MICHELE NORRIS, host:
With all the talk of the huge impact of the mortgage crisis on homeowners and big banks, one segment of the population is not in the spotlight, and that's renters. Let's say you pay your landlord on time every month, but your landlord has not been as diligent. The building you live in has been foreclosed on, and sheriff's deputies are knocking on the door saying that you've got to leave. Well, now, deputies in the Chicago area are using new rules that give renters some breathing room, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: Uniformed Cook County sheriff's deputies handle evictions in Chicago and the city's surrounding suburbs. Chief James McCardle(ph) oversees the division. And on this day, he's driving to the west side of Chicago to join up with one of the eviction teams.
Chief JAMES MCCARDLE (Head, Cook County Eviction Unit): If there's nobody home, we post a notice, OK, because we don't know if somebody is renting it or not.
CORLEY: And that's the big change in Cook County. Instead of immediately ousting tenants and their belongings, once an eviction order is issued, the notice gives renters, who often aren't notified about foreclosure proceedings, seven days to contact the court. It can be an onerous process, but it does give renters the chance to prove to the court that they live in the foreclosed property as renters, and to get more time to move on their own.
Unidentified Deputy Sheriff: Don't go right up to the building...
CORLEY: The eviction teams, typically four deputy sheriffs, wear bulletproof vests. Evictions can sometime be a dangerous job.
(Soundbite of knocking on door)
CORLEY: At this stop, there's no answer at first, as the deputies knock on the front door of a two-story home on a street full of brick and frame houses. The deputies go back near their cars to wait, and a few minutes later, a woman opens the door and peers from her porch. A young boy stands by her side and another woman climbs up the stairs to the porch. Diana Raymost(ph) says she and other family members are renters, and they moved in...
Ms. DIANE RAYMOST: Less than six months ago.
CORLEY: And the landlord didn't let you know anything at that point?
Ms. RAYMOST: Because he said the apartment was, well, the house was under his sister's apartment. And we've been paying him rent, and he didn't tell us nothing until the bank came and tried to talk to us.
CORLEY: So what are you guys going to do now?
Unidentified Woman: Well, we're ready to go then. Because we can't stay here. We've got five kids in this house.
CORLEY: Cook County's eviction unit conducts about 80 to 100 evictions a day. This team has 15 orders on their list, most for foreclosed property. Deputy Kristine Jones(ph) says they've increasingly surprised renters when they show up.
Deputy KRISTINE JONES (Cook County Eviction Unit): What you have happen a lot of times with homes is - even with apartment buildings - is the mortgage holder, the owner of the actual property, is the only person who's notified, because he's the only person that the bank has knowledge of. And the tenants aren't aware. You know, they're paying the rent to their landlord, the homeowner. And he's, you know, doing whatever. So, that's a problem that we're running into. So that's why the procedure's changed so that we can give them an opportunity to say, you know, I live here, too. And then they have to be notified, so they're not getting put out unexpectedly.
Ms. SHANNON WEISS (Chairman, Center for Renter's Rights, Chicago): Up until about six months ago, nobody cared about the renters.
CORLEY: Shannon Weiss is the head of the Center for Renters' Rights in Chicago.
Ms. WEISS: They just felt bad for the owners who were losing their property all over the city. And not just here. Detroit, Chicago, everywhere.
CORLEY: Weiss says Cook County's decision to change the eviction process means that tenants who go to court and can show they're current on their rent, or who've put the rent aside if a landlord can't be found, could get up to 120 days to move if they have a lease. Month-to-month renters can get a 30-day notice, giving them a chance to find emergency housing or a more permanent place to live.
Ms. WEISS: That's a big improvement for foreclosure tenants. It's still pretty horrible out there for foreclosure tenants. Even though they have this right, some of them are sitting in an apartment building or a house without lights, water, gas, or garbage pickup, and no landlord can be found anymore.
CORLEY: There are a few places where renters can't be ousted from a property just because of foreclosure: New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, and other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. In Cook County, there are no hard numbers to track how many renters may have been affected by foreclosure evictions. But a local housing group estimates that 20 percent of Chicagoans displaced by foreclosures are tenants.
(Soundbite of knocking)
CORLEY: So, as the sheriff's deputies continue making their eviction rounds, Chief McCardle says Cook County's new eviction notification process works.
Chief MCCARDLE: So it's good that this has come about, because it actually helps us. It defuses a lot of consternation on the part of the people who are getting put out. So, you know, it's a win-win kind of thing for everybody, I think.
CORLEY: At the very least, it eases one of the largest dilemmas for renters who are losing their homes through no fault of their own. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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