Blog: Building / Apartment Conditions

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

John Sees His Doctor

John is a young disabled man who has had asthma all of his life. John is unable to work and he lives on very limited resources and income from Social Security. John recently moved into a new apartment and every time there was a heavy rain, his apartment would flood. As a result, mold was visible on his living room walls and kitchen cabinets, which he would scrub with soap to remove the mold. John documented the damage and contacted his property manager every time it happened. The property manager tried to address the flooding issues with various repairs, but the mold continued to come back.

While seeing his doctor for something unrelated, John mentioned he had some difficulty breathing in his home sometimes. During his examination, the issue of the re-occurring mold came up. Because mold spores can trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals, the doctor was concerned that John’s housing situation may be the cause.

Luckily for John, his doctor works for PCC Community Wellness Center – a medical partner of Healthy Housing Chicago – a medical-legal partnership between LCBH, Loretto Hospital and PCC. The program is a bridge for patients to connect them to legal services, because health issues can be caused or exacerbated by unsafe housing conditions.

Shannon

During her annual checkup, Shannon’s doctor asked whether she was experiencing any stress. Shannon explained she was very stressed because the property manager at her building would not accept her rent, and she had received a five-day notice threatening to evict her from her apartment. Shannon’s doctor explained that they had a lawyer onsite and that maybe this lawyer could help her situation.

The lawyer that the doctor was referring to is from Healthy Housing Chicago. Last year, LCBH embarked on a new project with Loretto Hospital and PCC Community Wellness Center to develop a medical-legal partnership known as Healthy Housing Chicago. Located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, the hospital and adjacent clinic strive to meet the healthcare needs of low-income families in the community. The primary goal of Healthy Housing Chicago is to integrate legal services into a patient’s treatment plan to both improve their overall health outcomes, as well as their housing.

After the doctor’s appointment, Shannon walked down the hall to meet with the lawyer. Upon speaking with the LCBH attorney, Shannon learned that the landlord was required to accept the rent within the five-day notice period, and that if paid, the landlord could not continue with the eviction. The LCBH attorney told Shannon to try to pay the rent again, but to properly document the refusal, to protect herself from an eviction.

Albany Park Tenants Fight for Their Homes

Last winter, tenants living in an 18 unit apartment building in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood found out the building they called home had a new owner. Shortly after they were informed of the new ownership, tenants received a letter with two options: either leave their unit in 30 days or re-apply to remain in the building. Most of the tenants had limited resources and were unable to move within thirty days. Most of the tenants took the option to re-apply as a genuine invitation to remain in their homes with no interruption to their lives. However, the so-called re-application process was only a disguise of goodwill when, in fact, the new owner’s plan was to remove all the tenants. The terms of the new rental application and rental agreement were designed so that none of the current residents could qualify. Frustrated and upset, and now threatened with eviction, the tenants contacted Centro Autonomo, a community based organization located in Albany Park for help. Centro Autonomo helped organize the tenants and they contacted LCBH to help form a tenants association. After much negotiation, the new owner responded to the formation of the tenants association and the threat of fighting the evictions in court and decided to negotiate with the tenants.

Humboldt Park Building Falls into the Hands of Unscrupulous Developer

The housing landscape of many Chicago neighborhoods is changing quickly, especially in terms of affordability and stability. Buildings are being sold to developers, many times from outside Chicago, who increase rents and push out long-term residents. Humboldt Park is one of these neighborhoods. Tenants living in a 44 unit apartment building in Humboldt Park received notices informing them the building had a new owner and they had 30 days to move. As soon as the notices expired, the remaining 20 remaining tenants, who were unable to move, had evictions filed against them by the cash investors who purchased the building. LCBH attorneys tackled this matter head on in both eviction and building courts.

With the assistance of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), a citywide organization that helps tenants organize to assert their collective rights, LCBH was able to form a tenants association to request more time and relocation assistance from the new landlord. These requests were ignored.

Neighborhood

This summer, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) teamed up with the John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program and Heartland Alliance to help a family in crisis get a fresh start. The Ali family had recently fled Syria during the civil war and escaped to the US where they hoped to establish a new life. They moved into an apartment building that had a bedbug infestation, and soon their small children suffered from bed bug bites that required ongoing medical attention. To make matters worse, the landlord refused to treat the infestation and had threatened the family suggesting he could interfere with their application for asylum.

The family did not speak much English and they were at a loss about how to best to protect themselves. Without steady income and paying for mounting extermination and medical cost, soon the Ali family found themselves in eviction court. For any family, facing a legal system can be very intimidating and foreign, even to those who have lived their entire lives here in America.

Chicago apartment buildings

During a hot and sticky Chicago summer, Grace and Robert Merkel moved into a single-family home with their six children. Shortly after moving in, the Merkels encountered mold and mildew growing on the walls, ceiling, and carpets. There were roaches and bed bugs in the home, holes in the walls and ceilings, and leaky plumbing. During each of the three winters that the family lived in the home, there was also insufficient heat.

At first, Mr. Merkel attempted to resolve the heating issue himself. He paid to have the furnace fixed, and eventually bought space heaters for each of the bedrooms. Still, the temperature hovered in the 40’s, and the family was forced to wear their winter coats indoors. To address the mold and mildew issues, Robert bought various cleaning supplies but they did not help. The Merkels told their landlord of their issues and he refused to hire a qualified professional to remove the mold. In the meantime, several of the couple’s children developed chronic respiratory irritation due to the constant cold, mold, and mildew they experienced during the winter months. The landlord refused to hire an exterminator, so Robert bought sprays to deal with the bed bugs and roaches, but they repeatedly returned.

Chicago neighborhood

Gentrification. We hear that word a lot about Chicago’s neighborhoods on the city’s north and northwest sides. What is gentrification? Gentrification is defined as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.

Renters in one building in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood know the effects of gentrification first hand. Over the last three years, their building had gone through foreclosure and the court appointment of a property manager. Last year, a developer purchased the property. The developer appeared to be doing things correctly, providing tenants with proper notices and managers to handle the needs of the building. Then construction began on the building; residents were enthusiastic about the improvements to be made to the building. However the construction turned into unsafe conditions; porches were torn down without notice; unannounced water shut-offs; and loud construction. After the improvements started to take place, each tenant received a thirty-day notice to move. They soon realized that after the building received upgrades, they would no longer be able to afford to rent their current homes.

Cold Chicago Winter

January in Chicago usually consists of sub-zero temperatures and high winds. The kind of weather that insists that you stay inside, nice and warm in your home, with your family. Sadly, that nice, warm home was not an option for some tenants in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood whose building had serious issues affecting their health and safety.

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) often collaborates with various community organizations, like the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), to address building issues in Chicago. MTO offers a tenants’ rights hotline for people to report building problems, and MTO had received calls from multiple tenants at the South Shore building complaining that they did not have heat. MTO went to the building to investigate. The building conditions were poor. Not only was there no heat, but tenants also had no running water due to frozen pipes and parts of the ceiling were breaking off inside some of the units.

Problem Landlord List at City of Chicago website

Chicagoans now have access to a useful new tool when looking for an apartment to rent – a list of “Problem Landlords.” The list identifies residential building owners who have been repeatedly cited for failing to provide tenants with basic services and protections, such as adequate heat, hot water, and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The landlords listed have three or more serious building code violations, or have been found liable in two or more administrative hearing cases about their building(s). The list will be updated every six months. This list is available at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/building-code....

The City also publishes another useful list for tenants to review – the Building Code Scofflaw List. This list (also found at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/building-code...) identifies residential building owners who have three or more properties that are the subject of active Circuit Court cases and the building code violations remain uncorrected after the second court hearing . This list is updated once a year.

Daniela with her sons

Your gift to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing is a meaningful investment in our very own Chicago community to ensure everyone has a safe, decent and affordable place to call home. You can take a stand to show support for families who are living in terrible conditions, or facing homelessness, with little or no access to the courts that are supposed to protect them.

I would like to share with you the story of Daniela, a strong, funny, and determined single mother of three sons, Alex, Gabe, and Tom. Daniela works over 45 hours a week at two part-time minimum wage jobs, making less than $18,000/year, trying to provide a good home for her family.

Daniela’s family had previously been living in a building that went into foreclosure. Even though she had been paying rent and had a lease, the family was evicted when the lender took over the building. Daniela was able find a two bedroom apartment in a modest neighborhood for $950/month, more than 60% of her gross income. It was not in her previous neighborhood where all of her family, friends, and children’s schools were located, and the apartment had problems that needed to be fixed, but it was the best she could find. Prior to signing the lease the landlord assured Daniela that all of the problems would be fixed, but when the fall’s cold snap arrived Daniela and her boys had no heat. After Daniela made numerous requests for heat, she received an eviction notice.