CHICAGO — The Cook County sheriff said Wednesday that he was ordering his deputies to stop evicting renters from foreclosed properties because many people his office has helped remove had done nothing wrong.
"We will no longer be a party to something that's so unjust," a visibly angry Sheriff Thomas Dart said at a news conference.
"We have to be sure that when we are doing this -- and we are destroying some people's lives -- we better be darned sure we're talking about the right people," he said.
Dart said he believed he was the first sheriff in a major metropolitan area to stop participating in foreclosure evictions, and the publisher of a national foreclosure database said he probably was right.
"I haven't heard of any other sheriff unilaterally deciding to stop" evicting tenants from foreclosures, said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of Irvine-based RealtyTrac.
He said that Philadelphia's sheriff helped push for a moratorium on foreclosure sales, but that it involved owner-occupied homes, not renters.
Dart said that from now on, banks would have to present his office with a court affidavit proving that the home's occupant is either the owner or has been properly notified of the foreclosure proceedings.
Illinois law requires that renters be notified that their residence is in foreclosure and that they will be evicted in 120 days, but Dart indicated that the law has been routinely ignored.
Some tenants dutifully pay their rent, Dart said, then leave for work one morning only to return to find their belongings at the curb -- what's left of them, that is.
By the time they get home, "The meager possessions they have are gone," Dart said. "This is happening too often."
Evictions for nonpayment of rent will continue, Dart said.