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.
The City of Chicago was informed about the lack of heat in the building. The City sent out an inspector who found the building to be in dangerous condition. MTO contacted LCBH about the building and LCBH staff attorney Victoria Ogunsanya intervened on behalf of the tenants. The case was expedited to “heat court“ which are special rooms in building court set up during the colder months to hear cases related to heat issues. At the first hearing, the court ordered the landlord to turn the heat on within five days. While the landlord assured the judge that the heat would be turned on, at the return court date, the building still had no heat. The building court found that the building was uninhabitable, and the court ordered that a receiver be appointed to vacate the building. LCBH was able to secure relocation assistance from the City of Chicago of $1500 per tenant.
The relocation assistance helped make it possible for the tenants to quickly find new places to live, to pay their security deposits, first month’s rent, and to afford to move their possessions into their new homes. LCBH and MTO worked together to help these tenants once again find a safe, decent place to call home.