Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cook County Evictions

                 As a Landlord attorney, my job is to help my clients navigate the eviction process in a manner that minimizes stress and is also cost effective. In Cook County, this goal is almost impossible. I have been practicing in this area of the law for many years now, but I am still amazed at how inefficient Cook County is when it comes to handling these matters. Whenever I receive an inquiry from a potential Cook County client, I always have to provide a long explanation upfront of what difficulties the landlord is sure to encounter. Yet, even after providing a thorough and exhaustive explanation, I find my Cook County clients are still stunned by the unbelievable waste of time and money that accompanies the eviction process in Cook County. This is very disappointing because so many of my clients are not big management companies, but rather small time investors with one or two rental properties. In many cases, the delays they encounter in Cook County impose significant financial burdens on them. And, these problems are really so unnecessary when you consider that the law relating to evictions is not rocket science, and it is the same for all of Illinois. Unfortunately, it is the actual execution of the law that varies from county to county. My practice covers Cook and all of the collar counties (Will, Kane, Dupage, Lake, Kendall, McHenry).                                                            
                   In my experience, all of the collar counties are fairly similar. I can usually give a good estimate of how long an eviction will take from start to finish assuming that a tenant takes advantage of all their rights under law. You typically have a couple months in court if a tenant wants to go to trial and then another couple of weeks or month until the Sheriff get can get out to the property to execute the order if the tenant does not leave on their own accord.  Unfortunately, it is not so in Cook County. First, in Cook, you have to use the Sheriff for the first round of service of process attempts. In the collar counties, I go straight to a private process server. For $75-$150, my server will at a minimum, make 7 attempts at service before the first court date. If they fail to get service on a tenant who is avoiding, I can at least ask the judge for permission to do a posting which is usually granted. This alone saves three weeks and a couple hundred dollars. But, it is not so in Cook. In Cook County, my clients fork out anywhere from $120-$180 to the  Sheriff who gets first dibs on service attempts. In my experience, the Sheriff makes one or two attempts and usually fails to get the defendant served. So, when I go back to court, I can't usually get a posting because the Sheriff hasn't made enough attempts. So, I have to get permission to use a private server and waste more of my client's time and money before getting service or permission for a posting. If you ask the Sheriff's office why this is the case, you will hear an explanation about how big Cook County is and how they have a lot going on. Of course, this is as good an argument as any why the law should not require that you use the Sheriff on the first round of service attempts. Revoking that rule alone would save time and money.                                                                                                                                                                                           Second, in Cook County, once you have your order of possession, you take it to the Sheriff for execution. This is the same as in all of the other counties. But, unlike the other counties, Cook does not schedule a specific date. Rather, they give you a number to check on the Sheriff's website, and when you see your number that means it is supposed to be executed "soon." "Soon" however, is a very vague term and usually means nothing as I have on many occasions seen my number pop up, and the eviction still didn't take place for many weeks after that. Furthermore, even after your number pops up, you never get an actual date. You get a call the day or night before the eviction from the Sheriff saying they will be there the next day, and that you have to meet them at such and such time or your eviction will be canceled. This practice is a huge problem for most small time landlords because they don't have a management company to coordinate all of this. And, the Sheriff requires you to have four able bodied people with you to move the tenant's property off the premises and on to the front lawn/driveway. Now, a management company can usually pull this off even the night before because they have a crew they can assemble or hire. This is a very difficult for normal people who have jobs and have to scramble last minute to hire movers or assemble relatives or friends. To be fair, all of the counties require you to have helpers to move the property off the premises. The Sheriff isn't going to carry stuff out, they are just there to keep the peace and ensure the landlord can get the property back. But, at least in the other counties, they give you an exact date so you can prepare a few weeks ahead of time to have people in place to coordinate this effort. But, not so in Cook County.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Finally, the biggest and most serious problem in Cook County is the amount of time it takes the Sheriff to execute these orders. In Dupage, it is almost always about three weeks after the date given by the judge on the order of possession. In Cook County, it is anyone's guess. In the winter, it is even worse because they have to cancel and reschedule some days due to extremely cold weather. It is not uncommon for the Sheriff to take 4-6 months to get these orders executed. This last fall/winter was taking about 4 months for my clients. I filed one order in October that got executed in February. Keep in mind, that this is 4 months with no rent being paid. Unfortunately for most of my clients, they are still paying the mortgage and property taxes while rent is not being paid. And while they are waiting for the Sheriff, they often have an angry tenant in the property who may being doing significant damage to the premises.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Even though I warn my clients, they are always frustrated and desperate when this actually unfolds. Some of the tips that I offer are as follows: 1) I try to encourage them with the fact that not every tenant waits until the Sheriff arrives to leave the property. Many leave on their own. Because there is no certain date when the Sheriff arrives, many tenants don't want to take the chance of having their possessions put out on the lawn. Nevertheless, many do wait until the very last minute. 2) I try to get my clients to consider "cash for keys." For small time landlords, this is a very bitter pill to swallow. Even though it makes economic sense, some just can't even consider this option. This is especially true if the tenant already owes unpaid rent and if there are hard feelings between the parties. But, if the Sheriff is going to take 4 months to get the tenants out, it makes more sense to either forgive the rent owed or even offer a couple thousand dollars to get the tenants out quicker. If you can get the tenants out in a couple weeks and get the place re-rented quicker, you are likely in a better financial situation. Of course, the tenant has to be willing to leave quickly in exchange for the money. This is not always an option tenant are willing to accept.