BERNSTEIN, ESQ., ON CHICAGO TENANTS' RIGHTS
By: Paul Bernstein, Attorney At Law
© Paul Bernstein, Esq. 1998, All Rights Reserved
Chapter 13: THE SHERIFF COMES TO CALL
You've found court documents slipped under your door or stuffed into your mailbox. Or, you've heard a "process server" was looking for you, but apparently left nothing you've been able to find. You suspect it is a complaint and summons in an eviction case.
You read the law and learned that the sheriff or other court-appointed process server must serve you in one of several ways in order for the Court to have the necessary jurisdiction over you to take action on behalf of the landlord: either by personally handing you a copy of the court papers, or; by leaving the papers at your apartment with someone who is over 13 and a member of your family, or; after diligent and unsuccessful efforts to serve you in one of those two ways, by having the Sheriff mail you a copy of the summons and posting a notice of the eviction in a public place.
You know no one was at home when the papers were slipped under the door or into your mailbox. Clearly, service of the papers was not proper. What, if anything should you do and why?
It does happen from time to time that the deputies that work for the Sheriff's department, (most of whom are very conscientious and work very hard each and every day), make mistakes. The process server may mistakenly indicate on their retained copy of the summons that they served you personally - and this is the document that gets into the court file. If you merely sit back and do nothing, the Court file will reflect (wrongfully in this example) that you were served personally and that therefore the court has jurisdiction over you, personally. That means that when the "return day" (the day you were summoned to be in court personally) comes up, all the judge knows is what the judge sees on the process server's "return of service" that is written on the summons that is in the court file that you were served personally with a summons but have nevertheless failed to appear.
Under these circumstances, the Court will likely enter an order granting all the relief requested by the landlord and also providing for your eviction within a given number of days, which could be immediately or seven-days from the entry of the Court's order.
Contact an attorney
What you should do in such circumstances is contact an attorney immediately to check into the facts. If you were not properly served and the court documents so reflect, you need not do anything. However, if you were not properly served but the court documents say you were, then your lawyer can file a "special appearance" to contest the jurisdiction of the court over you.
What I often do in such circumstances, if the tenant has a good defense and particularly if the eviction action is retaliatory, is to appear on the return day, appear on behalf of the tenant and file other papers, such as defenses to the complaint and a counterclaim for retaliatory eviction and possible other relief. Other lawyers and community based organizations may differ in their views on this issue.
The point, however, is that even if the service of court papers on you seems to clearly be improper, don't just do nothing....investigate the facts and protect yourself, else the sheriff may show up at your door early on to remove both you and other occupants of your apartment and your property.
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