Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

Illinois Sheriff Refuses to Evict Tenants

October 13, 2008 07:30 AM
by Shannon Firth
A mortgage lender filed a lawsuit Thursday against a sheriff in Cook County, where Chicago is located, for refusing to enforce eviction orders.

Chicago-area Sheriff Allows Renters in Foreclosed Buildings to Stay Put

Responding to the mortgage crisis in his own backyard, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has refused to carry out any more evictions of county residents.  Dart reports that the eviction orders often name the wrong party, or that the mandated 120-day notice was not given to the tenants. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that The Accredited Home Lenders has filed a lawsuit to force the sheriff to enforce court-ordered evictions. Dart argues that in many cases, families who have consistently paid their rent have been forced from their homes because their landlord failed to pay the mortgage, although he acknowledges that his policy also protects non-payers. Cook County expects 43,000 eviction notices to be served this year, double the number in 2006.

According to Chicago ABC affiliate WLS, in nearby Albany County this past May, one landlord took tenants’ rent and mortgage money from seven lenders, and then fled the country. The tenants were completely unaware that their buildings were being foreclosed, Dart told the station that the situation is not uncommon: “You have law abiding people, great people of our county, who are playing by the rules and then they show up and their stuff is in the street and that’s just wrong.”

On Thursday, frustrated by Dart’s refusal to issue foreclosures, Accredited Home Lenders filed a lawsuit demanding the sheriff foreclose the home of Shirley McFarland in Dolton, Ohio. The lawyers for the mortgage lending agency said, “Sheriff Dart may have concerns about the orders that he is charged with enforcing, but he simply cannot refuse to carry them out.” The same day, Dart met with Judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird, who heads the Chancery Division, and Judge Lewis Nixon, who is in charge of foreclosures, asking them to require all banks to present affidavits to the court pledging that homeowners, landlords and all tenants have been informed in advance of a building’s foreclosure. Steve Patterson, a representative for Dart, said that Dart’s proposal is under review with Kinnaird and an assistant state’s attorney. Kinnaird told the Sun Times she is optimistic about resolving the matter.

Key Player: Who is Sheriff Tom Dart?

Diane Limas, impressed by Dart’s decision to refuse court orders and risk being held in contempt of court, told the Associated Press, “That he had the courage to do this was huge for us.” According to the AP, Dart is an unconventional sheriff in many respects. Unlike most sheriffs, he never served as a police officer. He has been a prosecutor, a state representative, and a member of the General Assembly. According to the article, “He doesn’t travel with a driver, unless he has several appointments. He declined to emblazon his name on department vehicles and signs — a typical practice among newly elected public officials.”

According to a press release on Sheriff Dart’s Web site, Dart’s concern for families facing foreclosure is not new. Dart proposed a bill last year that would force mortgage companies to determine whether children or senior citizens lived in a unit before submitting eviction requests.

Opinion & Analysis: Reactions to Dart’s refusal to evict tenants

A blogger who describes herself as a consumer bankruptcy attorney questions the Illinois Banker Association’s statement condemning Dart’s decision.  “Sometimes, acting against one’s own interests while standing up for what one sees as the greater good—justice, really—will, in fact, bring negative consequences. Knowing that, and doing it anyway? That’s the stuff of which heroes are made.”

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