By John Gamino
322 South Laflin is a brick, two-story apartment building with broken windows and an unlocked front door. It wouldn’t look inhabited save for a few bottles of shampoo visible in one of the windows of the upper floor. It completed foreclosure in June of last year, when, like most foreclosures, it was sold back to the mortgage lender, Selene Finance LP.
A woman who lives nearby says that people still live there (“squatters’ rights”). After the housing crisis, says the woman (she declined to give her name), “people had no place to go so they moved in wherever they could get.” She points to a bullet hole in the basement window just left of the front door.
“Poor people had nothing and they took all their shit.”
“They”—in this case, Selene Finance LP—still haven’t claimed official ownership of the property. That’s because after the auction that completes the foreclosure process, it is incumbent on the new owner of the property to file the deed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. At the vast majority of foreclosure auctions in Cook County there are no buyers, and the properties go back into the hands of the mortgage lender. But it is not in the lender’s interest to claim ownership of the property until it wants to make a sale. As long as the deed goes unrecorded, the lender that owns the building can avoid property taxes, vacant building regulations and fees, utilities bills, and essentially all accountability for the property.
A months-long review of city records by the South Side Weekly uncovered numerous properties that are deteriorating and impairing the housing recovery in neighborhoods because lenders fail to update deeds and take responsibility for all the properties they now own.
“People left their homes and were forced out, and the city came in and boarded them up, but the banks don’t take ownership of the property,” says Mattie Butler, the director of Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN) and an activist with decades of experience fighting for affordable housing.
“You can’t even negotiate to get that property because they haven’t completed their filings for it,” Butler continues. “The only way you can go and trace the property is through the courts. You can’t go to the Cook County Deeds because the property is still registered [in the previous owner’s] name.”
“It’s one of the greatest crimes that’s been committed,” says J.R. Fleming of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.