Homegrown podcast: Meet Melvin Sims of Tenants Rights Group LLC

Step 4 to homeownership: Know your landlord-tenant rights

“How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots?” This was a variation on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idiom that my grandfather would mumble all the time while watching the news. My grandfather wasn’t a rich man. But he wasn’t hurting either — postal office retiree, invested in stock and owned his three-bedroom home outright.

Regardless of being financially stable, I always took note that he seemed particularly irritated by those who criticized the working poor. Charities and activism were priorities for him, specifically for those who were visually impaired (although he wasn’t). His outspoken views on the economy and activism didn’t fall on deaf ears.

Click here to listen to Episode 4 of “Homegrown: An Ode to Sugarbowl Sam

Dr. King’s quote “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps” kept running through my mind recently while talking to a couple of property managers about the eviction freeze in Chicago for those who couldn’t pay their rent. (It also carried over to condo owners with sizable balances.)

Sheriffs flat-out refused to come out to serve legal notices or eviction notices for several months. Interestingly, in surrounding suburbs, I spoke with property managers who confirmed evictions didn’t seem to stop. Although I’m not even slightly a fan of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, this was an ordinance (COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance) that she and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted that I didn’t disagree on — with a few exceptions for those who owed money way before we even knew what coronavirus was and just refused to pay.

I’ve been a tenant for far longer than I’ve been a homeowner. I remember what it was like scrambling to pay rent; it was only three years ago! I also made the spontaneous (and not very financially responsible) decision to quit my job a few months after I bought my condo, but I already knew I could afford to do so with the number of freelancing clients that I had.

Then COVID-19 stepped in, and those clients I was depending on were losing money in their own companies. As they lost money, I lost money and sincerely reconsidered (and dreaded) going back to Corporate America. My mortgage had to be paid regardless. At one point, I considered selling my car for a bit of a cushion.

How unemployment and COVID-19 affected tenant rights

The vast majority of tenants and owners who were scrambling to pay rent (or mortgages) didn’t have the luxury of quitting their job voluntarily. They were terminated or laid off through no fault of their own — for a pandemic we were not prepared to handle. The worldwide pandemic has lead to 173.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 3.7 million deaths. In the United States, it’s 33.2 million cases and a little over 595K deaths. Nonessential businesses lost loads of money. Employees had nowhere to make money, unless they switched to the few essential jobs available. And more than 7.9 million people were left unemployed between 2020 to 2021 during the outbreak.

So how is someone supposed to pay rent (or bills) without a job? And how does one handle a landlord who wants their money (and rightfully so) because they still have to pay the same bills and mortgage and repairs for the property they’re managing and the one they’re living in? If the tenant stops paying, the landlord (or property manager) is stuck paying for everything.

As a homeowner with a social circle of landlords, I’m torn on this topic. For 17 years, I was a renter. Now I’m a current condo owner and a Homeowners Association condo board treasurer (and former president) who knows our bylaws stipulate collection of payments. My views on evictions are equivalent to a seesaw with an even weight on it; I see both sides. And I knew the right person to talk to for more info.

In my fourth episode of “Homegrown: An Ode to Sugarbowl Sam,” Melvin Sims, a tenants-rights attorney I’d previously interviewed for CBS Chicago, had valuable insight on this issue. Join us as we talk about the Cook County Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance, the national eviction moratorium linked to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has to say about tenant evictions, and how law firms like his are helping landlords and tenants.

For more information on Melvin Sims, Esq., click here.

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