Eviction totals reach a plateau in Lake County
By Long Hwa-shu For Sun-Times Media August 29, 2013 5:04PM
Lake County Sheriff's deputy Paul Soberano, a 14-year veteran, posts a red final eviction notice on the door of a property at an undisclosed location.The posting gives advance notice as to when the scheduled eviction will be enforced. | Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff's Office
Updated: October 29, 2013 3:15AM
A total of 1,773 court-ordered evictions — or nearly five a day — were carried out last year by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office for landlords whose tenants have failed to pay rent and for banks pursuing foreclosures.
The number was up by 181 or over 10 percent compared with a year ago when there were 1,592 evictions, according to Lt. Michael Gregory. As of July 27 this year, 1,160 evictions had been carried out. In Lake County, only the sheriff’s office has the authority to enforce evictions, he pointed out.
“It doesn’t seem to slow down, judging by the numbers,” said Lt. Gregory who headed the Civil Service Division until recently. He is now the director of Emergency Communications Center. The division, now headed by Sgt. Chris Dador, handles evictions for the sheriff.
The upward trend is continuing because of the recurring ripple effects of the housing crisis that began in 2006 when housing prices peaked and then dived. Many homeowners found the value of their homes much lower than what they paid for, causing a large number of foreclosures across the country.
In Lake County Circuit Court last year, as many as 5,874 foreclosures were filed by lenders, up from 5,570 in 2011, according to court clerk Keith Brin. A total of 2,273 foreclosures had been filed as of Aug. 23 this year.
“The majority of the eviction cases filed last year was for nonpayment of rent by tenants,” said Brin.
There were 2,753 eviction cases filed last year, down by 258 compared with the previous year. As of Aug. 23 this year, 1,932 cases had been filed, indicating a plateau has been reached.
“It’s unlikely to be an upward trend this year,” observed Brin.
Whatever the number of cases filed, either for eviction or for foreclosure, it does not correspond with the number of evictions actually carried out because often a tenant or a homeowner chooses to evacuate from the property in question voluntarily. But the number of actual evictions appears to be on the increase this year.
Evictions take place not just in low-income neighborhoods but also in affluent areas. “We’ve handled evictions from an efficiency apartment to a mansion,” said Lt. Gregory.
Eviction, whether for failure to pay rent or as a result of foreclosure, is understandably heartbreaking for tenants and homeowners. Landlords generally take the eviction route, a cumbersome and costly process, as the last resort.
“Eviction is time-consuming, costly and traumatic for tenants,” said Mel Metts, author of “Do It Yourself Eviction,” which he wrote based on his own experience as a landlord. He is a member of the Lake County Property Investors Association and has served on its board.
He owned and rented as many as 48 apartment units at one time, and filed 18 eviction cases mainly because tenants were behind paying their rent.
“On average, an eviction costs $340 in Lake County, not counting filing and attorney fees as well as moving expenses. It usually takes 30-35 days to complete,” said Metts, a real estate broker who is president of Affordable Housing Corp. of Lake County, a non-profit organization that helps people buy, improve and save their homes from foreclosure.
A landlord can initiate eviction with a 5-day notice to a tenant for failure to pay rent. The notice provides that a tenant has five days to pay up the rent he owes. After that the landlord can file a complaint for eviction in the Lake County Circuit Court.
Serving the notice can be trying, especially when a tenant refuses to respond to the door knock or decline the receipt of a certified mail. The sheriff’s department does not serve these papers, so it is up to the landlord to serve it himself or hire a professional to do it.
In Lake County, evictions are handled by the Small Claims Court which issues summons and holds hearings. If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, he will issue an order for the sheriff to evict the tenant and turn the possession of the property back to the landlord. A red “Final Eviction” notice, signed by a deputy, will be posted on the door of the property giving a specific date and time when the eviction will be enforced. A deputy will arrive at the property at the scheduled time to enforce the eviction for a fee which must be paid to the sheriff’s office prior to the actual eviction.
The deputy does not kick the door in or move belongings to the curb. It’s up to the landlord to open the lock and change it, and to bring at least three capable movers to remove the belongings. Metts pointed out while a landlord can handle an eviction himself, he needs to hire an attorney if his property is owned in the name of a corporation.
Metz cautioned that sometimes a tenant may become belligerent and heap verbal abuse on the landlord and on the sheriff’s deputy. He cautioned that often a tenant will damage the property and leave trash behind. Dador said about five or six arrests are made each year for obstruction of service when a tenant resists eviction.
Not all evictions are for nonpayment of rent. Bill Powers, president of RTO Properties LLC, said he had to evict a couple from a 2-bedroom apartment in Waukegan because the woman was operating a day-care center without permission and perhaps illegally. In another instance, a tenant’s check bounced. Both vacated their properties voluntarily.
“No matter how cautious you are in screening tenants, sometimes they won’t provide all the information to you so you have to do your own research,” said Powers who is on the board of the Lake County Property Investors Association.
“To avoid any future mistake, I’ll have to be more diligent,” he added.
Metz pointed to the difficulty in foreseeing how a tenant will abide the lease. “Circumstances change. People lose their jobs, get divorced or have health issues,” he pointed out.
For landlords, renting or leasing is a business. As such, it must be handled like a business, he noted.
“Often, a tenant thinks that a landlord rents for pure profit. Not so. First of all, he has to pay for a property, then he has to pay taxes, insurance, maintenance, and sometimes utilities,” he said.
To avoid surprises and future shock, Metz said he makes it a practice to let a tenant know before a lease is signed that he would file for eviction for failure to pay rent. He will also point out to them some charitable agencies that may help them pay rent and utilities.
“I try to work with my tenants, not against them,” he said.