As housing foreclosures are on the rise, so are the city's eviction rates, which have more than doubled since the start of the year.

In response to these rising figures, the Sheriff's Office held a news conference at the Land Title Building yesterday, where Lt. Jim Lee, of the Civil Enforcement Unit shed light on the eviction process.

The process begins when a writ of possession is issued by the courts authorizing the Sheriff's Office to remove a property's inhabitants. In January, 42 writs of possession were issued. That number jumped to 101 in April, the most for any month this year, and stood at 68 on June 15.

The Sheriff's Office then serves the writ, which provides occupants with a brief period to make accommodations.

"The writ allows the occupants 21 days to vacate the property," Lee said. After this period expires, eviction can then be enforced.

During that period, an eviction date is set and posted. The Sheriff's Office attempts to contact the occupants to address any difficulties that may hinder eviction.

If extenuating circumstances are present, the office will reassess the eviction or refer occupants to city agencies for assistance.

Though uncommon, such cases do occur, Lee said.

At the time of eviction, the Sheriff's Office requires the bank or real-estate agent to provide for moving costs and 30 days of storage, Lee said.

He said that his office provides courtesies such as this to facilitate the process for all involved.

Lee also used the opportunity to address the problem of individuals who falsely identify themselves as sheriff deputies enforcing an eviction.

Many of these cases stem from conflicts between tenants and landlords who want to clear out their property, but do not have the Sheriff's Office's power of eviction.

Lee explained that renters' evictions are typically handled by landlord-tenant court officers, not sheriff's deputies.

Occupants can also be improperly pressured to leave by sheriff-sale buyers who have purchased the property but have not yet made full payment or received the deed, Lee said. This process can take up to two months, and until the deed is signed and a writ of possession is issued, such buyers have no authority to force occupants out, he said.

"People have to know that they don't have to vacate the property until the Sheriff's Office presents them with a writ of possession," Lee said. "There's no surprises with us." *