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.

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.

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.

Cold Chicago Winter

Chicago just had one of its coldest winters in history – with the coldest four month period from December 2013 and March 2014 since record keeping began in 1872. With such harsh weather conditions, proper building and utility maintenance is even more important to protect the health and well-being of residents. To that end, this winter LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) focused on cases where utilities, such as heat (or lack thereof), were in question. In one such case, LCBH worked with renters in a large apartment building in the South Shore neighborhood where all of the units were without heat for the later part of January.

Renters Rights - Derechos de los Inquilinos

LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) helps preserve and protect safe, accessible, and affordable housing by providing legal assistance to renters living in unsafe building conditions as a result of deterioration or foreclosure. An important component of AHPP’s community impact is education outreach. AHPP hosts renters’ rights trainings in conjunction with partner organizations to provide information on various topics including evictions, fair housing and renter self-help remedies. In just the first three months of 2014, AHPP has coordinated six building meetings and participated in three renters’ rights training.

At a recent training in Rogers Park, coordinated by Lakeside Community Development Corporation, an LCBH attorney and Spanish speaking staff member met with a group of residents from a large apartment building. Based on attendee questions and Lakeside CDC’s suggested issues, the training covered a range of topics including: information about when a building’s management changes, the meaning of a month to month tenancy and how this differs from a one year lease, and the required steps needed before a landlord can legally change or terminate the terms of a rental agreement.

Bed Bugs

You may remember earlier this year when the City of Chicago earned the dubious honor of becoming number one in bed bugs (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/01/15/were-number-one-chicago-tops-in-c...). The City, along with a number of support agencies, has been addressing the problem on several fronts including providing information and resources to educate the public on what to do.

While the bed bug issue is disconcerting for all Chicago residents, it is even more problematic for renters and the City’s rental housing supply. Bed bug infestations can be a contentious situation where landlords blame tenants and tenants blame landlords. On June 5, 2013, the City of Chicago took a big step in solving the bed bug problem by passing an ordinance aimed at clarifying landlord/tenant responsibilities. “All Chicago residents have a right to feel comfortable and safe within their own homes,” Alderman Silverstein, one of the sponsors of the ordinance said. “This legislation will ensure that property owners and tenants are responsible for maintaining their property and will stop the spread of bed bugs throughout a building and to neighbors.”

Cokeitha and her son

We first met Cokeitha in May of 2011. At that time, she and her son were living with her mother and sister. Her mother was being sued in eviction court after a long dispute with their landlord over much-needed building repairs. Our legal staff was able to get the case dismissed, but the relationship with the landlord had deteriorated such that the negotiated settlement also required that the family move out of the apartment.

At the same time, Cokeitha’s father was also looking to move, so Cokeitha made plans to live with her dad and they found a nice apartment where they thought they would be happy. Given the circumstances, everything seemed to be working out fine, until suddenly and unexpectedly, a few weeks before they were set to move, Cokeitha’s father died. Heartbroken and grieving, she knew she was not able to afford the new apartment on her own. Her new landlord was understanding and allowed her to break the lease, but now Cokeitha found herself without a home. Cokeitha and her son stayed temporarily with family and friends, but not wanting to be a burden, she quickly found a very small apartment with a short-term lease for her and her son. A few months later, she found a better, larger apartment and has been living there happily ever since.