New App May Help Facilitate Tenant-Landlord Communications

Smartphone AppRenters in Illinois may soon find it easier to communicate with their landlords with the help of their smartphone.

As it currently stands, many Illinois renters turn to the Metropolitan Tenants Organization when they have an issue with their apartment or their landlord. The MTO does it’s best to settle disputes and ensure landlords are providing adequate service to their tenants, but the organization, which is comprised of roughly two dozen employees and volunteers, fields approximately 10,000 calls and assists 15,000 renters each year. In order to help streamline the process, the organization has partnered with the MacArthur Foundation to develop an app to speed up communications.

The app is called Squared Away Chicago, and it has many helpful features for both renters and landlords, including:

  • Sending time-stamped photos to landlords to better diagram issues.
  • Offering a companion form to explain the problem, rate the severity of the issue, and schedule a time when the landlord can enter the apartment.
  • Keeping track of past complaints so both renter and landlord have a digital trail of past and present maintenance requests.
  • Easing the distribution of mass messages such as maintenance alerts or inspections by allowing landlords to reach multiple tenants at once.

John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, said he believes the app has benefits for both renters and landlords.

“One of the goals with the app is to create a better relationship between landlords and tenants, or at least make that a possibility,” said Bartlett. “This makes communication easy and easily documented. When you’re on the phone, it’s so easy to forget. There are a lot of ‘he said, she said.’ [This] is a little more formal.”

The Prevalence of Phones

A greater amount of low-income renters are gaining access to the web through their smartphone, and oftentimes a phone alert is the best way to reach them. According to a recent Pew Research study, 43 percent of individuals making less than $30,000 a year own a smartphone. Related studies found that the majority of cell phone owners possess a smartphone over a “feature phone,” and 88 percent of all U.S. adults own a cell phone.

Sean Sullivan, an Illinois attorney who has handled many tenant-landlord cases, said he’s most excited about the app’s ability to keep a digital record.

“As a lawyer who handles many landlord-tenant disputes, I think this is a great idea. Oftentimes these cases are difficult to prove one way or the other because they usually just come down to the testimony of two parties with almost exactly opposite stories,” said Sullivan. “I look at this as a tool that can help prove the testimony of one side over the other.”

Despite his optimism, Sullivan said it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to get a judge to admit the digital records into evidence.

“The only snag I see with this as an attorney is in terms of the rules of evidence and how to get anything from this site admitted into evidence,” said Sullivan. “As an attorney, I may know there is a document or support for my client’s story out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is admissible as evidence.”

Sullivan finished by saying the app “is a great step in the right direction, and at the very least, it can provide attorneys with more facts to support their side in settlement negotiations.”

Related sources: Chicago Tribune, PCMag.com

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Same-Sex Couples Experience Extra Pitfalls During Divorce

Holding HandsA recent article by Judith Messina of CNBC examined some of the added difficulties same-sex couples face when going through a divorce. Sean Sullivan responds to the four pitfalls Messina outlined in her piece.

Pitfall #1 – Gay divorce is not legal in your state.

Sullivan: This is problematic for same-sex couples that traveled to another state to get married. For example, let’s say an Illinois couple drove up to Minnesota to get hitched. While they are legally married in the state of Minnesota, they aren’t viewed in the same light when they come back to Illinois. This can cause numerous headaches during the divorce. Since Illinois doesn’t view them as a married couple, they can’t process the divorce.

While it is encouraging that the Supreme Court recently overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that made for some changes and inroads on the federal level, it still did not address issues faced by same-sex couples on a state level. Same-sex couples may still have trouble collecting federal benefits even after the DOMA defeat because they are still living in a state where as of yet, gay marriage is not legal. Illinois state laws still need to catch up with the federal laws.

Pitfall #2 – Your assets are co-mingled, but still not legally joint.

Sullivan: While they aren’t right for everybody, a prenuptial agreement should at least be considered by all parties looking to wed. Don’t view it as a symbol of ‘lack of trust’. You can even draft up an agreement that expires after a certain amount of time, or one that is only valid when certain circumstances are met. At a minimum, have a discussion with your significant other. This is especially important to consider if you and your partner have been together for a long time. A prenup can clearly define pre- and post-marriage property, which would only speed up divorce proceedings in the event that the couple decided to split.

Pitfall #3 – You cannot agree on custody.

Sullivan: Custody agreements can cause headaches for same-sex couples for a variety of reasons. First, many same-sex couples decide to adopt, which adds an extra wrinkle to the custody determination, and second, very few judges have a wealth of experience when it comes to determining child custody in a same-sex divorce. Family Law attorneys and judges always want to ensure they make the best decision for the sake of the child, and that can be hard to do, regardless of whether the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex.

Pitfall #4 – You can’t find an attorney, financial advisor, or marriage counselor with expertise in same-sex marriage and divorce.  

Sullivan: This builds off the last point, and I believe it is one of the most important things to consider.

As laws continue to change for the better, same-sex couples are entitled to more benefits, tax breaks, etc. Attorneys are attempting to decipher what all the new legislation means, because they want to provide the best services possible to their clients. As much as they try to keep up with the new laws, not all attorneys are qualified or even willing to take the extra time necessary to deal with issues that are unique to same-sex couples. Same-sex couples should find an attorney that is sensitive their needs and willing to tailor their practice to the particular challenges faced by this new area of law.

This is particularly true in Illinois where the law now allows for civil unions but not legalized same-sex marriage. I’m excited to see where the legislation goes in the future.

Related source: CNBC

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Illinois Man Flees to Europe to Get Out of Paying His Ex-Wife

MoneyA former Chicago Board of Trade Chairman would rather leave the country than pay his ex-wife $18 million stemming from a ruling by the judge who presided over the couple’s divorce case.

Patrick Arbor, 76, is thought to have flown in Europe in lieu of making the payments to his ex-wife, Antoinette Vigilante. Arbor has been less than cooperative throughout the divorce proceedings, as he has repeatedly ignored the judge’s orders. The Cook County judge issued a bench warrant that calls for Arbor to be jailed until he pays nearly $300,000 to his ex wife stemming from a separate ruling.

Arbor was chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade from 1993 to 1999. His ex-wife filed for divorce last year, and the final judgment was issued Tuesday.

Reuters reached Arbor on his cellphone over the weekend, but he declined to speak to his exact whereabouts.

“I can’t talk about [the ruling],” he said. “I’m in Europe. I’m an Italian citizen.”

Sean Sullivan comments

I have handled numerous family law cases, and it typically takes a lot for a domestic relations judge to order someone to jail for contempt. However, they certainly have the power to do so. It typically only occurs in cases where one party to the lawsuit has consistently refused to abide by any rulings or orders of the judge.

My guess is there is more to this story than is being reported here. That said, jail is a possibility even in civil cases. I would never advise any of my clients to willfully disobey a judge’s order and risk infuriating the judge to the point that they would hold you in contempt, wherein the penalty could very well be jail.

Related source: Chicago Tribune