Lawmaker wants to eliminate weather as a factor in enforcing evictions

Written By By MARK BROWN Posted: 02/13/2014, 02:21am

Cook County has a long-standing practice of halting residential evictions in the event of bitter cold or other extreme weather conditions, which some of you may have noticed we’ve experienced plenty lately.

The purpose is pretty obvious: It’s not very humane to put somebody out on the street in bad weather and sometimes can be downright dangerous.

But one Chicago lawmaker introduced legislation this week that would eliminate weather as a factor in enforcement of eviction judgments — making exceptions only if one of the occupants of the property is younger than 12 or older than 65.

Rep. Monique Davis, a veteran South Side Democrat, said she introduced the legislation at the urging of landlords who feel the eviction process unfairly favors tenants who manipulate the system.

What Davis didn’t mention — until I brought it up — is that she is a landlord, too, and that she put forth the legislation only after recently complaining to the Cook County sheriff’s office for moving too slowly on evicting one of her tenants.

Some of you may recall that Davis is the same state legislator who has been fighting an effort by the Chicago Board of Education to evict her from a building she has been using rent-free for 11 years as her state legislative office.

The irony of this seemed to be lost on Davis, who told me she doesn’t understand why I want to “keep blabbing about” her office lease.

Actually, I’m much more interested in blabbing about her determination to put people out in the cold during this brutal winter.

Davis did not want to discuss her own landlord-tenant issues with me.

“That is my personal business,” she said. “Don’t try to single me out as a bad guy.”

Records show Davis for many years has owned a multi-unit apartment building in the 9900 block of South Wood and that she regularly ends up in court trying to retake possession of apartments from tenants who haven’t paid their rent — as do many landlords.

In response to my inquiry, though, a sheriff’s spokesman confirmed that Davis recently raised concerns about an eviction not being carried out.

The reason it wasn’t carried out is that in December the presiding judge of the First Municipal District, E. Kenneth Wright Jr., issued what has become an annual order halting all residential evictions during the holiday period between Dec. 16 and Jan. 2.

The same moratorium order also prohibits the sheriff from executing evictions when the outside temperature is 15 degrees or less, or “whenever regardless of outside temperatures, extreme weather conditions endanger the health and welfare of those to be evicted.”

In practice, that usually means the sheriff won’t evict during a snowstorm — or thunderstorm, either.

This winter moratorium goes back many years in Cook County, and Davis is absolutely correct in arguing it is a source of frustration to many landlords.

Davis said landlords tell her (remember we were still making believe this had nothing to do with her personally) that they sometimes initiate eviction proceedings in the spring but don’t get an eviction order until winter, when the weather moratorium takes effect.

“The point is [the tenants] had many opportunities to leave before the weather sets in,” Davis said. “Some of them know how to play the game. They keep it going.”

It’s probably been an especially big frustration this winter, when the nearly nonstop Arctic blasts have contributed to the sheriff’s office falling 10 weeks behind in carrying out evictions.

But tenants are entitled to due process in the courts, and while some abuse the system, my experience is that most are just mowed down by it.

I agree with Mark Swartz, legal director of the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, who calls the Davis proposal a “terrible idea” and “just hard-hearted.” Davis’ organization represents hundreds of families in eviction court every year.

Sheriff Tom Dart and the Cook County courts are to be commended for recognizing the need to conduct evictions humanely as well as efficiently.

“When the weather is extreme, we should not be throwing people out on the street,” said Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for Dart, adding that he fully supports the moratorium.

Representatives for some of the main trade groups representing landlords told me they have no position on Davis’ legislation, but they made sure I knew it hadn’t come at their suggestion.

I still want Davis to vacate her rent-free Board of Education office space without wasting any more taxpayer money fighting in the courts. But in the spirit of this story, she should feel free to hold off until the temperature gets above freezing.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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