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Englewood Renters Left Without Electricity, Gas Due To Foreclosure: 'We Were Left In The Dark' (VIDEO)

Eight members of the Shaw family, including a 14 month-old baby, have been living without gas or electricity for nearly a week, according to parents Shantisha and Ezekiel. Their two-bedroom garden apartment in Englewood, on Chicago’s South Side, is flooding and has mold damage. The two apartments above them are vacant, with broken and boarded-up windows.

“We can’t live like this any more,” said Shantisha Shaw, 36, regarding the home she’s shared with her family since February 2011. A stroke survivor, Shantisha is permanently disabled and lives with her husband and six children.

The Shaw’s landlord was foreclosed upon last year and Freedom Mortgage Corp. took over the deed for the building on December 14, as indicated by the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court.

But neither Shantisha, nor her husband, Ezekiel Shaw, said they were notified the building was being foreclosed upon. They said they were not given a 90-day notice to vacate, nor were they provided any instructions indicating where they should send their monthly $550 rent — which includes utilities — following the foreclosure.

The Shaws say they were not provided with any landlord or contact information pertaining to who would be responsible for maintaining the property after the foreclosure.

“We’ve been left in the dark, literally,” said Ezekiel, 45. “What are we supposed to do?”

He said he’s been given the run-around:

In February the Shaws received an eviction notice from Pierce & Associates, a leading Chicago-based foreclosure law firm.

“Demand is hereby made upon you for immediate surrender of possession of the above premises,” the February 4 letter, identifying Pierce & Associates as attorneys for Freedom Mortgage, states.

“But we don’t have any money, I don’t know what they expect us to do,” said Shantisha.

She said the building's utilities were shut off last week and “it’s been like hell”:

It is under these conditions that the Shaw family is receiving support from the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, which hosted a press conference and rally this week outside the family’s home at 6936 South Green St.

According to the group, city law — the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance — requires that landlord notify renters about foreclsoure filings within seven days of the legal action. The coalition also notes that the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Law obligates those who take over foreclosures to notify renters of their acquisition of the property within 21 days of securing it. None of this happened in the case of the Shaw family. Additionally, Pierce & Associates should have given the Shaw family 90 days to vacate the premises, the coalition alleges, as mandated by the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009.

The coalition of community, social service and labor organizations also alleges that Freedom Mortgage violated the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance by failing to maintain the property after they acquired ownership.

“We want Freedom Mortgage to assume responsibility as new owners of the property, and we need Pierce & Associates to apply best practices regarding renters’ rights,” said Dan Kleinman, policy director for Action Now. “When a law-abiding tenant is willing and able to continue paying rent, they deserve the opportunity to keep their lease. And if the bank absolutely refuses, they need to provide a form of compensation that dignifies what the renter is going through.”

The group has reached out to the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Kleinman said officials expressed interest in helping the coalition pursue the correct means of redress for the Shaw family.

“We need to send a clear message to, not only banks, but the legal firms that represent them, that the law has to be followed and renters’ rights have to be respected,” he said.

Kleinman accused Pierce & Associates of “constructive eviction”, which is the illegal practice of rendering a property uninhabitable in the interest of persuading a tenant to leave the premesis on their own volition.

“The Shaws have done nothing wrong,” he said, noting the buildings’ other tenants have already been “scared out.”

He added that if, or when, the Shaws leave their home, the building stands to sit vacant and potentially depreciate property values in the neighborhood and provide a haven for crime and vandalism.  

Meanwhile, Patricia Fron, buildings program administrator for the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, said banks fighting against establishing a landlord-tenant relationship is a popular trend in the Chicagoland area.

“We’ve found that it’s common practice for banks — they don’t want to be landlords,” she said, adding financial institutions most likely don’t want to be held responsible for property maintenance.

Fron agreed with Kleinman that Pierce & Associates are practicing “constructive eviction.” She said the “intimidating” eviction letter and shut off of utilities was an “effort to constructively evict the tenants from their homes instead of taking them through the proper eviction channels.”

The Lawyers Committee for Better Housing is a member of the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, as is the Albany Park Neighborhood Council; Action Now; the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization; the Logan Square Neighborhood Association; the Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization; SEIU*-HCII; and Unite Here Local 1.

But Fron said she, and the coalition, are not entirely sure why banks recoil at the the idea of tenant-landlord relationships. From their perspective, she said, it would seem to make more sense to continue the renting relationship:

Participants in Wednesday’s demonstration outside the Shaw’s home, said the family’s situation underscores Chicago’s need for the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance.

The proposed ordinance, introduced in July by lead sponsor Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), would require additional notifications to renters and extend leases when a building is foreclosed upon.

The proposal, which has veeb endorsed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would also require lenders who acquire foreclosed buildings to either pay tenants $12,000 per unit to move or maintain the renters’ lease until the building is sold, with a maximum 2 percent rent increase from year-to-year.

"This compromise ordinance ensures that tenants maintain their rights if their building is foreclosed," Kathleen Strand, a spokesman for Emanuel’s office, told the Chicago Tribune. "Under current law, renters do not have long-term security and receive no assistance with the costs associated with relocation once their building enters foreclosure.

The legislation has 43 co-sponsors and sits in the Chicago City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate. According to the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, the bill will likely see a vote by the city council on June 5.

“The Keep Chicago Renting ordinance would help keep families, like the Shaw family, in their homes while avoiding further vacant properties in our city,” said Diane Limas, president of theAlbany Park Neighborhood Council, during Wednesday’s press conference.

Limas said the ordinance holds banks and their affiliates accountable for their actions. She accused lenders, like Freedom Mortgage, of not caring about tenants:

For now, the Shaw family said they have no choice but to wait. Ezekiel is an out-of-work chef and Shantisha can’t work due to her disability. They said they can’t afford to move, and have already spent a sizeable portion of their savings.

A representative from Pierce & Associates could not be reached for comment.

Kleinman called the Shaw family “innocent victims” of a broken system.

Ezekiel said he hopes the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition helps his family get the utilities turned back on.

If the utilities are not turned back on, Ezekiel says “we really don’t know” what to do next:

Keywords: Action Now, Chicago Residental Landlord Tenant Ordinance, constructive eviction, Englewood, Foreclosure, Housing, Keep Chicago Renting Coalition, Lawyers Committe for Better Housing, Property Maintenance, video

Posted in LSNA in the Media