50th Anniversary Retrospective: LAF and Cabrini Green

As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary this year, we’re looking back over some of the most impactful work LAF has been involved in over the last half century.  Some of those cases have been on behalf of the residents of the Cabrini-Green Housing Development.  Check out our interactive retrospective on our website now!

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Anniversary of Chicago’s Landlords and Tenants Ordinance

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of Chicago’s Landlords and Tenants Ordinance, a landmark piece of legislation that governs most residential dwelling units in Chicago.  “Prior to the RLTO’s passage,” says Larry Wood, Director of LAF’s Housing Practice Group, “there was a significant imbalance of power between residential property owners and their tenants, and unscrupulous landlords took terrible advantage of this imbalance.”  Thousands of low-income tenants suffered the worst abuses, including deplorable living conditions, retaliation for complaining about such conditions, excessive late fees, unreturned security deposits, and lock-outs (i.e., evictions without authority of law).

Recognizing the need for legislation that would help them address these problems, LAF attorney Bill Wilen and Henry Rose, now a law professor at Loyola University, drafted the RLTO, and Chicago Alderman David Orr tried to get some version of this legislation passed every year after Harold Washington was elected Mayor.  Finally, on September 8, 1986, the Chicago City Council passed the RLTO.

“It withstood an immediate constitutional challenge from the Chicago Board of Realtors,” said Mr. Wilen, “and it leveled the playing field by giving all residential tenants, including those with extremely limited resources, fundamentally important rights and protections, as well as the means to enforce them.”  For example, the RLTO set forth rules governing the treatment of security deposits, authorized a tenant to withhold rent to address a landlord’s failure to properly maintain the premises, and prohibited excessive late fees, retaliatory evictions, and lock-outs.  It also imposed automatic financial penalties for violating RLTO provisions, and contained an attorneys’ fee provision to motivate lawyers to represent low-income tenants who have meritorious claims under the RLTO.

LAF is proud of its instrumental role in the RLTO’s passage, and of the way LAF and other tenants’ rights groups have used the RLTO to help thousands of Chicago tenants improve their living conditions and defend themselves against unprincipled and overreaching landlords.

Summer Law Student Interns, and August eNewsletter

This summer, LAF hosted 31 law student interns and six law graduate Fellows. They hailed from 13 law schools across the country and served clients in each of our five Practice Groups. Our interns and Fellows brought enthusiasm for learning, dedication to our clients, and commitment to social justice.  They left with a deeper understanding of poverty law and the challenges our clients face.  As a result of the hard work of these interns and Fellows, LAF was able to provide advice and representation to more clients and impact more lives in a positive way. We are so grateful for the time that they devoted to us this summer, and wish them all the best as they head back to school later this month.  We profiled their work in this month’s eNewsletter, which you can read here.

On behalf of everyone at LAF and all the clients we serve, thank you for your generosity and support of our work.  Your investment in LAF is not just an investment in our clients’ lives, it’s also an investment in the next generation of civil legal aid lawyers, who will continue to improve the world for people living in poverty.

“A Breath of Fresh Air”

Sometimes, all a person needs is to feel heard.  This particular story comes from a woman who wasn’t even a client of LAF.  One of our attorneys reached out to her to confirm the details of her problems and determine if we could take her case, and she was so grateful.  Just having someone recognize her and let her know of the possibility that she may get legal representation was enough to bring her real comfort.  This is a very common sentiment from our clients, who often feel ignored by so many. She sent this email to the attorney:

“Thank you so much for contacting me. You have no idea how much this means to me when I thought all was lost, then you called me and this gave me a breath of fresh air. I have struggled with my situation with loss of sleep and fear. Thank you so much again for being a blessing in my life.”

This is the impact LAF can have, even before we step in and provide legal assistance.  We are able to recognize people in times they feel most helpless, and hear them out.

July eNewsletter

There are lots of misconceptions about our work in legal aid.  Some people think we are the public defender.  Some think our clients must have done something wrong to need legal help.  Many think that we are exclusively funded by the government and on a level that enables everyone who needs our help to get it.
Reality is more complicated.  The communities LAF serves are those who face small and large injustices every day, like the ones Tim Hufman works to overturn every day.  LAF’s clients are innocent people like Christina and her family who are desperate for our services.  LAF’s work is often groundbreaking and complex, like Lisa’s work to bring down human traffickers.  And LAF’s funding comes more and more from individuals like yourselves, who believe in every person’s right to a fair day in court.  Every one of these stories can be found in the July eNewsletter, out now.  Read it here.
On behalf of everyone at LAF and all our clients, we thank you for your continued support over the last 50 years of LAF’s presence in Cook County.  Your dedication keeps us strong as we look forward to the next 50!

Let’s Do Lunch: Part Two

 LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series Continues with the Consumer Practice Group

Predatory Lending Round table

As times change, so do the methods of people who abuse systems for personal gain. Those who take advantage of mortgage lending are no exception. But as their methods grow and change, so to do the efforts of the team at LAF who stand against them. “The Life and Times of Predatory Mortgage Lending: A Tale Told Through the Lens of LAF Litigation” was the second of LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series. Dan Lindsey, Director of the Consumer Practice Group, along with Supervisory Attorneys James Brady and Michelle Weinberg, and Senior Attorney, Kathryn Liss, shared their work with a crowded room last week, teaching about how predatory mortgage lending has evolved and exacerbated racial and economic inequality in our community.

One of the cases they profiled was against Mark Diamond, a notorious home repair contractor who preyed predominately on elderly African Americans with false promises of home improvements. He overcharged for bare-bones work (if any work at all), arranged the financing so that he could directly obtain the maximum available funds from a clients’ mortgage loan, and did not provide the legally required consumer rights disclosures. LAF attorneys represented more than a dozen of Diamond’s victims and obtained over $250,000 in recovery. In June 2015, Diamond was finally stopped by the Attorney General, due in large part to the information provided by LAF and the Consumer Practice Group’s tireless representation of individual victims.

“Fraud never sleeps. And so there will always be predators of one kind or another,” they declared last week. Let the hard-working Consumer Practice Group serve as an example that there are also those who will stand up for what is right. Way to go, team!