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.

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.

Stronger Together: A Logan Square Tenants Union

Lately, LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) attorneys have been working with many renters confronted with displacement and eviction because of redevelopment. In the Logan Square neighborhood stands an extraordinary apartment building. It was quaint, diverse, and had rents of only $600 - $700 a month. It had one vintage elevator with an iron gate to close. The building was close to public transportation and lots of shops, and was in a safe and quiet area. The renters living there loved most everything about it.

The building was sold to an investor who intended to gut and rehab the building, and, of course, substantially increase rents. In order to do this, the investor would need to vacate the building of its current residents. A few weeks before Christmas, a barrage of 30-day notices went out followed by eviction filings and court summonses. A few tenants attempted to renew their leases, but were refused. Some of the tenants moved out, accepting that they would no longer be able to live there.

During this push to move the tenants out, unpermitted construction at the property began. The construction was noisy and disruptive. The tenants watched as their building underwent rehabilitation that they would not have an opportunity to benefit from. At the same time, basic maintenance and repairs to their individual units had just about stopped completely.

Stronger Together: A Logan Square Tenants Union

Lately, LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) attorneys have been working with many renters confronted with displacement and eviction because of redevelopment. In the Logan Square neighborhood stands an extraordinary apartment building. It was quaint, diverse, and had rents of only $600 - $700 a month. It had one vintage elevator with an iron gate to close. The building was close to public transportation and lots of shops, and was in a safe and quiet area. The renters living there loved most everything about it.

The building was sold to an investor who intended to gut and rehab the building, and, of course, substantially increase rents. In order to do this, the investor would need to vacate the building of its current residents. A few weeks before Christmas, a barrage of 30-day notices went out followed by eviction filings and court summonses. A few tenants attempted to renew their leases, but were refused. Some of the tenants moved out, accepting that they would no longer be able to live there.

During this push to move the tenants out, unpermitted construction at the property began. The construction was noisy and disruptive. The tenants watched as their building underwent rehabilitation that they would not have an opportunity to benefit from. At the same time, basic maintenance and repairs to their individual units had just about stopped completely.

Claudine and Family

Claudine is a single, working mom who is raising her young daughter and teenage son in the West Rogers Park apartment that she has called home since 2007. Claudine has always been a good tenant; she pays her rent on time and takes care of her home. Unfortunately, she is one of the thousands of tenants in Chicago who, each year, find themselves living at the mercy of dangerously irresponsible landlords.

Last fall, Claudine noticed a leak in her ceiling. In October, she wrote a letter to her landlord asking him to fix it. He failed to respond and the leak began to grow bigger. In November and again in December, she made two more written demands for repairs. The landlord continued to ignore her requests.

On January 10th, Claudine woke up in the night to a huge noise coming from inside her apartment. The ceiling had caved in over her son's bed and debris had fallen directly on top of him. The collapse broke her son's computer and damaged the bed. It also caused Claudine's son to suffer a concussion and, several months later, he was still experiencing post-concussive symptoms such as headaches. Even after the collapse, the landlord refused to address the conditions in the apartment. Not only would he not fix the leak, but he wouldn't even patch up the hole in the roof or remove the debris. The bedroom became unusable, forcing the family to double up in the other bedroom.

Claudine and Family

Claudine is a single, working mom who is raising her young daughter and teenage son in the West Rogers Park apartment that she has called home since 2007. Claudine has always been a good tenant; she pays her rent on time and takes care of her home. Unfortunately, she is one of the thousands of tenants in Chicago who, each year, find themselves living at the mercy of dangerously irresponsible landlords.

Last fall, Claudine noticed a leak in her ceiling. In October, she wrote a letter to her landlord asking him to fix it. He failed to respond and the leak began to grow bigger. In November and again in December, she made two more written demands for repairs. The landlord continued to ignore her requests.

On January 10th, Claudine woke up in the night to a huge noise coming from inside her apartment. The ceiling had caved in over her son's bed and debris had fallen directly on top of him. The collapse broke her son's computer and damaged the bed. It also caused Claudine's son to suffer a concussion and, several months later, he was still experiencing post-concussive symptoms such as headaches. Even after the collapse, the landlord refused to address the conditions in the apartment. Not only would he not fix the leak, but he wouldn't even patch up the hole in the roof or remove the debris. The bedroom became unusable, forcing the family to double up in the other bedroom.

Bed Bug Notice Letter

Last year, the City of Chicago took a big step towards addressing the growing bed bug problem with the passage of an ordinance clarifying landlord/tenant responsibilities in the case of bed bug infestations. Under this new ordinance, renters are now required to notify their landlord in writing within 5 days of seeing, or suspecting, bed bugs in their unit, clothing, furniture or other personal property located in the building or of any recurring or unexplained bites, stings, irritation, sores of the skin or body which the tenant reasonably suspects is caused by bed bugs.

Once the landlord has received this notice or has observed or suspects bed bugs, the landlord must begin pest control services within 10 days. Pest control services consist of hiring a pest management professional to conduct an inspection, to treat the affected unit, and if necessary to treat the units on both sides and directly above and below. The landlord is to continue to treat the infestation in this manner until it has been resolved. Prior to an inspection of a renter’s unit, the landlord must give a written notice to the renter advising the renter of his/her responsibilities to prepare the unit for treatment.