TLC Management Company President Stuart Handler told the Herald today that his company would cancel and dismiss two eviction lawsuits it filed against residents in a South Shore apartment complex April 2, acknowledging that they were illegal under the federal CARES Act.
The tenants lived in Oglesby Towers, 6700 S. Oglesby Ave. According to records from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, federal lender Fannie Mae took over the $13.75 million mortgage in early 2018. The CARES Act, passed into law on March 27, prohibits landlords from filing evictions against tenants living in properties with federally backed mortgages.
Handler initially told the Herald that TLC could still file evictions because it did not plan to ask for forbearance, or foreclosure relief. This was true before March 27, when Fannie Mae announced it would offer mortgage forbearance to any landlords of multi-unit buildings, but that they could not file to evict tenants. The CARES Act is broader, however: anyone with a federally backed mortgage can’t file to evict.
This was what Handler later acknowledged to the Herald. “Our lender told us that forbearance of FannieMae mortgage payments was the guideline of evictions for the encumbered property. Upon further investigation, we discovered that this is incorrect.”
“Under the CARES act no evictions are to take place, regardless of ‘forbearance’ or not, at FannieMae-mortgaged properties within 120 days of the date of the act. As a result, we are cancelling and dismissing the two evictions filed on April 2 at Oglesby Towers. Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” he wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.
The two evictions were the focus of a protest in front of TLC’s downtown offices this morning. Members of the Lift the Ban Coalition — a group of organizations working to repeal the rent control law and provide relief to renters during the pandemic — condemned the company for filing the lawsuits.
As the protesters also pointed out, Handler is part of the Chicagoland Apartment Association, which publicly signed on to Lightfoot’s Housing Solidarity Pledge last week. The pledge states that landlords "affirm they may provide" a grace period for repayment, written repayment plans, and a waiver of late fees for renters affected by the pandemic.
"While we recognize and appreciate TLC Management for vacating the 2 evictions they illegally filed after they realized they could face legal repercussions, we are disappointed they still plan to push other families into the street in the midst of a viral pandemic when elected leadership has advised everyone to 'stay-at-home,' " said Jawanza Malone, one of the lead organizers with the Lift the Ban Coalition and the executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, in a statement to the Herald.
"This is why there needs to be legislative regulation of the housing market, in general, and corporate landlords, in particular. The 2 illegal evictions filed would have gone unnoticed and uninvestigated, and 2 families would have been forced into the street — despite being federally-protected against the exact thing that happened to them — had it not been for the work of local leaders to elevate the fact these evictions were in violation of federal law," Malone continued.
Earlier this week, the Herald first reported the news that TLC has filed dozens of eviction lawsuits against tenants in the city and suburbs during April. Handler said in a statement to Block Club Chicago that “for those now facing eviction hearings after the courts re-open, these pledged special arrangements require that the resident clearly communicates their financial need with their property manager, and this foundational component has not always occurred.”
There may still be consequences for the tenants named in the two illegal TLC lawsuits. Even when no judgment is entered in an eviction lawsuit, filings stay on tenants’ records. That means consumer reporting agencies can access the court file, and it will usually show up in future background checks, making it more difficult for the tenant to get approved for another apartment.
A 2018 report from Housing Action Illinois and the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing found that 39% of housing cases in the state between 2014 and 2017 did not end in a ruling against the tenant. “We estimate that 15,091 people ended up or will end up with an eviction filing on the public record each year, despite not having a judgment against them,” the report’s authors wrote.
The CARES Act eviction moratorium is also only temporary, in effect until July 24. After that, owners are still permitted to file evictions against tenants who failed to pay their rent, though they must give tenants 30 days' notice first.
TLC Tenants United, the group organizing against the company in Hyde Park, called for Handler and TLC to withdraw all evictions it had filed. "While TLC Tenants United celebrates with those tenants in Oglesby Towers who will live with less fear of losing their homes in the midst of this pandemic, we condemn Stuart Handler and TLC for illegally filing multiple evictions and withdrawing these evictions only after the on-going collective organizing of tenants and their allies," the group wrote in a statement.
"We recognize having an eviction filed against one can have a lasting effect on being able to obtain housing in Chicago. We also condemn Stuart Handler and TLC for filing any evictions during this pandemic and find such filings to be acts of extreme greed and cruelty," the statement continued. "One eviction is too many. TLC Tenants United demands TLC withdraws all evictions, halts the filing of evictions, and negotiates with us!