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.

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.

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.

Pro Bono Keeps Talented Lawyers on TAP

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:

Why Renter Organizing Matters

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.