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.
What’s better than winning a case in eviction court? Not having to go to eviction court in the first place! That’s the philosophy behind the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) at LCBH. TAP relies exclusively on volunteers to resolve landlord-tenant disputes before they escalate, with the goal of keeping tenants in their homes and out of court.
For many months, LCBH was forced to reject many TAP cases that came in because there weren’t enough resources to handle them internally. Last fall, we began a partnership with the West Cook Pro Bono Network (WCPBN), an Oak Park-based group of attorney moms and solo practitioners looking to balance their passion for pro bono with the demanding requirements of family life. Every week, one or two WCPBN members sign up to be “on call” for LCBH and handle any TAP cases that come in that week. WCPBN volunteers are able to work from home on their own schedule and our clients are able to get great pro bono representation from a team of experienced and talented volunteer attorneys.
Since October, WCPBN volunteers have handled almost 20 TAP cases for LCBH! Here are a few highlights of their work:
Community organizing is one of the most important practices that renters can engage in when trying to affect change in a large apartment building. A group of organized and well-informed renters can often get a landlord to listen to them and have a better chance of getting management to respond to grievances.
Imagine if your basement constantly flooded due to poor drainage. Imagine if your heat went out regularly. Imagine being in a wheelchair and not being able to leave your home because no one has shoveled the snow. These are services that most expect their landlord to provide as part of regular building maintenance. Unfortunately, too many renters are living in buildings where requests are ignored or reasonable requests come with the risk of retaliation by the landlord, resulting in eviction. By stating demands as a group, tenants may find it easier to get management to look at problems and resolve them faster without being labeled as individual troublemakers.
Meetings provide opportunities for renters to become informed about their rights and responsibilities, and places where they can explore and ask questions about what organizing means for their housing. Successful tenant organizations meet regularly to identify and address important building issues that the renters collectively care about, such as a failure to maintain the building in a habitable manner.
In October of 2011, a dozen Albany Park families were on the verge of losing their homes and only had two weeks to move out. The building they lived in was going through foreclosure and to complicate matters, the owners had abandoned the property, leaving it replete with problems including a dangerous heating system, mold, faulty electrical wiring, and sewer backups. The pressing safety issues caused the city to place an order to swiftly vacate the property.
The families in this building included couples with small children, extended families and elderly couples enjoying their retirement years. They were very worried about moving and leaving the neighborhood they had come to love. They wondered whether they could find new affordable homes that were generally accessible, including accommodations for those with limited mobility. They worried about whether they would have to uproot their children from their schools and whether they would make new friends.
LCBH attorneys Samira Nazem and Aileen Flanagan (pictured), recently spoke with an ESL class at the Howard Area Community Center (HACC) in Rogers Park about housing issues including landlord and tenant responsibilities, maintenance problems, evictions and lockouts, and foreclosure.
The class is made up of recent immigrant adults to the United States who are trying to improve their literacy and comprehension skills.
Referral information and fact sheets were also shared with the group. Megan Thompson, an AmeriCorps VISTA with LCBH, is a volunteer tutor for the community center and helped organize the event.
In September, Eunice (see volunteer spotlight this issue) won a great victory for one of her clients’ and for LCBH. The clients were a couple whose landlord had filed an eviction against them for nonpayment of rent. They explained that they only started withholding rent payments when the landlord ceased to maintain their building
The landlord’s neglect rendered the building uninhabitable. It was infested with mice and bedbugs, the electricity was unreliable, and the hot water worked only late at night. There was mold throughout their unit; some of the windows were broken and were never repaired. The landlord refused to fix any of the conditions despite repeated requests both by the couple and the City. Upon review of the case, Eunice also discovered there were security deposit violations.
In response to the eviction, LCBH filed defenses and counterclaims against the landlord based on his mismanagement of both the building and the clients’ security deposit. Initially, the landlord wanted to go to trial but soon discovered it would not be successful. Eunice negotiated a very nice settlement for her clients and was also able to get the eviction case sealed to protect her client’s credit rating. Thanks to Eunice’s hard work and sharp negotiation skills, her client was able to use that money to move into a new apartment and have a fresh start!