Stealing a car is a felony that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Second degree robbery is a felony that is punishable by a minimum of two years in state prison and probation for three to five years, which requires community service, a work release program, and payment of restitution to the victim.
However, there is another form of stealing that is NOT considered a crime and results in NO prison time, NO probation, and NO fines of any kind. This act can be done openly and without a firearm, repeatedly over a span of several decades and not be considered a crime in the eyes of the law. In fact, it is with the help of the legal system that one is able to do this, and the rewards can be substantial – the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars (tax free), and potentially more, if one chooses to do it long enough and if the laws don’t change.
How do I know about this, you may ask? Because I am currently the victim of this perfect non-crime. I have a tenant who moved into my condo, located in one of Chicago’s most prestigious residential high-rises, over 11 months ago and have not been paid a single penny since. I started the eviction process last December and still see no end in sight. To this date, he owes me almost $22,000 in rent, which doesn’t even account for all the damages related to his tenancy. I have paid thousands of dollars in court and legal fees and have undergone an immeasurable amount of stress, only because the current system for lawfully evicting a tenant is painfully and unnecessarily slow.
It doesn’t matter that he has a track record that stretches two decades for getting evicted by landlords for lack of payment. It doesn’t matter that he blatantly lied throughout his rental application – about his evictions, his references, his income stream, just about everything except for his name – even though the consequences would be dire if these lies (including doctoring the paper copy of his credit report and proof of income that he and his agent provided) were on a mortgage application that was approved.
It doesn’t matter how easy it is to prove lack of payment, which should be the only evidence required to justify this type of eviction. It doesn’t matter that he’s had the same attorney represent him on past eviction cases, who happens to have a reputation for his supreme ruthlessness and who unabashedly brags on his website about his ability to help his clients live rent-free for long spans of time. The courts will grant any tenant a request for a jury demand if he wants one, which promises to prolong the process by several months and takes up an insane amount of resources … and the courts will grant a tenant’s attorney’s requests to postpone court dates for pretty much any reason at all (based on my experience, it could be for a conference that the attorney “forgot” about, for a vacation, or simply because he asked for it).
Any tenant who has grievances related to living conditions can very easily bring his landlord to court and can even have court fees waived and obtain free legal representation. The fact that tenants have the ability to use these grievances as grounds for lack of payment is insane, especially when considering the financial liability already exacted to landlords for breaching tenant rights. Two months’ rent plus all incurred legal fees is the standard punishment for each and every infringement, though a landlord who is eventually deemed by the courts as having the right to evict a tenant is only entitled to lost rent and legal fees. There are no fines charged to a tenant for breaching the terms of a rental agreement. Even if the landlord wins a judgment, he has the responsibility to collect, which in my case would in all likelihood mean getting zero dollars and zero cents at the end since my tenant has all his assets in vehicles that are protected from liens and judgments (of which he has many). From my basic research, as of December 2010, his two charitable annuity trusts were worth approximately $225,000.
If a person eats at a restaurant and complains about the quality of the food, does that give that person the right not to pay, whether or not the food is actually as bad as he claims it to be? And should he be allowed to order and continue to eat the food, free of charge, for months on end until the courts rule in the restaurant owner’s favor? Why should this be any different?
For those believing that I “deserve” this for not doing the proper screening, in my particular case I hired a licensed agent to rent out my property who, unfortunately, didn’t take the proper precautions as I had asked him to and was expected of him. However, that is besides the point.
A credit report and background check is not a guarantee that this will not happen to a landlord. Cases like this can happen with first-time offenders and with those who were able to successfully settle out of court, which happens often since this option is the least costly to a landlord. Furthermore, stealing is stealing and should not be blamed on the victim. If someone robs a house, the owner isn’t blamed for leaving the back door unlocked. If someone steals a car, the owner isn’t blamed for leaving a window cracked open. If someone takes merchandise from a store, the retailer isn’t blamed for not having anti-theft devices on all its items. Just because the opportunity to steal presents itself doesn’t give anyone the license to do so, not in these examples or in the case of landlords being robbed by their tenants.
The evidence is black and white (Did the tenant pay? Yes or no?) And the perpetrator is clear (which may not be the case in car theft or robbery), so the solution is simple. Evictions on the grounds of lack of payment should be handled in a day. Juries are not required for a fair judgment in these cases. This will save everyone’s time and countless resources. Blatantly lying on a rental application and displaying clear evidence of purposely imposing financial damage on a landlord should be considered a criminal act resulting in prison time, probation and fines. If a homeowner was sold a tampered security system by someone who then proceeded to rob him/her, who wouldn’t consider that a crime?
Please give this the attention that this deserves. I’ve spoken to other landlords who have had similar experiences. Most cases may not be as extreme as mine, but it is clear that this is not an isolated problem. Some have lost their own home due to nonpaying tenants. This may not happen to every landlord in the country, but must we wait for more tenants to do what mine is doing (and will continue to do) in order for there to be any action to be taken? If so, why not let Madoff and all the other Ponzi-schemers off the hook too? Or more fittingly, why not help facilitate the crime and protect those that are set out to harm instead of those that need to be protected?
If you are still with me at the end of this passage, thank you for your attention to this matter. Just as an FYI, I know that the likelihood of my gaining any benefit from changes in the current law for my personal situation is next to nonexistent. I am doing this so that this injustice can be exposed for what it is and so that we can make improvements to a very broken system. Government and civilian resources no longer have to be wasted in matters pertaining to this, and my tenant and those like him can no longer take advantage of a system that provides them the protection of a Trojan horse. They would no longer use it as a means to steal once that lease is signed and be protected by the law from any punishment.
I’ve started a petition for improving the tenant eviction process. If I am able to succeed in doing this, I would consider it a moral victory. Would you take 30 seconds and please sign it?
To those who have already signed and will sign my petition – thank you very kindly for your support. Finally, to those who have shared and will share this petition (via Facebook, Twitter, email, and/or word of mouth) and encourage more signatures – my deepest gratitude for taking that all-important extra step in making this initiative a success.
Please visit http://www.change.org/petitions/senators-richard-durbin-and-mark-kirk-make-all-forms-of-stealing-illegal and sign the petition TODAY to help change eviction laws.