Eviction is bad enough by itself—what’s worse is losing your bearings in the complicated legal process. For this year’s Housing Issue, the Weekly has put together a list of questions designed to help renters understand the eviction process and inform renters of their legally protected rights. Our aim is to help renters make informed decisions and avoid harms that could be prevented. But remember: this guide isn’t a substitute for legal advice. It’s important that tenants facing eviction seek legal help.
Have I received proper service of termination notices?
According to Illinois law, landlords have to give renters a written termination notice before filing an eviction case against tenants. This gives renters a notice period between five and ninety days—depending on the type of infraction—before a case is actually filed. In some cases (non-payment of rent and lease violations) this notice period is the last chance for renters to fix problems with their landlords so that eviction can be avoided.
This is the very first step of the entire legal process. If you are not given a written termination notice before the case is filed, or the case is filed before the end of the notice period, this can be part of your defense in court.
Have I received proper service of court summons and court complaints?
When the case is filed in the court, a summons and a complaint will be served to the renter by a sheriff or a third party (such as a process server). They cannot be served by the landlord and need to be either hand-delivered to the renter (the defendant) or given to someone living at the renter’s place who is at least thirteen years old. If both methods fail, the court can send the papers by publishing them in a court-designated newspaper. Not only should the renter make sure the papers are delivered, but that they were delivered properly. If you were not properly served your papers, you can use it to your advantage by challenging “service” in the court to reverse any orders that have been entered by the court.
What can I do before the trial date?
If the landlord has violated your renters’ rights (for more, see the Weekly’s previous know-your-rights article on renters’ rights), you should gather materials to prove such a violation. Violations of renters’ rights include, but are not limited to, failing to provide essential services such as heat and hot water or failing to exterminate pests and rodents.
If due process is violated in any of the ways listed in previous questions, you should provide evidence of that, too.
To gather evidence, both parties have the right to pre-trial discovery, a process that allows them to submit written questions and request documents.
Before the first trial date, you can also request a trial by jury by filing an “Appearance and Jury Demand.” A waivable fee is asked for requesting a trial by jury. If you don’t have enough time before the first trial date to file the request, you can ask for a “continuance” from the judge when the case is called (when the clerk calls your name in the courtroom on the trial date). A continuance postpones the trial date.
What if I can’t make it to the trial or I’m not in the courtroom when the case is called?
It is highly inadvisable for the renter to be absent. In this case, the judge will usually announce a default “Order for Possession,” which is an eviction order. Speak with the clerk as soon as possible to find out what happened. It is possible to have the order reversed by filing a “Motion to Vacate.” There will be a help desk (Municipal Court Advice Desk) in the Daley Center that the renter should visit as soon as possible—the help desk operates on a first-come-first-serve basis with no phone numbers and appointments available.
What can I do when the case is called and the trial begins?
When the case is called, you can: (1) ask for a continuance or (2) ask for mediation services. For the latter case, both the landlord and the tenant must agree that mediation should take place.
A continuance will give you more time to find an attorney, gather more evidence, or request a trial by jury. However, it is completely up to the judge whether this continuance will be given. You can also ask for mediation services, in which case the court will provide you with a mediator—a neutral party that will facilitate a negotiation between you and the landlord for a potential agreement or settlement.
When the actual trial begins, you should present your defense with accompanying evidence. Keep it short, succinct, and strictly factual.
A trial for eviction cases ends within a few minutes. If you do not have an attorney, state the most powerful facts that are to your advantage.
What kind of decisions will I get out of the trial?
Judgments occur when the judge decides that one side loses while the other wins. Judgments are written into a court order and become part of the public record. It is paramount for renters, especially renters who don’t have attorneys, to review the court order, since it is very common that the court order is written by the landlord’s attorney or filled out by them using blank court forms issued by the court.
Order for Possession (Eviction Order)
An Order for Possession is a judgment against the renter that will leave a public record. Judges will often grant a “stay,” which is a short period of time during which renters must move themselves. After the stay period, the sheriff can remove the renter from the property. If you have special needs that need to be accommodated, you can contact the Sheriff’s social workers.
Agreed Order for Possession
An agreed Order for Possession has the same legal ramifications: the renter will be moved, and there will be a public record indicating that the renter lost the case.
Settlements (Agreed Order)
If the renter and the landlord can agree on a solution to settle the conflict, they can ask the judge to make their agreement a court order. That’s why settlements are also called agreed orders. It’s usually better for renters to settle with their landlords, since it’s often difficult to win an eviction case against them. Settlements can prevent eviction cases from making it to the renter’s public record, though renters should also ask landlords to seal the eviction file as part of the settlement.
Agreed Move‑Out and Compliance Status
This is a type of agreed order that sets up a move-out date and a follow-up court date. Should the renter fail to move out before the set move-out date, the court will be reactivated and an Order for Possession will be issued. Agreed Move-Out and Compliance Status will not leave a mark on public records. (Again, tenants should ask landlords to seal the eviction file as part of the settlement.) If the renter has to move, this is usually the best option.
Dismissal with Leave to Reinstate
This is another agreed order that dismisses the case but reserves option for both parties to reinstate the case, should either party violate the agreement between them.
This is an agreed order that allows the renter to stay in the rental unit as long as the rent owed is paid, which will be done so according to a payment plan negotiated between the landlord and the renter. It’s important to devise a realistic payment plan when renters consider this option.
How will I get evicted?
If an Order for Possession or a similar decision has been made by the court, eviction can occur as soon as twenty-four hours after the order reaches the Sheriff’s Office. Tenants are not provided with the specific date and time due to officer safety concerns. Consequently, if you have an Order for Possession, it’s best to contact an organization that can help you relocate as soon as possible. Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Social Services Department at the Sheriff’s Office, and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization all provide such services.
On the day of eviction, officers from the Sheriff’s office will knock and announce their purpose. They are authorized to forcibly enforce the order if no one answers. Sheriffs will ask you to confirm which possessions in the apartment you wish to take with you, but are ultimately not responsible for securing your personal property from damage—it is important that you don’t leave anything important behind.
When the temperature is below fifteen degrees, eviction will be rescheduled. Eviction usually does not take place between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but most up-to-date information should be sought on the Sheriff’s website.