The Sheriff Don't Like It


I have more sympathy for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart than my colleague Mike Riggs does, if the Associated Press's account of Dart's new policy toward foreclosure evictions is correct:

Dart said that from now on, banks will have to present his office with a court affidavit that proves 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 they will be evicted in 120 days, but Dart indicated that the law has been routinely ignored.

He talked about tenants who dutifully pay their rent, then leave one morning for work only to have authorities evict them and put their belongings on the curb while they are gone.

By the time they get home, "The meager possessions they have are gone," he said. "This is happening too often."…

Dart said he believes banks are not doing basic research to determine that the people being evicted are, in fact, the homeowners.

He said that in a third of the 400 to 500 foreclosure evictions his deputies had been carrying out every month, the residents are not those whose names are on the eviction papers.

Clearly, some political grandstanding may be at work here. (Dart isn't up for reelection until 2010, but if he plans to jump to higher office this is obviously an effective way to make himself more famous and popular.) And I have yet to see a compelling case for a complete suspension of foreclosure evictions. But I don't see anything wrong with requiring the banks and landlords to keep renters informed of the ongoing foreclosure proceedings so the tenants can plan accordingly, and not come home surprised to find their homes locked and half their possessions stolen. And to the extent that the sheriff is demanding his office receive accurate, appropriate paperwork before it acts, I can't say I object.

If this story sounds familiar, by the way, it's because the populist ex-congressman Jim Traficant did something similar:

In the early 1980s, Traficant was the sheriff of Mahoning County, which surrounds Youngstown. One of his duties was to serve eviction notices, throwing unemployed steelworkers and their kids into the street.

Traficant refused to evict people whose only crime was losing a job. He went to jail himself for refusing to serve eviction notices.