DOWNTOWN — As a new anti-eviction ordinance against foreclosures took effect Tuesday, politicians and community activists cheered its passage, but stressed the need for educating tenants on their rights.
"We now move to enforcement," said Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) in a news conference at the Chicago Temple Downtown. "We have to make sure people are following this ordinance."
"We are now entering into another phase of our campaign," said Diane Limas, of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. "We must educate tenants of their rights under this new ordinance.
"We know that the banks will be fighting it," Limas added. "So we still have a big job to do."
Limas said the purpose of what's commonly called the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance is simple: "to protect innocent tenants in foreclosures, and at the same time prevent more vacant buildings."
"We are protecting the tenants' right to stay in their home," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st).
At the same time, Mell added, "a vacant building is a scourge on a neighborhood." Mell's father, Richard Mell, whom she replaced in the City Council in July, was the lead sponsor of the ordinance, which passed in June.
Ald. Ray Suarez (31st), who oversaw passage as chairman of the Housing Committee, said its basic intent was to "stabilize the community," as vacant buildings are typically vandalized and lower surrounding property values.
Suarez emphasized the ordinance does not diminish a building owner's rights.
"Keep Chicago Renting is not defending bad tenants," he said. "We're protecting good, law-abiding tenants."
The ordinance re-enforces a tenant's right to serve out an existing lease in a foreclosed property. Yet, in a property that comes under control of a bank in a foreclosure, that lease must either be extended until a third party buys the property, or the bank must offer the tenant a $10,600 relocation fee.
The ordinance is intended to halt actions such as illegal evictions, changing locks, shutting off utilities and other scare tactics by threatening fines of up to $21,000 and double damages in suits brought by tenants.
The ordinance calls for tenants to be informed of their rights in any foreclosure. Mark Swartz, legal director of the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, said tenants should call the city at 311 with any complaints, or dial 911 in the event of an illegal eviction or being locked out of their home.