Chicago Family Faces Eviction After Questionable House Raid

Harris family chicagoIn Chicago's quiet Lincoln Park district, what could have prompted police to order a pre-dawn, 40-officer house raid that included two SWAT teams?

For the Harris family, whose lives have come unhinged since that early August morning, the reasons still aren't clear -- but the mess left in its wake could cost them their home, reports The Chicago Tribune.

After police blasted the Lincoln Park home with smoke bombs and accosted the family with rifles pointed, the elaborate raid resulted in only a few misdemeanor charges -- none of which were related to neighbors' initial complaints of gang- and drug-related activity.

The only chargeable offenses police could bring against the Harrises were claims of animal mistreatment -- among them, cuts and abrasions found on one of the family dogs, which, the family maintains, only occurred during the raid. (See the police press release on the raid here.)

And yet, as a result of a subsequent police-ordered home inspection which found several housing code violations, the Harrises now faces eviction on the house that they purchased more than 40 years ago -- all because of neighbors' largely unfounded claims.

"It's not the dogs," Mrs. Harris told The Chicago Tribune. "It's not us. They just want the property."

When Good Fences Don't Make Good Neighbors

Harris Chicago evictionIn rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in and around Chicago, it's not uncommon for the specter of race or class discrimination to rear its head. But as community disputes go, "the government doesn't want to get involved in he said/she said situations," says John O'Brien, chairman of the Illinois Real Estate Lawyers Association.

In cases where there are irreconcilable differences between neighbors, litigation might not solve anything, he says. "The ultimate answer is: One of these people is going to have to move, if at the end of the day it's a personal dispute."

But as far as eviction goes, "property rights have always been the bedrock of the law," O'Brien says. "They're not to be taken away capriciously."

Typically, neighbors have limited legal recourse in such disputes, unless they can prove that a public nuisance exists. But that doesn't stop some neighbors from filing complaints simply to get the authorities involved, says one Chicago lawyer uninvolved in the Harris case. From there, once a police-appointed home inspector is given access to the home, it's hard to dispute their findings.

While R.J. Harris, the 77-year-old family patriarch, admits that the home (pictured above) has fallen into disrepair, he says that he has never before been issued a building code violation. Now he faces dozens, including wiring issues, clogged gutters and unsanitary living conditions.

The Harrises have been given nine months to bring the home to code, but they say that they don't have the money to do it. They could seek a continuance on the court order, the lawyer says, but that would only serve to delay the eviction, unless they could pay to make all the required repairs.

The Right Way to Approach Neighbors

Unfortunately, neighbor disputes are an all too common aspect of homeownership, especially in cases where a neighbor's behavior can affect property value. While the motives of the Harris family's neighbors remain unclear, the best way to resolve property disputes is through direct communication, says Walter Malony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors.

"It's best to approach the situation with a "conciliatory tone, maybe even offering to help resolve the problem," he says.

The Harrises maintain that they were never approached directly by their neighbors with any particular grievances.

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