Understanding The Eviction Process
To the great dismay of the modern landlord, the days of rounding up a couple goons to forcibly eject a deadbeat tenant are a relic of the past. Nowadays, a landlord needs to file an actual lawsuit, navigate through the procedural hurdles, secure an order of possession from a judge, and place the order with the local sheriff, who handles the “dirty work.” It’s a lengthy and costly process, which is why thorough tenant-screening is a vital first step in the apartment leasing business. In today’s article, we'll take a look at what happens after the eviction case has already meandered through municipal court, resulting an order of possession. The question we answer is: “What happens next?”
Typically, the circuit court will stay the enforcement of its own possession orders to give the tenant enough time to pack and leave on his own terms. The length of the stay is discretionary, but even after it expires the tenant won’t have to “eat and run” just yet. There’s still plenty of time on the clock. To get the ball rolling, the landlord has to obtain two certified copies of the possession order from the circuit court clerk, make two photocopies, and “place” all four documents with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office of Civil Process. There’s some minor additional paperwork to be completed there - basically an eviction disclosure form -- and of course nothing happens until the landlord forks over a check for $60.50 (as of September 2012). Because of the sensitive nature of an eviction and the considerable liability associated with ejecting lawful occupants, the folks in the sheriff’s office have a well-deserved reputation for being sticklers about paperwork and often send landlords back to court to correct seemingly trivial defects in a possession order. Naturally this introduces additional delay. Assuming that the documentation is satisfactory, the eviction order will be queued for execution, and, depending on the season (among other factors), the sheriff may sometimes require two months or more to execute a possession order.
Meanwhile, the landlord keeps the receipt provided by the sheriff’s office and, if he’s really anxious, monitors the sheriff’s website using the receipt and district numbers. The eviction schedule is posted daily and reflects both that day’s and the following day’s evictions. The sheriff’s office will call the landlord’s attorney about 24 hours before the eviction is scheduled, so it’s important that the contact information on the eviction disclosure form be legible. Typographical errors and shoddy penmanship introduce unwanted delay. Exact times are not supplied. Instead, the sheriff provides a four-hour window during which one of the deputies is likely to appear. In the meantime, about a week or so before the execution date, the sheriff sends a postcard to the tenant indicating that an eviction is imminent and that this would probably be a good time to hustle your stuff together and hit the highway. The exact date and time is not specified because the sheriff prefers to keep the element of surprise on his side, the fear being that the tenant will hunker down right before a scheduled showdown.
On the big day, the landlord or his representative is required to greet the sheriff’s deputy at the property with a locksmith in tow. (If the weather is “extreme” there’s a good chance the eviction will be postponed.) The landlord or his agent signs some papers authorizing the sheriff’s deputy to use force, if necessary, to gain entry and then escorts the deputy to the front door of the house or apartment in question. The deployment of handcuffs, firearms, or billy-clubs is reportedly very rare. In fact, the tenant is usually history by this point. Typically, the deputy conducts a full sweep of the premises to ensure that nobody's hiding in a closet, then stands around while the landlord enters the apartment, secures possession, and changes the locks. At this point the officer will post a prominent green “NO TRESPASSING" order on the front door.
Ggone are the days when the tenant’s belongings were unceremoniously tossed onto the sidewalk. In today’s more civilized world, the sheriff requires that the tenant be given a “reasonable amount of time” to remove his belongings. (What's "reasonable" apparently varies in the eye of the beholding landlord.) Once that reasonable period of time elapses, the landlord is free to dispose of the tenant’s possessions however he sees fit.
Evictions are procedurally complex and fraught with obstacles. For example, if the sheriff finds an occupant at least 18 years old living at the property and that person was not named in the original complaint, the process will screech to a grinding halt while the unknown occupant is given seven days to file papers in court seeking to “stay” the eviction. If worst comes to worst, the landlord will need to return to municipal court, amend his papers, specifically name “unknown occupants” as additional defendants, and be prepared to weather additional delays. The wisest course of action is to contact an attorney who specializes in this area.
(Incidentally, we at domu would be remiss if we didn’t express our gratitude to Megan Hart of Arnstein & Lehr for edifying us about the mechanics of the eviction process.)