Landlord Calls ICE on Immigrant Couple for Requesting Deposit Back

Getting their security deposit back was supposed to be a simple task. All they needed to do is tell their old landlord where to send the check. But for this immigrant couple, a routine housing transaction soon became a life-changing nightmare.

The northwest-side couple had just moved from their apartment, leaving it clean and tidy, and requested that their landlord return their security deposit. Instead of doing what is right, the landlord became irate and refused to return their money. The landlord even threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the husband, an undocumented immigrant.

A demonstrator holds a sign reading “No Human Is Illegal” during a protest in Chicago against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Much to their shock and horror, he followed through on his threat. ICE came out and arrested the husband, who has been in their custody ever since. Now, a Chicago woman stands to lose much more than her security deposit. “This isn’t the first time we’ve received calls from renters whose landlords are threatening to call ICE on them”, said Javier Ruiz, a Hotline Counselor at MTO. This type of blatant, racist retaliation cannot and should not be tolerated in Chicago, a town that takes pride in its reputation as a sanctuary city. In 2018, A federal judge sided with Chicago, ruling that Trump does not have the authority to withhold federal funding just because it is a sanctuary city.

Today, we must resist policies like HUD’s proposed new rule that would prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving federal housing assistance. We must strengthen protections for undocumented Chicagoans. No human is “illegal”; landlords cannot be allowed to uproot families by reporting them to ICE! We must do all we can to ensure that no one is denied housing, public services, or resources based on their immigration status.

Tenants March on HUD HQ, Win Meeting with Top HUD Official

May 10th 2019

Mrs Johnson, a resident at
Barbara Jean Wright Courts, speaks about the living conditions at the complex.

Chicago, IL. – Twenty-five tenants and their supporters picketed outside the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices at 77 W Jackson in downtown Chicago today.  The tenants were sick and tired of inaction on the part of their landlords and the lack of oversight by HUD. One tenant asked, “How can I celebrate Mother’s Day in my home when my kitchen cabinets are falling apart?”  

It was almost a year ago today that HUD representatives met with tenants at a Town Hall meeting of subsidized renters organized by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO).  At the Town Hall, HUD representatives promised action. They assured tenants they would come out to the buildings and hold the landlords accountable to very basic housing standards.  

For the tenants living in Barbara Jean Wright Courts, Germano Millgate and Indian Trails Apartments, HUD has not made good on its promise.  Tenants are living with rats, bed bugs, holes in the walls, elevators that don’t work, plumbing problems and more. One parent, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, is worried that DCFS is going to take her children away because the conditions are so bad.

Tenants were preparing to deliver a letter to HUD officials demanding a meeting. As the tenants chanted, “HUD don’t delay, Repairs in time for Mother’s Day!” outside of HUD’s downtown office, Joseph Galvan, HUD’s Regional Administrator for Region V, came out to talk.  Jesse Johnson of Barbara Jean Wright Court asked Mr. Galvan to meet with the tenants and to inspect the complexes.  Mr. Galvan agreed to inspect the above three apartment complexes and to meet with the tenants in his office on May 31st.  The tenants left feeling fired up and ready to keep the pressure on HUD and their landlords to provide decent and safe housing.

Joseph Galvin (left), HUD Regional Adminstrator, talks with HUD tenants outside his office on May 10, 2019.

MTO’s Black History Month hero: David Wilson

February is Black History Month, a time to remember and celebrate the people and the history of the African diaspora, and we’re honoring staff member David Wilson as MTO’s Black History Month hero.  The following short story is part of what makes David and his work so special. 

Mr. Roberts inside his unlit apartment.

I don’t know what I am going to do but the property manager is over here threatening to change the locks and lock Mr. Roberts in. There’s no heat, or water, and the lights have been turned out!”. It was 4:30PM on February 11. David called the office to relay what was happening inside Mr. Roberts apartment at 7907 S Laflin. “They’re threatening to arrest anyone who enters the building to help him. I am not going to let the property manager do this” he said. For years the previous owners had allowed the building to slowly deteriorate. The current owner just wanted to vacate the building and force the tenants to move, so they quit doing repairs, turned off the water and heat, and threatened the tenants with invalid eviction notices. But the tenants fought to preserve their home against the unjust eviction. 

David and Victoria Ogunsanya, an attorney from the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, were at the building because the tenants had just negotiated a cash settlement to move-out. Mr. Roberts, a 70-year old black man who uses a wheelchair, was the last remaining tenant. For many like Mr. Roberts, this building was home.  One tenant had lived there for 28 years.  Mr. Roberts had lived in the building for more than 10 years.  He lived on the second floor, which was not the best situation because he always needed assistance to go out.  Even though the conditions were horrendous by the end, Mr. Roberts was more terrified of ending up in a shelter.  This place was his home; he could afford the rent.  And now his property manager was threatening to put him on the street. David didn’t budge. He let the manager know that there was no way Mr. Roberts was going to be left alone in the cold, dark building.  With the joint effort of MTO and other tenants, we were able to find him a place to go.  In the end, with the help of six strong people, Mr. Roberts was moved to a new temporary home.

David Wilson

When asked about the incident, David said, “It’s really horrible how heartless and uncaring the manager and the owners were.  I kept thinking ‘is this how you would want your mom or dad treated?’” Unfortunately, there are too many landlords like this. “Its why tenants need to organize and why Chicago needs better laws”, he said.

David has been with MTO for over 19 years as a tenant leader, Board member and now as a community organizer.  Every day David brings his fearless determination and compassion to his job. And Chicago’s low-income renters are better off for it.

Another Eviction Prevented

Lead poisoning has been in the headlines ever since the Flint water crisis brought national attention to the problem. Chicago is grappling with its own lead poisoning crisis, which is hitting our youngest residents the hardest. Imagine if you found out your child had lead poisoning. No parent wants to receive that type of news. Now imagine that your two youngest children – twins – have elevated lead blood levels.

A deteriorating window frame with chipping and peeling paint with a distinct alligator pattern (which usually indicates the presence of lead based paint) inside Ms. W’s apartment.

This is how we first met Ms. “W”. After a local health clinic discovered her children’s elevated lead blood levels, Ms W contacted MTO, and a Healthy Homes organizer conducted a visual inspection at her home. The deteriorating plaster walls had started to disintegrate. Half of the window frames had chipped, peeled, and cracked paint. A subsequent inspection by the Chicago Department of Public Health confirmed the assessment – there were high levels of lead in the entire unit

Over the course of the next few weeks, MTO’s Healthy Homes Organizer provided a letter of support, collected visual documentation of the unit conditions, and shared resources for emergency housing assistance. While Ms. W. explored her options she received more devastating news, her three other children – all under the age of six – had also been poisoned. Now, her landlord was trying to evict Ms W and her family. When an unlicensed worker attempted to remediate the lead without proper safety protocols in place, MTO was able to get a city inspector to stop the illegal abatement, which was further harming her children. Ms W was partnered with a pro-bono lawyer to fight the eviction. While Ms. W. awaits to hear about a new apartment to move to she has expressed immense gratefulness for MTO’s assistance in her advocacy for safe and healthy housing.

But Ms. W wouldn’t have to experience any of this if Chicago had a proactive rental inspection program. The Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program (CHHIP) is a campaign lead by MTO to create just that. Hazards like lead, mold, pest infestations, and other asthma triggers can and should be caught before they become a crisis. The current building inspection system is a complaint-based service provided by city inspectors. This means that tenants hold the burden of requesting proper maintenance, property owners can neglect buildings without regular code enforcement, and families are forced to relocate or live with egregious conditions affecting their health. In today’s economy, moving is not always a viable option. We believe that the City should initiate a proactive inspection program that could identify home-based health hazards before they poison our children.

Lead Hazard sticker that was placed on door after formal lead inspection by the city of Chicago’s Department of Public Health.

Chicago’s lead poisoning crisis is silently harming our youngest and most vulnerable residents. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says, “no levels of lead is safe for anyone”. The CDC wants to eliminate lead poisoning in children by the year 2020. If Chicago wants to get serious about achieving this goal, we need to address the substandard housing that exists in our city and make lead prevention and remediation a priority. Our children’s lives are at stake.

MTO is excited to announce our continued partnership with the Chicago Community Trust through a 2nd year of being awarded CCT’s Housing + Health grant. Because of our supporters we are able to assist more Chicago renters and children with housing-health issues and organize for equitable solutions and policies that promote safe, healthy, and decent affordable housing for all. After all HOUSING is a HUMAN RIGHT! 

If you or someone you know is in need of information about their rights as a renter or in need of assistance from our Healthy Homes Team contact MTO’s Tenants’ Rights Hotline, M-F; 1pm-5pm at 773-292-4988 or visit our offices M-Th 1pm-4:30pm.