BERNSTEIN, ESQ., ON CHICAGO TENANTS' RIGHTS
By: Paul Bernstein, Attorney At Law
© Paul Bernstein, Esq. 1998, All Rights Reserved
Chapter 15: TIPS FOR TENANTS ON GOING TO COURT
If I need my car fixed, I go to an auto mechanic as I have no skills to fix a car. If my appendix needs to be taken out, I go to a doctor, even though I might be able to read up on how to take our my appendix. And, if I need to fix the date on my VCR, I call my wife because I can't even do that.
Like many things in life, we live in a world of expertise. It has been my intention and goal in these chapters about the law of landlord and tenant in Chicago, to give you an education about the many tenant's rights that the City Council has given to you.
However, if you have run into a dispute with your landlord and even though you honestly believe you have followed the proper steps under the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, if you are served with a summons for eviction court, I very strongly urge you to immediately hire an attorney to represent you. Here's a number of reasons why.
First of all, the eviction Courts are overloaded to begin with. There are just too many cases up each morning and afternoon for the hard working judges in on the 13th and 14th floor of the Daley Center to handle. Figure it out: A Judge's morning should normally be from 9:30 a.m. to Noon time. If there are only 50 cases on the call on a given morning, that means that each matter gets a maximum of 3 minutes to be heard.
However, there are usually several cases that take up a much greater amount of time, what with lawyers arguing points of law and trials taking place in the courtroom, so that most cases may actually have only a couple of minutes to be heard.
Keep in mind as well, that probably 90% or more of the cases that come before the court are fairly cut and dry....the tenant has not been able to pay rent. There may be very human reasons why that may be true - you lost your job, or you were very sick and did not get paid while out ill, or you have a family emergency that all of us would think properly took you away from having the money for the rent; however, none of those human reasons are legally sufficient to be a defense to the non-payment of rent.
Secondly, landlords with large holdings of apartment units and more and more landlords with smaller buildings are hiring attorneys to represent them in the eviction proceedings. Lawyers play by the "book" and part of the "book" are the rules of evidence. All lawyers have a duty to represent their clients with vigor and in an adversarial fashion. And, if you read the signs outside some of the courtrooms, they say that if you choose to represent yourself, then you are held to the same standards as an attorney and among those standards are knowing the rules of evidence.
So, just as I don't repair my own car or fix the clock in my VCR, it is really very unwise for any tenant to not be represented by an attorney in the eviction courts. The rules of evidence must be followed, you must know the Chicago Ordinance extremely well, and you must be able to be concise and articulate under the great tensions and pressures you will feel when before the Court when your case comes up.
Lawyers are accustomed to such pressures and know the rules of evidence. If you hire your own attorney, he or she has the same duty as the landlord's attorney to represent you with vigor, total loyalty and in an adversarial manner.
If you cannot afford an attorney, there are agencies that will take your case on in any event. If your income is over the line and you cannot get an attorney to represent you for free, then resources such as the Chicago Bar Association have a "lawyer Reference" program.
If you have properly followed the procedures outlined by the Chicago Ordinance and if the landlord is then trying, improperly, to evict you, if your attorney wins in court, you may be entitled to damages and have the landlord pay your attorney's fees.
The bottom line is that if you are like me and wouldn't try to take out your appendix or do open heart surgery on yourself, don't try to represent yourself in the eviction courts either.
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