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Homeless Landlord Gets Her Home Back

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The CBS 2 Investigators exposed the plight of a small landlord in September.

A young mother and her daughter had to sleep in their car because the eviction moratorium prevented them from sleeping in their own home.

CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker got results for them, and discovered what it takes actually to evict a tenant.

Officers with the Cook County Sheriff's Office knocked on a door in an East Garfield Park apartment building.

"Put your hands up," ordered one officer.

Officers arrived, guns drawn, unannounced on Sept. 16.

The man inside asked, "What did I do? What did I do?"

This was not a wrong raid, but it was clearly something the man living in the apartment didn't expect on this particular day.

The man asked again, "What did I do wrong?"

The Sheriff's officer answered: "Nothing. We're here for an eviction."

The man should have received a mailed notice that he was going to be evicted eventually. That's probably why he seems to have a prepared response.

"Donald Trump made an order that you can't evict me until December 31," he told officers.

There is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium in effect until the end of the year for tenants who can prove that they are financially impacted by COVID-19.

However, there is a stricter state moratorium in Illinois that took effect in April.

Gov. JB Pritzker has extended it multiple times. It's now good through Oct. 17.

The Illinois COVID-19 emergency declared back in March, coupled with the eviction moratorium, put the brakes on 1,850 evictions in Cook County.

However, as a Sheriff's officer explained to the about-to-be evicted tenant, "There are some other circumstances where you can be evicted."

His circumstance is one of them.

"There have been some accusations you may be threatening other tenants," one officer explained.

The CBS 2 Investigators, through a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained 93 pages of records relating to emergency evictions approved and/or carried out between March 21 and Oct. 2 of this year.

Among those cases is the East Garfield Park tenant's eviction. One reason his was approved, according to the court documents, is that he "threatened another resident with a sword." That puts him in a special category of being considered a "health and safety risk."

Since the state pandemic declaration, Cook County judges have approved 48 emergency evictions. Of those, 28 have been carried out as of mid-October.

Sheriff's officers, along with a social worker who accompanies them on every emergency eviction, make sure the tenant has a place to go either to a shelter or to stay with family or friends.

Emergency evictions have been approved in part, because of that safety net.

The documents CBS 2 obtained show other reasons for granting them, including: threatening to blow up the apartment building, threatening to kill the property manager, causing property damage while refusing to allow the landlord in to make repairs and selling illegal drugs.

Attorney Michael Zink filed one of those successful cases.

"Many of the tenants in the building were very upset and scared about some of the things that were happening there at all hours of the day and night," Zink said.

What is not on the list and not considered an emergency eviction is a tenant like Andre Richards. We detailed his background in a CBS 2 investigation in September. Richards was living in a second floor, four-bedroom apartment in an Auburn Gresham two-flat.

Richards has a job but refused to pay rent and would not leave.

Jillesa Willis bought the two-flat nearly one year ago and planned to move into that second-floor unit.

But we found her this summer living in her car with her 5-year-old daughter. She could not afford to rent another place and pay her mortgage.

"It's wrong. It's way wrong," Willis said.

Katrina Bilella had a similar problem. CBS 2 also shared her story. She rented her Logan Square apartment to a couple who lost their jobs during the pandemic and would not work with her on a payment plan, even after she begged them. She explained that she had also fallen on hard financial times.

"I lost my job due to COVID 19 and I'm terrified," Bilella wrote in an email to her tenants.

The couple finally moved out – but only after CBS 2 exposed them. The experience prompted Bilella to start a petition asking Gov. Pritzker to amend the eviction moratorium and consider the plight of landlords like her and Willis. More than 2,700 people have signed the petition.

"We're absolutely going to look at that," Gov. Pritzker said. "Let me remind you, our goal here is not to deprive landlords."

That was Sept. 10. After three weeks without changes, we asked again and received a familiar answer.

"We're looking at how we can amend the executive order around this," Gov. Pritzker responded to a CBS 2 question on Sept. 30.

Some Illinois lawmakers are hoping to help balance the needs of both tenants and landlords.

State Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago), whose constituents live in Humboldt Park, Bucktown, West Town, Hermosa, Logan Square, Ukrainian Village, and East Village told CBS 2, "When tenants are struggling, landlords are struggling."

Ramirez, who is also a landlord added, "We have to stop pitting landlords and renters against each other."

During the Illinois Legislature's Special Session earlier this year, she brought forward Emergency COVID Renter and Homeowner Protection legislation designed to provide tenants with financial help to keep them from being put out in the street and to help "landlords get the assistance they need [so] they're not losing the home they've struggled so much to purchase and keep."

The legislation did not go anywhere in that session. Ramirez said she's working on another bill to introduce during the next full legislative session beginning in January.

Fortunately, Jillesa Willis does not have to wait for the governor or legislators to act.

Three weeks after our CBS 2 Investigation showed her living in her car because her tenant would not move out of her home, our cameras caught her tenant loading up his car and finally moving out.

"I guess the pressure, the public embarrassment came about," Willis said.

But as Willis got her first look at the apartment, she bought in late 2019, the one Andre Richards lived in rent-free for nearly a year, she noticed a few things.

"Ceiling fan's missing," she noted as she looked up at the living room ceiling.

Not only that – there was dirt everywhere on the floors and on the walls.

There was also damage she showed CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker over FaceTime.

"What's surprising to me is this bathroom. He took the bathroom vanity," she said.

There was even more missing in the kitchen.

"The kitchen sink," Willis said as she pointed to faucets no longer there.

Despite the missing fixtures and the mess, Willis is ecstatic to have her home back, for her and her daughter. Willis said her daughter cannot wait to sleep in her own bedroom and have fun in her new playroom.

"It's a big relief. If I could take my mask down to show how big I'm smiling I would," Willis told Tucker.

We don't have to see her smile to feel her joy. This once homeless landlord has finally reclaimed her property.

Until she cleans up her home, Willis is staying at an Airbnb rent free through the generosity of a CBS 2 viewer.

If Gov. Pritzker extends Illinois' eviction moratorium again without making changes he promised to address the plight of landlords, we'll keep asking him why.


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