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Move comes in wake of growing mortgage crisis

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008 — With Cook County on pace to conduct a record number of evictions this year – and an unprecedented number of evictions due to mortgage foreclosures – Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Wednesday he is suspending all foreclosure evictions.
The move comes as a result of the growing number of evictions that involve renters – most of whom are dutifully paying their rent every month, only to later learn their landlord has fallen behind on mortgage payments and the building has gone into foreclosure. While mortgage companies are supposed to conduct a basic due diligence investigation before requesting an eviction – identifying all occupants – sheriff’s deputies are regularly finding no work done by the mortgage company in advance, leaving the identifying work to deputies working at taxpayer expense.
“These mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don’t care who’s in the building,” Dart said. “They simply want their money and don’t care who gets hurt along the way. On top of it all, they want taxpayers to fund their investigative work for them. We’re not going to do their jobs for them anymore. We’re just not going to evict innocent tenants. It stops today.”
Dart - believed to be the first sheriff of a major metropolitan area to take such a step - said he wants a safety net to be established either by the judiciary or state Legislature, to protect those most harmed by the mortgage crisis.
Specifically, he wants mortgage companies to be forced to provide sufficient information to the Sheriff’s Office in order to conduct an eviction. That will provide greater notification to tenants that their building is in foreclosure and will require mortgage companies and their attorneys to do more leg work in advance of an eviction.
Because the banks aren’t doing that now, more than 1/3 of all trips by sheriff’s eviction teams results in finding nobody home to verify who lives there or finding someone other than the mortgage-holder.

Last year, Dart pushed a bill before the Legislature that would have required mortgage companies to identify any children or senior citizens living in a unit before requesting an eviction. Dart hoped to link those vulnerable residents with social service agencies, but banking and real estate industry lobbyists killed the bill.
Foreclosure filings have steadily climbed in Cook County since 1999 and the number of foreclosure evictions has almost tripled in just two years.
In 1999, there were 12,935 mortgage foreclosure cases filed in Cook County. Noticeable increases came in 2006, when 18,916 were filed and last year, when 32,269 were filed. This year, Dart projects more than 43,000 to be filed.
Dart said his office is on pace to conduct evictions stemming from mortgage foreclosures at 4,500 properties this year. That compares to just 1,771 in 2006.
“The people we’re interacting with are, many times, oblivious to the financial straits their landlord might be in,” Dart said. “They are the innocent victims here and they are the ones all of us must step up and find some way to protect.”


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