My take on the Chicago foreclosure controversy

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WalletPop bloggers Bruce Watson and Tracy Coenan have expressed diametrically opposed views about Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Illinois's refusal to evict tenants who had paid their rent in good faith to landlords who had allowed the building to fall into foreclosure. The Sheriff apparently feels that the law in this case is punishing the wrong people.

I can see both sides of the argument, and my opinion is somewhere in between. Laws are not divine decrees, but reflect the consensus of those governed. They change as society changes, and we often play fast and loose with those that, by consensus, no longer reflect our desires. The speed limit is just one example.

Sometimes public attitude changes more quickly than the laws can reflect, throwing us into that gray area that Sheriff Dart is struggling with. Do you disregard one law, and risk inviting similar disregard for other laws? Enforce a law that runs counter to the best interests of the governed, and risk public rebellion?

In this case, I look at the situation and ask, does anyone win by enforcing the eviction notices on rent-paying tenants? Certainly, the tenants lose. I think the eventual property owner loses, too. A property already housing loyal rent paying tenants is a more valuable commodity than one without, in a non-rent-controlled economy. And empty buildings are an invitation to arsonists and copper thieves. If enough people are evicted, public anger could also spark some ugly public demonstrations. Watts is not all that far in our past.

The answer here could be a temporary moratorium on evictions foreclosures for tenants who are current on their rent. The county could set up an escrow account into which continued rent payments are made, to be distributed to the eventual property owners. This would shelter the sheriff from charges of non-performance of duty, allow tenants time to relocate, if necessary, and maintain the value of the foreclosed property until it is sold.

I share Tracy's concern that the Sheriff is making decisions that should come from the courts and the politicians, but perhaps his decision is the impetus needed to inspire some creative problem-solving.We could sure use more of that.

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