Friday, August 21, 2009

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

That oft-quoted (and misquoted) Shakespeare line has been rattling through my brain lately. But here in Chicago, a better strategy might be to kill all the landlords first.

I'm beginning to believe that Chicagoans could begin to make a dent in the deep-rooted corruption of this city if they held landlords liable for their behavior and decisions. We have laws that are supposed to protect tenants from unscrupulous building owners, yet the courts typically look the other way whenever a landlord slips up. If home is where our children learn their values, and home is rented by more than half of Chicagoans, then creating a civil and law-abiding citizenry begins here.

Let me explain my absence from Lull and why I've chosen this topic to discuss today.

I'm being evicted. Not because I was late with the rent or didn't pay the rent or violated any provision of my lease or broke the law or made my neighbors mad about something. 

I am being evicted because I have a long-term lease that the new owner of my building knew he was supposed to honor when he bought the building yet has decided he can't wait any longer to raise my rent. (OK. I can't be certain it's the owner. It could be the building manager who orchestrated the eviction, but the owner is certainly expediting the process.)

A nonprofit agency is providing legal help to me and my husband. They're excited because they'll probably be able to get the landlord to acquiesce to giving us 30 maybe 60 days to vacate the premises rather than the 5 days it would have been if we didn't have legal counsel.


How is that a victory for us? Our lease is supposed to run until 30 April 2011. But here in Chicago, all our landlord had to do was say we never tried to pay our rent (though our rent check was in the rent box along with everyone else's on 1 August) and then he conveniently didn't respond to any of our e-mails, letters, or phone calls once we discovered what he was up to.

We ran into an acquaintance yesterday who also happens to be a real estate lawyer. We know him from our neighborhood because he also has a dog. We explained our situation and he just laughed. He said it's "just business." 

Again: WTF?

I get that it's not personally motivated. I get that it has nothing to do with us.

But there are plenty of companies out there doing business legally; some of them are even ethical and then a handful are actually socially responsible. So how is it that Chicago landlords can act lawlessly and without retribution? How is it that as the renter—as the VICTIM—I'm the one who will have to pay for the landlord's whims?

Our long-term lease has been the one blessing I have recounted every time misfortune has come knocking. "At least we're not homeless," I would say to my husband. "Thank goodness we have a long-term lease and don't have to worry about where to live while we're worrying about so many other things," I would remind him. How wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

So we've been cleaning and sorting and preparing to sell 27 years of a life together. I started selling books yesterday. I'm doing one room at a time. I'm going to learn how to use a camera today and start taking pics of household goods to sell. I'll post items on Lull, but they're pickup only—I can't mail or deliver to anyone. I know you understand.

I'm not sure the meek will inherit the Earth so much as they will shoulder its burdens. I'm ready to return to my planet now. I've had quite enough of this one.


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