Tag Archives: Cook county

What Happens If Your Landlord Dies?

In previous articles I’ve addressed what a landlord should do if a tenant dies in the middle of a lease. However, I’ve not discussed the topic from the other side. So what happens to a tenant if the landlord dies?

Regardless of how you feel about your landlord’s death, you probably have some questions about what’s going to happen to your lease.

I’m not an attorney, and I certainly cannot cover every possible scenario. However, I can address some of the basic questions that may arise. As always, the discussions here pertain to apartments in the Chicago area.

Question 1: Do I have to move out?

No. Your lease is part of the property, just like the refrigerator, the garage and the roof. If the owner sells the building, he/she sells your lease along with it. If the owner dies, your lease continues. You do not have to move out automatically. Your landlord’s heirs cannot suddenly kick you out because they want to move in.

Question 2: Where do I send my rent?

You should continue to send your rent to the address listed on your lease. Once the landlord’s estate is settled, the probate attorney and/or the new owners who have inherited the property will send you written notice of any changes.

If your rent check comes back as undeliverable, hang onto it unopened in the envelope as proof that you tried.

Question 3: Who’s the new owner?

This is probably the most complicated question. It may take some time for the new owner to be determined, depending on how the property title was held. In other cases, the new owner could be able to step in within a matter of days. In the interim, the executor of the estate will become your main point of contact. This could be someone named in the landlord’s will or a court-appointed probate attorney. Either way, until you are notified in writing of a change in ownership, make sure all dealings regarding your apartment are handled in writing to the landlord’s address as listed on your lease.

If They’re Incorporated

If your landlord was incorporated – either as a corporation or LLC – with other partners, then you have nothing to worry about. The company will survive the death of the landlord. However, if the landlord was the only partner in the company, the entire company’s assets (including your lease) will pass on to the landlord’s heirs.

If They Have Heirs and a Legal Will

Provided the will is legal, the property goes to whoever is specified in the will. For all you know, it might even be you! (Maybe you should be nice to your landlord after all…)

If the landlord had a legal will and designated heirs, the property and your lease will pass on to the heirs specified in the will. These heirs will become your new landlords automatically, although it may take them some time to figure out who will be handling your specific concerns.

If They Have Heirs and No Will

It’s highly unlikely that your landlord will die without a will (“intestate”) but if so, the ownership will be determined through Cook County probate court. Illinois has a very specific order of preference for distributing property among remaining family. Children and living spouses are the first option, followed by parents and siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents, and if all else fails, the property goes to the next closest surviving relative. However, the property may well be distributed evenly among many relatives, so your property could wind up the subject of dispute between squabbling relatives. The most important thing in this case is to remain in close contact with the probate attorney appointed to handle the estate, as any official changes in ownership will come to you from them.

If They Have No Heirs and No Will

Again, this scenario is highly unlikely, but in the case that your landlord had no will and no surviving family, your building will become property of Cook County. (In legal terms, the property “escheats” to the county.)

If The Landlord Owes Outstanding Debts

What if your landlord died while still owing money to somebody? Regardless of what the will says, the landlord’s creditors have to be paid first. This may mean that your apartment will transferred in order to settle a debt. Three common situations where this could occur would be if the landlord had a mortgage on the property, if they had not yet paid contractors for major renovation work at the building, or if they had unpaid back taxes. Either way, the creditor gets your building and you along with it.

Question 4: Can I use this as a reason to break my lease?

Not really. The new owners who inherit the estate probably wouldn’t fault you for wanting to head out early, but since your lease is still valid and your apartment is still intact, you’ll have to follow the same lease break routine that you’d have followed if your landlord was still alive. Please be gentle with the relatives of your landlord when you go to discuss leaving – it is always a delicate and difficult situation.

Question 5: What if the owner lived on site?

All of the above is pretty much consistent if the landlord lived in the same building with you or not. However, if the landlord died in the building (I know, ew!) then you may have grounds for breaking your lease. A death on the property requires special clean up and care. Your property may be sealed for investigation by the coroner. If you can’t get into the property or it’s a health hazard, and the problem continues for over 72 hours, you do have a right to break your lease. The only problem is that you have to provide written notice to your landlord asking them to correct the problem, and figuring out who your new landlord is within 72 hours can be difficult.

Regardless, the most important things in this situation are to find safe substitute housing immediately – a hotel if you have to – and to cooperate with the authorities and the heirs in order to find out when you can safely return. This sort of extreme scenario would merit a call to an attorney to ensure that your needs remain prominent in the minds of those dealing directly with the death.

Question 6: What if my lease expires before the estate is settled?

Complicated estates can take months or even years to parcel out between heirs.

If you’re on a one year lease, it may well be that your lease expires before everything is resolved. Your lease expiration date, like all other aspects of your lease, remains valid even if the owner dies. In Chicago, a landlord has to provide you with at least 30 days written notice if they don’t intend to renew your lease. Unless your landlord did so before death, you have the right to stay in your apartment on a month-to-month lease.

If you choose to move out at the end of your lease, your course of action should be to send a letter stating as much to the same address where you send your rent, at least a month before the last day of the lease.

Question 7: How do I get my security deposit back?

This is probably the most complicated of all of the questions. The first step should be to provide your forwarding address to the executor of the estate when you move out, along with a reminder that they must return a list of itemized deductions within 30 days, and the balance of your deposit, with interest, within 45 days.

If the estate does not return your deposit before the deadline, you do have a right to sue them to get the money back.

Overall the most important things to remember in this kind of situation are:

  • Make sure your voice is heard. It is very easy in the process of settling an estate for the heirs to forget about the deceased’s renters. As soon as an executor is appointed, you must remain a firm presence in the process so that your needs are not forgotten.
  • Be kind and patient. The person who inherits your building may not have any experience as a Chicago landlord. Our landlord-tenant laws are some of the most complex in the country. It takes a while to learn how we do things around here. You’ll have to take some time to read up on the rules yourself, and you may have to gently coach your new landlord on how to do things the right way. Remember that they just lost a family member – please don’t take their inexperience as a reason to take advantage of them.
  • Seek help if you need it. These sorts of complicated situations are why professionals exist. You may deal with grief yourself over the loss, even if the landlord was not a good friend. If the estate spends a long time in probate you may need to consult with an attorney. Like it or not, the death of your landlord means that changes are headed your way, and not all of them will be predictable.

 

Cook Eviction Stats Part 10: Series Conclusion

About a year ago I encountered several urban legends about the Chicago rental environment that circle around the idea that the system is biased against landlords. I don’t like to see assumptions go unchallenged, so I set out to find out the statistical truth behind each of the component parts. Here are the original assumptions, with their results.

  • The courts favor tenants over landlords in eviction cases. FALSE.
  • The suburban courts, especially in wealthy areas, are more favorable to landlords when it comes to eviction. FALSE.
  • The evolution of the CRLTO is making the landlord-tenant situation progressively worse. TRUE.
  • Eviction only happens to bad landlords in bad areas of town. FALSE.
  • Lawyers and Juries have a marked effect on the outcome of eviction cases. POSSIBLE.
  • The CRLTO is biased against landlords. POSSIBLE.

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Cook Eviction Stats Part 9: The Cost of Doing Business

Evictions in Cook County are a multimillion dollar industry. With close to 40,000 cases happening each year, the amount of time and energy devoted to people who don’t pay their rent is mind-bogglingly vast. In fact, today I want to take some time to discuss what the eviction industry is costing Chicago in terms of lost time and money. And tenants, if you think this doesn’t pertain to you, it does. Remember that the resources that a landlord puts into evictions could otherwise be spent purchasing and rehabilitating the apartment buildings that are currently sitting empty and inaccessible.

Long time readers will know what this means. I’m going to do math for you. Again.

Yay math time!

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Cook Eviction Stats Part 5: Are eviction filings increasing?

The Chicago Landlord-Tenant ordinance has been amended many times since its creation in 1986. The most recent changes were in 2004, 2008 and 2010. By and large these changes have been in response to major trends in landlord-tenant behavior. For example, since 2010 landlords have had to tell their tenants the name and address of the bank where a security deposit is held. This was so that tenants could still track down their deposits if the bank foreclosed on their apartment building.

As is often the case with law changes, the general reaction to new CRLTO amendments has involved a lot of hand-wringing and fretting among landlords. Meanwhile, the economic troubles that have plagued our country in the past half a decade would theoretically cause more tenants to miss rent payments and get into situations that might prompt an eviction case. This nasty combination of tighter laws and a weaker economy made me wonder if the rate of eviction filings was getting higher or lower over time.

Evictions by Year: City and Suburbs

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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

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Cook County Eviction Stats Part 3: Are other trials also biased?

When I started this adventure I based my concept of "a fair court system" on an ideal of 50% of cases won by the plaintiff (the landlord) and 50% won by the defendant (the tenant). Even something between 48-52% would have been sufficient. The results I got from the Cook County Eviction stats over the past 8 years indicated that 62.8% of eviction cases were won by the landlord. If I compared this to my idea of a perfectly fair system it clearly indicated a bias, and not the "anti-landlord" bias purported to exist by many Chicago landlords.

The world is not perfect. Neither is the justice system. I started wondering if my ideal 50/50 split of verdicts was even attainable outside of a courthouse run by androids and angels. What if the court system is structured so that 62.8% is as close as you can get to a fair trial in the US? I started digging to find out the verdict balance in some other types of cases.

Is it possible that the Cook County Eviction court is the fairest one of all?

Could Cook County Eviction court be the fairest one of all?

In the process I discovered several excellent sources for court data. The Illinois Supreme Court has annual reports online going back over a decade. The US Bureau of Judicial Statistics may be my new favorite site, but it's up against the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics at the University of Albany. Of course, no online source can compare with having a law librarian for a friend - my friend Taylor has been extremely helpful in hashing out this entire project and I'm very grateful.

Evictions vs Felony Cases

A felony trial is at the far opposite end of the spectrum from an eviction trial. One is a large scale case where one side - after all, a felony is a serious crime handled by the criminal justice system, while evictions tend to be small claims matters handled in the civil system. Defendants in felony trials are far more likely to have attorney representation than tenants in eviction cases. The fines and penalties at stake are far higher when you're dealing with a felony trial. Most people don't wind up in jail at the end of an eviction lawsuit.

The bias is more pronounced as well.

If the stats are to be believed, you may only be innocent until proven arrested.

If the stats are to be believed, you may only be innocent until proven arrested. (No kangaroos were harmed in the process of nicking this image from 4closurefraud.org.)

According to the Illinois Supreme Court's annual reports, from 2004 to 2011 the average annual conviction rate for felony cases in Cook County was between 67% and 74%, with the cumulative average at 72.02% convicted. Looking nationwide the conviction rate is even higher. According to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Studies, in 2010 about 91% of felony cases heard in US District Courts resulted in a conviction. In other words, if you're a tenant in an eviction case you've got a far better chance of staying in your apartment than someone on the stand in a felony case has of staying in theirs. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that compared with felony cases, the so-called "bias" in Cook eviction cases looks downright even-handed and totally fair.

Evictions vs. Traffic Court

So, comparing evictions to felony trials is not really an apples to apples comparison. It's more like comparing apples to airplanes. I thought I should look at something lower key, like parking tickets. While I could have done a FOIA request to find out the exact stats, the Red Eye and the Tribune have both done relatively recent studies about contesting parking tickets. (The Red Eye article is no longer available online.) I've had about enough of extracting research from government agencies this month so I'm going to trust their numbers even though they're a little dated.

If you contest a parking ticket in person or by mail, you're technically appealing your conviction of a parking violation by means of a trial at the City of Chicago's Bureau of Administrative Hearings. If we were to get nitpicky about it, you're a plaintiff/appellant and the City is the defendant.

Or perhaps you're innocent until proven double-parked?

Or perhaps you're innocent until proven double-parked?

According to the Trib research, in 2007 62% of tickets contested by mail were dismissed, and 56% of the tickets contested in person were dismissed. Fast forward to 2009, after privatization of the Chicago parking meters, and 72% of the contested tickets were dismissed. If the trend has remained consistent, this means that you've got a better chance of winning when you contest a parking ticket than you do if you're a landlord trying to evict a deadbeat tenant.

But wait a minute. If felony cases AND parking cases both make it easier for the plaintiff to win than eviction cases, does that mean that the courts may be biased against the landlord after all? If every other scenario gives you a 72% chance of winning, while you've only got a 62% chance in an eviction case, then yes, I'd say so. However, we've got another even more precise scenario to consider: national statistics for contract disputes.

Evictions vs. Contract Cases

On Wednesday I paused for a moment to mention that we're only looking at situations where the landlord sues the tenant for non-payment, and largely neglecting situations where the tenant takes the landlord to court for negligence or other matters. The latter type of lawsuit is considered to be a contract dispute, and fortunately the Bureau of Justice Statistics has a whole lot of information about those. In fact they've got so much info that I've been able to make a handy chart with three years of data, comparing the verdicts in all types of contract disputes.

NOTE: The "rental/lease agreement" cases here refer largely to situations where the tenant is suing the landlord. They are not evictions.

Wow that's a lot of data! There's several very important things we can learn from this chart.

First of all, if tenants think their chances of losing an eviction case are pretty bad after yesterday's news, the scenario for homeowners involved in foreclosure cases is downright bleak. Anywhere from 72-89% of foreclosure cases were decided in favor of the plaintiff. That's the bank. A finding for the plaintiff in a foreclosure case has the same result as one in an eviction case: the sheriff is going to be paying a call to throw someone out of their home.

Secondly, we learn that anywhere from 55-65% of all contract trials nationwide are found in favor of the plaintiff, and the numbers have increased over time. Also, the lion's share of these cases have averages over 50%, indicating that when it comes to contract trials the idea of a 50/50 fully balanced court system is a pipe dream. Only employment discrimination suits are hovering anywhere close to the 50% mark that would indicate a completely fair court.

Thirdly, we finally have some data on what happens when the roles are reversed! I mentioned on Wednesday that we weren't going to spend too much time talking about what happens when tenants sue landlords, but in this case the USBJS Reports made it nice and easy for me to pull some numbers. They couldn't be more perfect.

When a landlord files an eviction case in Cook County, 62.8% of the landlords eventually win.

When a tenant sues their landlord nationwide? Anywhere from 62.5 and 64.9% of the tenants win.

Dang that feels good.

Dang that feels good.

Nothing could prove my point better. This isn't about landlords and tenants. It's about the entire justice system, with landlords and tenants caught up in the chaos.

Chicago Evictions vs New York Evictions

I had this article all set to go to print when an email from Chicago Landlord Tenant attorney Rich Magnone sent me in an additional direction. He wondered how the stats held up against other local counties that are purported to be more friendly to landlords. I wasn't able to find that particular information - for all that Cook County made my quest for knowledge a challenge, they were far more forthcoming than the suburbs. I did, however, find a great article on New York city housing court (PDF)with a fantastic chart.

Courtesy of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board.

Courtesy of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board.

This is a fantastic chart and I wish we had this kind of data for Chicago. In New York not every eviction case winds up with a court hearing. Many settle out of court. The ones that don't, and wind up going to a court date are considered to be "calendared." This means that this chart eliminates everything except for those cases which made it all the way to the judge.

The line that really demands attention is the lower grey one - that's the percentage of cases that were successful on the part of the landlord. Remember that in Chicago we're looking at 62.8%. In New York City it's apparently been hovering around a 20% success rate since the early 90s. You want a system that's unfairly biased towards the tenant? You got it. Chicago is ridiculously tilted towards the landlord by contrast.

Evictions and FOX News: Fair and unbiased, for certain definitions of "fair" and "unbiased"

While our 62.8% average for cases found in the landlord's favor is technically biased when viewed in a vacuum, it's pretty much as fair and unbiased as you're going to get once it's put next to its closest judicial relatives. Compared with the defendant's chances of winning felony trials, foreclosures and Chicago traffic court, the 1 in 3 chance of a defendant renter winning an eviction case seem downright rosy. Compared to the situation in the New York housing courts, Chicago landlords have a cakewalk.

Overall what we've learned here is that any bias existent in Cook County eviction cases is not related to the evictions themselves. It's reflective of a nationwide inherent bias towards the plaintiff seen at many levels of the system. The judges don't hate landlords. If anything, they hate defendants.

It isn't my place to criticize the entire justice system. It's based on a long history going back to the Classical era and I am merely a housing nerd with a quiet fancy for "Law and Order" reruns. As much as we know deep down that it's an unbalanced system, it's the best we've got right now. Rich Magnone wisely pointed out in his email to me that any landlord who's willing to go through the filing process probably has a good case. This is a valid point, and I think it carries over into the court system in general. Winning and losing is not a matter of luck. This is not a casino. If you can sustain your righteous anger long enough to press charges and get in front of a judge, chances are you've got a very good and believable reason.

So, if you're a landlord or tenant, maybe hold off a bit on complaining about the state of evictions in the Chicago area, because it isn't all about you guys. A 50/50 split is probably impossible.

Monday we'll take a pause in this saga and enjoy the first installment of Rent Bacon in its new form. Wednesday I'll be back to dissecting the eviction data with a focus on location, location, location. Cook County has six different courthouses. Do you get a better result at one over another? Come on back and find out! (In the meantime, please share this series with your friends? It would mean a lot to me.)

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

Cook County Evictions Part 2: Yes, Virginia, there is a bias.

OK that was mean of me. I gave you a teaser at the end of Monday's article, indicating that there was definitely a bias in the Cook County courts when it came to evictions. I even gave you a pie chart with the numbers intact but the categories redacted.

When I did my small-scale analysis in May 2012, I came to the conclusion that the system was biased when it came to money judgments but basically fair when it came to getting possession of apartments back from deadbeat tenants. Landlords stood to win their cases about 50% of the time, which is exactly what you'd expect to see in an unbiased system. However, once I obtained the large-scale data from 8 years of eviction history and crunched the numbers, a different picture emerged. This picture will allow us to temporarily put to bed the pervasive urban legend that the courts are biased against landlords.

That's right. 222,323 cases were found in favor of the landlord. 131,423 cases were found in favor of the tenant. The division is consistent across all six districts and consistent regardless of if you filed for possession only, or for possession and money. So if you're a landlord, you've got just about a 2 out of 3 chance of winning your case. So there. Ha.

Maybe Not. (more…)

Cook County Evictions Revisit Part 1: Intro

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

In May of 2012 I did a three part series that tried to debunk the urban legend that Chicago's government entities are biased against landlords. I investigated the CRLTO and found it to be weighted heavily in favor of the tenant. I also investigated eviction proceedings using the Cook County Clerk's website. Based on the information I used, I came to the conclusion that the courts were also biased in favor of the tenant. However, I didn't feel too confident with those results.

I'm not doing so well in disproving the rumor that I count beans as a hobby, am I?

I'm not doing so well in disproving the rumor that I count beans as a hobby, am I?

The Clerk's website, while very useful for looking up individual cases, was not meant for statistically analyzing trends. I could only look at the cases that started on two particular days. While it made for an interesting story and I got some pretty good data, I didn't feel like extrapolating large scale info based on that small of a sample size. It bugged me for months. (Yes, inaccurate data does keep me awake at night.) I started trying to find a way to obtain a massive sample size to see if my initial conclusions held up.

The Endless Quest.

The story of how I obtained the data is pretty involved. Court records are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so it wasn't as simple as submitting a FOIA request. I started in late October with a fax to the County Clerk's office requesting the numbers I needed for a large-scale analysis. I received a phone call with a reply on November 5 from the office of Chief Justice Timothy Evans stating that my request was in process, and asking for my mailing address. I gave it to them.

My data floated through all the departments marked in blue. Original charts via here and here. (PDF) Click to view full size.

My data floated through all the departments marked in blue. Original charts via here and here. (PDF)  Click to view full size.

On November 12, I received a letter stating that Judge Evans had approved my request and that I would need to follow up with the Director of Information Services for the courts. I did so. He replied a few days later with contact info for Rob, the actual IT guy who would be processing my request. So I emailed Rob, who turned out to be a really nice person - thank you, Rob!

Rob warned me that using the IT department's processing power to obtain the records I needed was not going to be free, nor was it going to be cheap. He sent me an estimate of $250-300. I agreed and he ran the queries. On November 28 he had the finished data, and sent me an invoice for $359.

Due to unforeseen expenses over the holidays, I was unable to get downtown to the Daley Center to pick up the data until last week.

The Result.

The lengthy saga has given me the following data:

  • Counts of the past 8 years of eviction case filings (2004-2012)...
  • ...from all six district courts in Cook County.
  • ...split up by those cases which only sought possession ("forcible entry and detainer") and the ones that wanted both possession and back rent ("joint action").
  • ...I also have the cumulative breakdown of who "won" each case.

I had hoped for the "winners" broken down by district and by year so I could spot any trends. I had also wanted a count of which cases had attorneys involved and which went to jury trial, but that would have tripled the cost of the data and I'm just not able to drop a grand on research right now. This is plenty, though.

To go along with this I have pulled stats from publicly available national and county court statistics for other types of cases, and the census data that I assembled together in late December in preparation for this day.

Going Forward

It's been a while since I did a series of articles all on the same subject. I try to vary things among topics of interest to landlords, tenants and homeowners. However, this particular topic is something that majorly affects two out of three groups. It's even pertinent to condo owners, as association evictions for non-payment of dues are wrapped up in these numbers. Therefore I am going to take my time and really drill into these numbers.

The investigation of these results will take a good chunk of February. This is the first of a ten part series that will run uninterrupted except for Rent Bacon. By the time I'm finished we will have dissected not just the myth of institutional bias as it pertains to Chicago evictions, but several other subsidiary myths as well.

Heavy duty number crunching starts in our next installment, but I'll give you a teaser. 63% of all the eviction cases were definitely in favor of one side or the other. As for which? I'll let you discuss in the comments, and we'll have the big reveal on Wednesday.

Judging the Judges (2012 Election Special)

I hope that all of you already have one of these. If not, go get one today!

So unless you've been living under a rock for the past year you're aware that we've got an election coming up. In fact, early voting started Monday, so get out and do it, y'all. I'm not here to tell you who to vote for. Instead, I'm here to call your attention to the fact that there's other stuff on the ballot for Chicago voters that may catch them by surprise.

If you're a landlord or renter you have a couple of choices to make that may be more important than your presidential vote. One involves power - the electrical kind - and the other involves the people downtown at the courthouse who preside over eviction lawsuits.

A Little Early Morning Opacity

I tend to vote early in the day before it gets crowded. This year I'll have to remember to drink some coffee before I head out, as I'm going to be confronted with some pretty opaque questions on page one of the ballot before I even get to choosing between Mr. Obama (D), Mr. Romney (R), Mr. Johnson (L) and Ms. Stein (G) and assorted candidates for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. I'm also going to have to go earlier than normal, as I'd bet most voters are going to be scratching their heads as they try to untangle these four massive questions and the lines could be longer than normal. (more…)

Landlords in Distress

This boarded up foreclosure in West Garfield Park probably meant more evictions than a week of landlord-tenant cases at the county courthouse. (Photo by Garin Flowers/ Medill News)

A few months ago I did a series of articles on the statistics of Chicago Evictions. However, those articles focused only on tenants with past due balances, omitting the other primary source of evictions. It isn't always the tenant who falls behind. A landlord in debt to her mortgage lender can put every tenant in her building at risk of eviction if she falls behind on her loan payments. Today I'm investigating landlords to see if there's any specific risk profile that is a worst-case-scenario for foreclosure, and if landlords are any better than their tenants at making payments on time.

The answers, if you're curious, are Yes and No.

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