Honors Scholars Class Project: Eviction Court Study

 A Study of Chicago's Eviction Court

According to a study conducted by Chicago-Kent Honors Scholars and co-sponsored by the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, the Chicago Eviction Courts' lack of attention to procedural requirements, although not necessarily subverting justice, harms the dignity of tenants and often sends them away with little to no understanding of the judgments against them.

The honors scholar class of 2004 teamed up with the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing to study Chicago's Eviction Courts. During the fall of 2002, the students monitored 763 cases. A report documenting their findings—No Time for Justice, A Study of Chicago's Eviction Court—was released on December 18, 2003. In response to the findings outlined in the report, students are now talking with judges of the eviction courts to discuss potential reform.

 Honors Scholars Wenfeng Li, John Guzzardo, Karen Doran and Ryan Liebl.The study showed that the average duration of a case was 1 minute and 44 seconds, that landlords frequently failed to meet their statutory burden of proof without consequence, and that tenants were rarely given the chance to state a defense to the landlord's claims. The students also found that parties were sworn in before giving testimony in only 8% of the cases, that the judge examined the written notice given by the landlord to the tenant and required by Illinois law in only 65% of the cases, and that the judge asked the tenants for a defense in only 27% of the cases.

The data showed that a number of tenants could have asserted effective defenses based on their substandard living conditions had they only been given the chance. The report also stresses the need to educate the tenants through public service organizations, in order to help them enforce their rights before it's too late.

The report states that "for the system to work, it must at least be possible for defendants to prevail, and where they don't, it must treat them with the dignity and respect owed to those facing one of life's most devastating losses: the loss of one's home."

In order to study the courts properly, the honors scholars studied Illinois housing law, created a comprehensive form for court observation, monitored hundreds of cases, compiled the data, and produced the report to document their findings. The students also worked with Adrianne Zahner, an honors scholar from the class of 2002.

In the News

Chicago-Kent College of Law, "Chicago-Kent and Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing study finds eviction court inattentive to procedural requirements and tennt's dignity," news release, December 18, 2003.

Lydialyle Gibson, Eviction justice is a 'flick of the switch'; Study by Chicago-Kent law students finds one-minute verdicts, lack of 'dignity' in city's housing court, Chicago Journal, January 8, 2004.

LCBH Housing Briefs, Spring 2004

John Biemer, Eviction Courts too hurried, study says, Chicago Tribune, December 18, 2003, Metro sec., at 6.

Jerry Crimmins, Eviction courts put under microscope, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, December 19, 2003, at 3.

Paul Bernstein, Chicago's eviction courts need increased support, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, December 31, 2003, at 5.

Ed Sacks, Survey faults county courts' handling of eviction cases, Chicago Sun-Times, January 25, 2004.

Chinta Strausberg, Study reveals tenants get shafted in Eviction Court, Chicago Daily Defender, December 19, 2003.

Ivette Sandoval, Affordable housing crisis linked to the number of evictions in Chicago, Lawndale News, December 25, 2003, at 1.

Business brief, Tenants don't get say before eviction, Chicago Daily Herald, January 3, 2004.