Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Consumer Protection Implications in Illinois Eavesdropping Law

Until recently, Illinois had one of the strictest eavesdropping statutes.  In short, in almost every circumstance, it was illegal in Illinois to record a conversation without the consent of all parties involved.  Other states have “one-party consent” rules that permit conversations to be recorded as long as at least one party in the conversation consents to the recording.  In most of these cases, as you might imagine, the person doing the recording often is the person who has consented.  However, according to a recent article in the National Law Review, the Illinois Supreme Court recently struck down the very broad eavesdropping law in our state.  And this decision could have important implications for consumers dealing with debt collection and mortgage servicers.
Have you been harassed by a debt collector who lied to you over the phone?  Or perhaps you’ve had a conversation with a mortgage loan servicer who instructed you to stop paying your mortgage? Now, Illinois residents are going to have more freedom to record these conversations and to file claims when they have proof that they’ve been treated unfairly.  At the Emerson Law Firm, our experienced consumer protection attorneys and foreclosure defense lawyers are eager to help with your case, and we’re here to answer your questions today.
Broad Illinois Eavesdropping Law Deemed Unconstitutional
Before the recent Illinois Supreme Court Decision, Section 14-2 of the Illinois Criminal Code made it a felony offense for individuals who “knowingly use an eavesdropping device to record or intercept another’s conversation” without the consent of all parties involved.  This law was known as a “two-party consent” rule.
However, in People v. Melongo, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the two-party consent rule of the Illinois eavesdropping statute was unconstitutional.  The case began in 2010, when Annabel Melongo recorded phone conversations she had with a court reporter supervisor in Chicago.  Melongo had recorded the conversations in an “attempt to correct an error in a court transcript” that suggested she had not been in the courtroom during a proceeding, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.  Melongo “later posted audio of the phone discussions on a website she created and her computer-tampering case.”
Melongo was charged with violating the Illinois eavesdropping statute and remained in jail after a 2011 jury deadlocked.  After appeals, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the Illinois eavesdropping statute is “overbroad and not narrowly tailored enough to meet constitutional standards,” according to the article in the National Law Review.
Why’d the Court decide as it did?  The Chicago Tribune detailed some of the Court’s reasoning.  In particular, the statiute was intended to protect “conversational privacy,” but in practice, it actually “criminalizes the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street . . . or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others.”  As a result of the Court’s decision, the law is currently unenforceable unless Illinois legislators enact a new eavesdropping statute.
Implications for Consumer Protection
When the eavesdropping statute remained good law, consumers weren’t legally permitted to record conversations with debt collectors or loan servicers.  However, as long as the law remains unenforceable, it may be possible for Illinois consumers to record phone calls in which debt collectors or mortgage loan servicers tell falsehoods.  Have you received threatening or harassing phone calls from debt collectors or loan servicers?  You may be able to file a claim for compensation.  Contact the consumer protection attorneys at the Emerson Law Firm today.
See Related Blog Posts:
Incentives to Buy Illinois Foreclosures

Monday, April 14, 2014

Distressed Illinois Properties Afflict Neighborhoods

We’ve heard that the foreclosure crisis has essentially come to an end—or at least shown signs that the end is near—across the country.  However, a recent article in the Chicago Tribune suggested that signs of the foreclosure epidemic remain salient in Chicago neighborhoods and others across the state.  What’s the problem?  According to the article, Illinois just hasn’t completed enough foreclosures.  Indeed, there’s a “backlog of distressed and abandoned properties” in the state that “drags down neighborhoods that can least afford vacancies and blight.”
The presence of abandoned and unsightly properties goes hand-in-hand with Illinois foreclosures, as many homes went into disrepair when their owners couldn’t make monthly mortgage payments.  RealtyTrac ranked Illinois as the third worst offender in terms of the number of foreclosures yet to be completed (putting only Florida and California head in the total number of foreclosures).  Many Chicago residents want their home values to increase, but that’s not likely to happen if neighborhoods remain blighted by abandoned properties.  If you have questions about your rights as a homeowner or a consumer, contact the dedicated foreclosure defense attorneys at the Emerson Law Firm.  We have years of experience dealing with the foreclosure crisis in Illinois, and we can answer your questions today.
Vacant Properties and Potential Homebuyers in Chicago
With the economy entering recovery, many Illinois residents are looking to buy homes.  Yet abandoned properties that have gone into foreclosure but haven’t been completed aren’t available.  Based on recent data from RealtyTrac, Illinois citizens “yearning to buy empty homes” would be better off “if the state completed more foreclosures.”  Indeed, according to the article in the Chicago Tribune, the key to real estate recovery doesn’t appear to be avoiding foreclosure.  Instead, it’s about getting “these eyesores on the market, so buyers can fix ‘em up or tear ‘em down.”
How bad can it really be?  The housing crash happened more than seven years ago, and there are still approximately 18,000 vacant properties in Chicago alone.  The Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University emphasized that, by the end of 2013, more than 18 percent of residences in the Englewood neighborhood “had been unoccupied for at least two years.”  More than 9 percent of Humboldt Park residences have been vacant for more than two years, and 8.5 percent of homes in Austin have met this “two-year vacancy rate.”  Poorer suburbs report similar numbers, with a 9.1 percent vacancy rate for residential properties in towns in south Cook County where residents make up lower socioeconomic brackets.  The Chicago Tribune put it starkly: “Those properties sit, rotting.”
Yet it’s important to note that the problem is not rampant in wealthier areas of Chicago and in wealthier suburbs.  The Loop, Near North, and Lincoln Park appear to be doing just fine.  In those neighborhoods, along with suburbs like Winnetka, “housing has staged a comeback amid strong demand.”
What’s Causing the Foreclosure Backlog?
A couple of explanations exist for the Illinois foreclosure backlog.  First, while recent Illinois legislation intended to speed up the foreclosure process, it might actually have slowed it down in the short term since lenders and servicers need time to adjust to such changes.
Some commentators believe the slowdown is a result of Attorney General Madigan’s lawsuit against Safeguard Properties, a firm that “lenders use to secure buildings in foreclosure.”  Others believe the rising number of short-sales might be a cause, while still others wonder if banks’ efforts to prevent foreclosures are resulting only in abandoned, decrepit properties.
If you have questions about how the foreclosure crisis might affect your chances to sell or buy a home in the Chicago area, contact an experienced Illinois real estate attorney today.
See Related Blog Posts:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Incentives to Buy Illinois Foreclosures

Are you currently in the market for a new home and thinking about buying a foreclosure?  According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “are upping the incentives to interest consumers, rather than investors, in purchasing foreclosed properties and making them their homes.”  Right now, there are approximately 31,000 foreclosures for sale through Fannie Mae, and the federal lender has agreed to cover 3.5 percent of the final sale price for buyers in certain states. Luckily for Chicago residents who are thinking about buying a foreclosure, Illinois is one of the 27 states where Fannie Mae has offered this incentive.
Are you thinking about purchasing a foreclosure? Or are you at risk of foreclosure in your current Illinois home?  The experienced real estate attorneys and foreclosure defense lawyers at the Emerson Law Firm have been handling foreclosure matters in Illinois for years.  We can answer your questions about Chicago foreclosures today.
Details of the Fannie Mae Incentive
The 27 states that are eligible for the incentive are those with the highest number of foreclosed homes, owned by Fannie Mae, that are currently in a state of limbo.  In fact, “75 percent of the foreclosed homes” that Fannie Mae has repossessed are in the states qualified for the incentive.
But the incentive isn’t available to all foreclosures.  The properties must be part of Fannie Mae’s First Look program.  In this program, homes are placed in a “20-day period” in which they’re “only marketed to owner-occupants before they can be bid on by investors.”  In other words, the incentive offer isn’t available to investors—it’s intended to help potential homeowners to buy a foreclosure that they’re planning to reside in.  Recently, there were 130 homes in the Chicago area that were part of the First Look program, and these properties included an “assortment of condominiums and single-family houses,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
And potential buyers also might be able to get additional financing for renovations if they’re not satisfied with the current state of the property.  Yet commentators emphasize that these homes for which the incentive applies “aren’t all the horror stories of standing water in the basement, torn-out pipes and missing furnaces.”  While some of the properties “may have dated interiors,” most of them are move-in ready for all intents and purposes.  Indeed, the properties currently available through the First Look program “range from a $464,900 two-bedroom condo near Water Place to a gutted, boarded-up four-bedroom, $3,150 home in the Englewood neighborhood.”
What do potential buyers have to do to get the incentive?  If you’re thinking about purchasing one of the foreclosures listed in the First Look program, you will need to make an initial offer on the property by March 31, 2014, and you’ll need to close on the house by May 31, 2014.
There’s a Freddie Mac Incentive, Too
Fannie Mae isn’t the only one offering an incentive for buying a foreclosure.  Freddie Mac has also offered potential buyers in 23 states, of which Illinois is one, $500 to use for “condominium association dues, flood insurance premiums, or a home warranty.”  There are even more properties that are eligible for this incentive, as Freddie Mac owns approximately 12,000 foreclosures nationwide.  In Illinois alone, there are about 1,000 properties that will qualify buyers for the $500 incentive.
If you have questions about how these incentives work, or if you need advice about Illinois foreclosures, contact an experienced Chicago real estate lawyer at the Emerson Law Firm today.
See Related Blog Posts:
First-Time Buyers Interested in Buying Foreclosures