Sheriff Thomas J. Dart of Cook County, Illinois suspended evictions and foreclosure because he said that foreclosures and sheriff sales were putting innocent renters at an unfair disadvantage.
His defiance sparked an immediate protest from bankers, but the lawman stuck to his guns.

An Illinois sheriff recently refused to deliver foreclosure evictions in Cook County-an area that includes Chicago-as his jurisdiction saw a record number of foreclosure evictions. Last year, Cook County had 32,269 foreclosures. Before the end of this year, the total number is expected to exceed 43,000, up more than a third. Sheriff Thomas Dart's controversial decision was based, in part, on the fact that many innocent tenants were being caught up in the foreclosure crossfire. Renting families with good credit and no late payments were being evicted from homes because their landlords failed to make mortgage payments.

Illegal evictions

According to the sheriff, many of the evictions he was sent to enforce were not legal, because mortgage companies failed to comply with eviction rules.

"These mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don't care who's in the building," Sheriff Dart told reporters. "They simply want their money, and don't care who gets hurt along the way. On top of it all, they want taxpayers to fund their investigative work for them. We're not going to do their jobs for them anymore. We're just not going to evict innocent tenants. The people we're interacting with are, many times, oblivious to the financial straits their landlord might be in. They're the innocent victims here, and they are the ones all of us must step up and find some way to protect."

Local foreclosures and evictions

The Illinois Bankers Association objected, protesting that Dart was elected to uphold the law and execute the legal duties of his office, which include serving eviction notices. The banker's group insinuated that the sheriff was acting like a vigilante, and could be held in contempt of court unless he resumed enforcement of court-mandated eviction orders.

Evictions were suspended October 8th, and then resumed about 10 days later, after a deal was struck between the sheriff's department and the local court. Sheriff Dart succeeded in his original goal of protecting innocent tenants, and foreclosure evictions will now include these provisions:

  • The bank must provide the court a detailed description of the building, and names of all occupants at the time of the initial foreclosure filing.
  • Banks must provide a date that their representatives last inspected the property.
  • Banks must prove that they informed tenants of a 120-day grace period.

The stipulations ensure that mortgage companies will follow the law before ordering a foreclosure eviction, and that tenants losing homes due to mistakes of their landlords are given as much notice as possible. To help tenants affected by a sheriff's sale to find alternative housing and get other services, Dart also plans to employ a full-time social worker.

Published on November 9, 2008