Chicago-area sheriff halts foreclosure evictions

CHICAGO (AP) — Sheriff’s deputies in the county that includes the city of Chicago were ordered Tuesday to stop carrying out mortgage foreclosure evictions for the second time in two years.

Two years after temporarily halting foreclosure evictions to prevent innocent renters from being put on the street, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he is now halting evictions ordered by some of the nation’s leading lenders after learning some of their employees had signed off on them without even reading foreclosure documents.

Dart, who is preparing to run for mayor of Chicago, said there are about 500 evictions he could carry out now and perhaps another 1,000 he could carry out within days but that he won’t do it until he receives an affidavit from each of the banks asserting all their evictions are legitimate.

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“Before I am asked to put more families out on the streets I am going to require the banks to tell me one basic thing: that it is all legal, that they have done their job and they are not asking me again to do something that’s horribly unjust and in some cases may even be illegal,” Dart said at a news conference.

Dart said his deputies will simply serve notices to residents of an eviction order until the end of this week. He said if he doesn’t receive the requested affidavits by Monday, he will not enforce eviction orders from Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and GMAC/Ally Financial.

Bank of America and GMAC/Ally Financial did not immediately return a call for comment, and a spokesman for JP Morgan Chase declined to comment.

Dart’s announcement comes a day after Bank of America announced plans to resume seizing more than 100,000 homes in 23 states, saying it had the legal right to do so despite accusations that documents used in the process were flawed.

It also comes as the sheriff prepares to run for Chicago mayor after Mayor Richard Daley’s announcement last month that he would not seek re-election. Dart has not publicly said he is running, but people close to him have told The Associated Press that he has called people telling them he will do so.

Dart dismissed a suggestion that some might see his latest announcement as political “grandstanding.” He said he has been a national leader on the issue ever since halting evictions in 2008 until banks put procedures in place to ensure his deputies were not evicting renters who faithfully paid their rent and were unaware of their landlords’ financial problems.

Dart said he attempted to contact attorneys for the banks Monday but had not heard back from them. But he said he sees no reason why they cannot supply him with affidavits saying they have examined and verified each foreclosure.

He said such an affidavit would give him the confidence to carry out evictions again because it is illegal, a misdemeanor, to supply his office false information. He noted attorneys who signed such documents also would have to be careful because signing documents they know are false could put their law licenses at risk.

Dart said he is only halting evictions for those three lending institutions because they have acknowledged problems with their the eviction process, but he said his office is investigating paperwork from other institutions and if he finds problems, “I’ll sweep everybody in.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.