Eviction Court, Part I: Slaying the Dragon

Eviction Court, Part I: Slaying the Dragon


There’s one word in the English language that most Chicago landlords fear above all others. It’s a word that makes us break out in a cold sweat. A word that stalks our dreams and haunts our waking hours. A word that chills the blood flowing through our veins and makes the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. That word is “EVICTION.”

If you want to startle a landlord, sneak up behind him and say, “Boo!” If you want to scare the shit out of a landlord, sneak up behind him and say, “Eviction!” Or maybe you better not. It could result in you being charged with manslaughter.

“Eviction” is a word that scares tenants, too. But in Chicago, it probably scares landlords more. Given the city’s notorious pro-tenant leanings, landlords often seem to have more to lose.

Now, the average local renters’ rights advocate or tenant attorney might dispute the idea that our fair city is pro-tenant. They might say that Chicago landlords are a bunch of big crybabies whining about how their lives are sooo hard. They might try to tell you stories of a few big bad landlords who own thousands of units and commit scandalous offenses against poor, unsuspecting renters. It’s true. This does happen.

What the average person doesn’t hear is that the vast majority of landlords in our area are small-timers. Mom and Pop operations. Owners who rent to fewer than five families. And many of these owners are not in much better shape economically than the residents who live in their properties. Some landlords have even fewer resources than the residents.

Landlords like me.

Compared to most other states and cities, Illinois is said to have more laws involving landlord-tenant relations on the books, and Chicago has additional laws on top of those. Local rental interactions are generally governed by Municipal Code 5-12, affectionately known (NOT!) by landlords as the “Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance” or CRLTO.

Here’s a clue about the undertones of this ordinance: when it was originally passed in 1986, it was referred to as “The Tenants’ Bill of Rights.” That is, until clever officials and tenants’ rights advocates got the bright idea that such a title could only serve to PISS LANDLORDS OFF. The decidedly less controversial and more benign “CRLTO” title gradually replaced the “Bill of Rights” label as it grew in popular usage. The content, however, remains the same.

This ordinance dictates how a landlord can pursue an eviction against a problem tenant. The result is that the act of getting someone out of your unit is not cheap, simple or quick, and the process of actually collecting the money they owe poses an additional challenge.  Adding another layer to that are the tenants who are professional flim-flam artists working the law to their advantage.

A sense of dread for starting this process had hung like a dark cloud over my landlord experience for over a decade, sometimes causing me to hold on to dysfunctional tenant relationships for much longer than I should have. More than once I allowed a tenant to stay until they decided to leave because the eviction process seemed so overwhelming, expensive, and time-consuming. Not to mention that some disgruntled tenants do downright evil things to a property when the possibility of being put out is on the table.

This was no way for me to live. If I wanted to break through the ceiling of small-time ownership, I had to find a way to strengthen my rental practices. In order to grow, a successful operation requires stability. Finally, I got together with a group of other small owners to figure out ways to get ahead of this problem. We wanted to proactively learn the process of getting rid of problem tenants before we faced the situation again.

We decided to confront the beast and slay the dragon of fear. It was time to take a field trip—a field trip to observe eviction court.

(Check out “Eviction Court, Part II: Tiny Kingdoms”)

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