend that it’s easier to evict in Skokie!) So yes, it is harder for a landlord to fully win an eviction case in Chicago than it is in some of the outlying suburbs, but it could be much worse. The CRLTO exists in its current form for very specific reasons. High roller investors are really not the type to be gambling with life essential things like food, water and shelter. The high rents and high population density of the city attracts some of the worst of those risk-takers, and as landlords not all of them have the best intentions in mind for their tenants. Rather than saying the CRLTO exists to restrict landlords from earning an honest buck, perhaps we should say that it exists to prevent slumlords from earning a dishonest one. Perhaps it isn’t so much that the Chicago laws or courts are biased against landlords. Maybe instead we should consider if landlords who are attracted to Chicago properties are just a little more shady than their suburban cousins. I’ll be back on Wednesday with a look at what these stats mean for tenants. In the meantime, I think I’ll have a chicken for lunch. Anyone with me?
This is part of a series on Chicago evictions. You should probably start at the beginning. Here are the rest of the articles: