State legislator seeks to ban the Cook County winter eviction moratorium

bricksIs she right or is she doing damage to landlords?

A news article in the Chicago Sun Times yesterday indicates that state representative Monique Davis (Democrat) introduced a bill this week to “eliminate weather as a factor in enforcement of eviction judgments”.  Readers of this blog are well aware of the current significant delay in eviction order enforcement in Cook County cause, in part, by the winter eviction moratorium and the recent inclement weather.  Apparently Rep. Davis is a landlord herself and is not pleased with how “some of them [tenants] know how to play the game”.

While many landlords might be pleased to know a state representative is interested in speeding evictions along, I suspect the measure will not gain widespread support.  In fact, the Sun Times article indicates that “Representatives for some of the main trade groups representing landlords told me they have no position on Davis’ legislation, but made sure I knew it hadn’t come at their suggestion”.  How’s that for a ringing endorsement?

I bet I can guess why landlord groups might not want to back such a proposal.  First, the timing is horrible.  Chicagoans are enduring a tragically cold winter.  I suspect no one thinks evicting people when it is 0 degrees outside is a fair, good, or safe idea.  Second, the moratorium is not the real problem in the eviction system.  As a society, I’m pretty sure most people, even landlords, are okay with or can at least understand (I hope) the concept of not throwing someone on the street – even if they are deserving – during the Christmas holiday or in the frigid cold.

The real culprit here is the current system.  The eviction process is very much broken and in need of reform to speed the process as a whole.  The trouble is that Rep. Davis’ proposition lands so far from the target that it is likely to poison the well for future reforms to the system.  Future efforts to improve the system are likely to fall on deaf ears.

What could be done to fix the system?  A few quick thoughts for some reasonably simple reforms that would help to speed and improve the process:

First, the five day notice period for nonpayment of rent can be shortened from five days to three days.  By my unscientific count, at least nineteen states allow for an eviction on three or fewer days notice.  What’s two days?  I don’t know, what is $1500 rent divided by 30 times 2? $100.  Would you walk across the street to pick up a hundred bucks?

Second, eviction judgments should be enforceable instanter in all but the most unusual cases.  I routinely see judges enter a “stay” of the enforcement of possession for one or two weeks and sometimes more in the Cook County Circuit Court.  Presumably, the judges are giving tenants “time to get out”.  The trouble is that all of the parties, the judges, the attorneys, and the tenants, know that, except in the oddest of circumstances, the Sheriff will not be out to evict in a week or two or probably three or four.  Why tack an extra 14 days on to the time it will take to move the tenant out?  That’s just unfair to the landlord.

Finally, the Sheriff needs to find a new way to enforce eviction orders.  Years ago, Sheriff Dart stopped moving tenants’ belongings out of the rental property.  Maybe the Sheriff needs to double up on the number of evictions processed in a day or possibly charge landlords more for an eviction so that more Sheriff’s Deputy’s can be hired to enforce these court orders within a reasonable time.

The system needs some reform.  I am not suggesting that due process be trampled.  But, in my opinion, to legislate the moratorium out of existence is not the right reform.  It might be time for landlord and tenants to take a good look at the system and work to make it better.

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