CHICAGO -- It first appeared in patches -- dark and spotty.
Then with each rainfall, it started to spread across the ceiling, taking on a life of its own.
Mary Williams said that when her landlord neglected to fix her leaking roof and clean up the mold in her bedroom, she stopped paying rent.
"I kept telling them, and they didn't care," Williams said. "In my mind, I was saying they'd have to take me to court. Once they take me to court, I'm going to go to the court and show them my living conditions because they won't come to fix the problem."
After the landlord filed a complaint to have Williams, a 52-year-old Chicago Public Schools Safe Passage worker, evicted, the two parties settled, allowing her to move out of the South Chicago apartment next month without having to pay the roughly $5,000 she withheld in rent.
In African American neighborhoods like Williams' South Chicago, landlords file for evictions at a substantially higher rate than in other parts of the city, according to a new report from the Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, a local housing advocacy organization that reviewed nearly 300,000 Cook County eviction court records for 2010 through 2017. In 2017, landlords in majority-African American neighborhoods filed for evictions four times more often than in white neighborhoods, the report found.
"This is not acceptable," said Randall Leurquin of the Lawyers' Committee, who analyzed the data for the report.
"We have a requirement to affirmatively further fair housing, and that's just not about obtaining a house, it's also about maintaining a house," he said.
But seeking an eviction is often the last recourse for landlords after tenants fail to pay rent because filing an eviction case is a costly process for landlords, according to property managers and attorneys who represent landlords. For example, Chicago ordinance keeps landlords from recovering attorney's fees in eviction cases.
"The idea that landlords who go to these communities, rebuild these properties and, in most cases, provide good housing would venture on a money-wasting and -losing process by filing disproportionately against communities of color is so nonsensical it boggles my mind," said Michael Griffin, attorney at Sanford Kahn, a Chicago-based law firm that files thousands of eviction cases every year.