The question is, how do we become better allies?

Today is International Women’s Day. On this day, women all across the world receive praises that go unsaid the rest of the year. It’s also a day for women like myself to reflect on what it means to be a woman, and how to stand better in solidarity with other women. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the women that I’ve met throughout the years as a Healthy Homes Organizer and the struggles they’ve had to face. The story of Ms. May sticks out in my mind.

I first visited Ms. May this past January, to take a look at the peeling paint in her home and talk about how to prevent lead poisoning. When I arrived at the home, it immediately became clear that the situation was much worse than I had initially thought. There was ice on the staircase and a broken faucet, which had gone unchecked for nearly a week. That resulted in a giant ice rink near the house – a clear and present danger to Ms May. Inside the house, there was mold on the kitchen and bathroom walls and holes in the foundation. There were rat droppings from an infestation that had been inappropriately handled by her landlord, with serious consequences.

Last October she asked her landlord to deal with the rat problem. The landlord, instead of hiring an exterminator, had brought an unqualified person who ended up leaving a bag of rat poison pellets on top of the dining table.  Her three-year-old daughter confused the brightly colored pellets for cereal and ended up ingesting some. Fortunately, the quick actions by Ms May resulted in a full recovery for her little girl. I bring this particular story up, because my initial reaction was to judge. How could someone leave rat poison on the table? How could she not realize that a young child might be attracted to the brightly colored pellets?

It took me a few minutes before I checked myself and realized that situations like this were never that simple, and it usually was not the fault of one person. Ms May had done the best she could given her circumstances. It was her landlord who should have made the repairs, promptly and efficiently. But that did not happen. The exploitation of low-income tenants, in particular mothers and caretakers is something far too common in the housing market. Women in these situations more often than not have to take on the burden of child-rearing and making ends meet. Adding substandard housing further increases that burden, and the health consequences from inadequate housing are severe. We can’t make every home safe, but we can support the people living there.

So the question is, how do we become better allies? How do we, as fellow women, lessen the burden of so many other Chicago women like Ms May? You can begin to stand in solidarity by calling your alderman and supporting the Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program that is designed to enforce building code standards and protect renters from health hazards. A move from the current building inspection system will help us prevent another story like Ms May’s and helps us in the effort to create safe housing for all. Healthy and thriving lives start at home, which is why every family should have safe, decent and accessible housing!

This story was written by Angelica Ugarte, Healthy Homes Program Organizer

We Know How To Stop The Epidemic Of Lead Poisoning. Why Aren’t We?

We know exactly how to eliminate lead hazards to keep children safe. Yet federal regulations that are supposed to protect families in any kind of housing, public and private, have lagged far behind current scientific research and mean thousands of children across the country are being poisoned by their homes.leadquote1-816x432

In fact, it’s just as common for families in run-down private homes in Chicago to be faced with the prospect of lead poisoning, a reality John Bartlett, executive director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, sees firsthand. The poor families who call [MTO’s] hotline are often forced into unbearable choices in private housing. Preventative measures are even rarer in private housing, as inspections aren’t required at all. As a result, parents often have no idea what they’re moving into. “The question becomes, is it better to have a home or not,” he said. “Do you end up in a shelter situation or do you take what you can get? Tenants lack the resources to go anywhere else, but they also lack the resources to stand up to the landlord,” Bartlett said. And they might risk getting kicked out of their home rather than an actual fix.

“Oftentimes landlords, instead of wanting to get rid of the lead, want to get rid of the tenant,” he continued. That’s a particular problem in private housing, where the protections against wrongful evictions are weaker. Some cities and states have instituted proactive rental inspection programs, which require housing to be checked at regular intervals, rather than waiting for a resident to make a complaint. That not only means that lead hazards are hopefully abated before poisoning becomes an issue, but that tenants who might fear taking action against landlords don’t have to shoulder the burden.

That proactive approach is what Bartlett has been pushing his city of Chicago to adopt. His group wants the city to mandate inspections every five years to catch lead hazards before children become poisoned. “If you’re not going out and pre-inspecting things, then kids move in, and they get poisoned.”

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How a Pro-Active Inspection Program Will Address Lead Poisoning

substrate damage window sillMonica loves spending time at home with her family. Unfortunately, her home has not always been a safe place for her children to grow and develop. Monica’s two year old son, Kyle, was diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels due to the presence of lead in their apartment. Despite her landlord’s assurance that he fixed the problem, repeat testing revealed that Kyle and each of his seven brothers and sisters had dangerously high blood lead levels.

Concerned about her children’s wellbeing, Monica immediately began looking for a safe place for her family to live. At the same time, Monica’s doctor at Erie Family Health Center contacted the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership between Erie Family Health Center and Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where an advocate was assigned to her case. Monica wanted to make sure her family could move into healthy housing without losing the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher that helped pay their rent. To help Monica break the lease and keep her voucher, the Health Justice Project worked with an Erie Family Health Center Nurse Practitioner to submit a reasonable accommodation request to the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). The request, which was approved by CHA, allowed Monica to transfer to an apartment where the children’s growth, neurological development, and endocrine systems would not be compromised by the presence of lead. flaking-paint-window

During the course of representation, the Health Justice Project uncovered that routine property inspections do not include lead assessments. This means that families housed through CHA programs could be approved to move into housing that presents lead poisoning risks like in the home Monica and her family were occupying. To ensure the health of Monica’s family, the Health Justice Project secured a Lead Hazard Home Test from the Chicago Department of Public Health in Monica’s new home. Test results showed no threat of lead exposure in the new apartment and Monica and her children were able to move in immediately.

When the Health Justice Project advocate called Monica a few weeks later to check in, she immediately noticed a change in Monica’s demeanor, “Every time I had spoken to her before, she sounded stressed and worried and preoccupied. But this time, she was really happy about the situation because she was finally in her new place and she knew that lead wasn’t a hazard anymore.” Unfortunately, Monica is one of the many tenants who experience the negative health effects caused by unsafe and unhealthy housing in Chicago. Lead poisoning causes irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system development, which may result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, developmental delay, seizures, and comas. Ultimately, these health conditions can lead to other social implications including academic failure, juvenile delinquency, and high blood pressure.

If Monica’s home had been inspected prior to their move-in date, her children could have avoided the lead exposure altogether. Instead, because of a lack of healthy housing policies, she and her children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead for years. Many cities across the United States are adopting best practices to avoid the health-harming effects and social implications of unsafe housing. We want Chicago to join in to help create and maintain a healthy housing stock for all our communities. The Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program is an initiative designed to enforce building code standards which will protect renters from health hazards in their home. To protect your own family, and other families from the negative effects housing can have on their health.

Read more: Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program (CHHIP).

Read more: How A Proactive Inspection Program Will Address Asthma

Sign the CHHIP Petition

 

If you are having Healthy Homes issues in your apartment, contact MTO’s Hotline for assistance at 773-292-4988, or notify your landlord directly online at Squared Away Chicago

If you would like to join the CHHIP campaign, contact Sheila at 773-292-4980 ext 231, or via email at sheilas@tenants-rights.org.

 

 

How a Pro-Active Inspection Program Will Address Asthma

Ms. Jones told her landlord right away when her daughters’ bedroom ceiling was leaking.  She told him that he needed to come look at it as soon as possible. But the landlord never showed up. 

ceiling1

In mid-June, when a heavy storm hit the Roseland community, her daughters were sleeping in their beds when suddenly the roof and ceiling came crashing in. Fortunately, the girls were not physically injured, but they remain traumatized by the incident. Two weeks passed before the landlord came. Ms. Jones had to put up plastic over the gaping hole in the ceiling.  Finally, the landlord came over to fix the roof – but he still hasn’t fixed the interior damage.  Mold continues to thrive. Her daughters both have asthma and can’t sleep in their room anymore because it causes their asthma to flare up.  Mold is a major asthma trigger.  Currently, they have to sleep in the same bed with their mother down the hall. 

But the repair problems don’t end there. All but one of the windows in this single-family home are missing screens. According to the Chicago Building Code Chapter 13-196-560, window screens are required from April 15 to November 15.  Again and again  Ms. Jones has told the landlord about the screens. He says he will get around to it but never does. Her family says they feel unsafe and can’t open their windows without dust and insects coming inside.

window

To make matters worse, there is a rodent infestation due to holes throughout the structure of the home. Mice are also a major asthma trigger. Ms. Jones has tried everything from traps to glue boards but until the holes are fixed, mice will keep coming in.  And her daughters will keep having asthma attacks at home, which means they spend additional money they don’t have on expensive medication and trips to the Emergency Department.

For renters across Chicago, this story is all too familiar. Ms. Jones has no mailing address for her landlord to send a certified 14 day letter so she has always sent him texts when issues come up. Tenants are responsible for notifying owners of issues immediately when they occur, but what can be done when landlords fail to respond? Small issues turn into larger ones, like a roof and ceiling crashing down in the middle of the night. The Chicago Building Code needs to be enforced.  Landlords should register their properties with the City so tenants have a resource for contact information for owners and the City has an inventory of properties. 

Major cities across the country are adopting proactive rental inspection programs to address issues such as absent, negligent owners. Programs require owners to register properties and cyclical inspections occur to ensure compliance with existing building codes. We believe all renters deserve to live in safe and healthy homes so we are working on bringing a proactive inspection program to Chicago. 

Sign the CHHIP Petition!

 

If you are having Healthy Homes issues in your apartment, contact MTO’s Hotline for assistance at 773-292-4988, or notify your landlord directly online at Squared Away Chicago.  

If you would like to join the CHHIP campaign, contact Sheila at 773-292-4980 ext 231, or via email at sheilas@tenants-rights.org.

Learn More: What Other Cities Are Doing

mold1Thousands of calls to MTO’s hotline are about building conditions – especially mold.  Mold only needs water and a surface to grow on.  Bad plumbing, structural deficiencies and water damage from flooding causes mold to thrive in buildings.

New York City Council just passed a mold-resistant building law that requires the use of mold-resistant building materials in areas that are prone to water damage and moisture issues. This is a huge step in the right direction towards recognizing and preventing the harmful effects of mold in the home and to a person’s health.  People with asthma are especially impacted by mold – since it is a major asthma trigger.

We applaud NYC Council in their decision and hope that cities like Chicago follow their lead. Join the fight for quality rental housing – Support the Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program (CHHIP)! Read more about mold and the new NYC law.

Cities across the country are adopting or have in place–proactive, systematic rental housing inspection programs to preserve housing stock and protect renters.  Those cities include:

Sign the CHHIP Petition

 

If you are having Healthy Homes issues in your apartment, contact MTO’s Hotline for assistance at 773-292-4988, or notify your landlord directly online at Squared Away Chicago.  

If you would like to join the CHHIP campaign, contact Sheila at 773-292-4980 ext 231, or via email at sheilas@tenants-rights.org.

Has your home been tested for Radon?

January is National Radon Action Month.  Everyone is encouraged to test their home for harmful levels of radon.  Radon is a natural colorless, odorless radioactive gas and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.  The EPA estimates that radon causes more than 20,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils.  It comes into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation.  All homes with or without basements should be tested for radon.  You can’t see, smell or taste radon.  It could be present at dangerous levels in the home without knowing.  The best time to test homes is during the winter month when windows are shut and elevated levels of radon are more likely to be detected.

The Chicago Department of Public Health recommends taking action to fix radon levels at or above 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L).  Addressing high radon levels sometimes costs the the same as other minor home repairs.  In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon.  For info on how to test, find a qualified radon professional or obtain a test kit at  http://www.epa.gov/radon or call the Cook County Radon Hot Line at 708-865-6177.  Also check out the EPA’s Radon Guide for Tenants.  Property owners are responsible for making repairs when radon is found in the home.  If you have further questions you may contact MTO’s Healthy Homes Program at 773-292-4980 ext 231.

Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO:

SECTION 1.

Section 2-112-160 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by inserting the language underscored and deleting the language struck through, as follows:

2-112-160 Commissioner – Enforcement powers and duties. The commissioner of health shall have the following powers and duties:

(a) Public health related powers and duties:

(1) To enforce all the laws of the state and provisions of this Code in relation to matters pertaining to the public health and sanitary conditions of the city;

(2) To enforce all regulations of the board of health or any other federal, state or local authority with power to make regulations concerning the public health;

(3) To cause all nuisances affecting the health of the public to be abated with all reasonable promptness;

(4) To determine when a disease is communicable or epidemic, and establish quarantine regulations whenever it is deemed necessary

(5) To enforce section 4-4-332. Article VIII of chapter 7-28 and all other code provisions applicable to bed bugs. (Omitted text is unaffected by this ordinance)

SECTION 2.

Chapter 4-4 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by adding a new Section 4-4-332, as follows:

4-4-332 Bed bugs.

(a) It is the responsibility of every licensee under this title 4 to provide pest control services when an infestation of bed bugs is found or suspected on any licensed premises. Everv licensee shall maintain a written record of the pest control measures performed by the pest management professional and shall include reports and receipts prepared bv the pest management professional relating to those measures taken. The record shall be maintained for three years and shall be open to inspection by the departments of health, buildings, and business affairs and consumer protection.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any licensee under this title 4 which provides sleeping accommodations for hire or rent for transient occupancy by guests to rent, hire, or otherwise provide, any such sleeping accommodation in which an infestation of any bed bugs is found or suspected, unless an inspection by the pest management professional has determined that no evidence of bed bugs can be found and verified.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply: “Pest management professional” has the same meaning ascribed to that term in section 7-28-810.

“Transient occupancy” means any occupancy on a daily or nightly basis, or any 1 part thereof, for 30 or fewer consecutive days.

SECTION 3.

Chapter 5-12 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by adding a new Section 5-12-101, and by adding the language underscored, as follows:

5-12-040 Tenant responsibilities. Every tenant must: (a) Comply with all obligations imposed specifically upon tenants by provisions of the municipal code applicable to dwelling units, including section 7-28-850: (Omitted text is unaffected by this ordinance)

5-12-101 Bed bugs – Education. For any rental agreement for a dwelling unit entered into or renewed after the effective date of this 2013 amendatory ordinance, prior to entering into or renewing such agreement, the landlord or any person authorized to enter into such agreement on his behalf shall provide to such tenant the informational brochure on bed bug prevention and treatment prepared by the department of health pursuant to section 7-28-860.

SECTION 4.

Chapter 7-28 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by adding a new section 7-28-370, as follows:

7-28-370 Disposal of furnishings, bedding, clothing or other materials infested with bed bugs.

(a) No person shall place, discard or dispose of any bedding, clothing or other materials infested with bed bugs on the public way or in a refuse container or dumpster located on the public way, except when such bedding, clothing or other material is placed in or near the person’s refuse container or dumpster for pick-up as trash and the bedding, clothing or other material is totally enclosed in a plastic bag and labeled as being infested with bed bugs.

(b) No furnishing, bedding, clothing or other material infested with bed bugs shall be recycled.

(c) For purposes of this section, “bedding” has the same meaning ascribed to that term in section 7-28-810.

SECTION 5. 

Chapter 7-28 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by adding a new Article VIII Bed Bugs, Sections 7-28-810 through 7-28-900, as follows:

Article VIII Bed Bugs.

7-28-810 Definitions. As used in this article, the following terms are defined as follows:

“Bedding” means any mattress, box spring, foundation, or studio couch made in whole or part from new or secondhand fabric, filling material, or other textile product or material and which can be used for sleeping or reclining purposes. “Commissioner” means the commissioner of public health.

“Dwelling unit,” “landlord,” “rent” and “tenant” have the meaning ascribed to those terms in Section 5-12-030.

“Multiple rental unit building” means a building which contains hwo or more rental units. A “multiple rental unit building” does not include a condominium or cooperative building.

“Pest Management Professional” means a person who:

(i) is licensed, registered or certified by the State of Illinois to perform pest control services pursuant to the Structural Pest Control Act. 235 ILCS 235:

(ii) has attended courses or undergone training for the proper method for the extermination of bed bugs; and

(iii) follows National Pest Management Association Best Practices for the extermination of bed bugs.

“Rental unit” means any dwelling unit which is not owner occupied and is held out for rent to tenants, including any single family home held out for rent to tenants.

7-28-820 Bed bugs-Nuisance. Bed bugs are hereby declared to be a public nuisance subiect to the abatement provisions of this chapter.

7-28-830 Bed bug infestation-duty to exterminate.

(a) In any rental unit in which an infestation of bed bugs is found or reasonably suspected, it is the responsibility of the landlord to: (1) provide pest control services by a pest management professional until such time that no evidence of bed bugs can be found and verified: and (2) maintain a written record of the pest control measures performed by the pest management professional on the rental unit. The record shall include reports and receipts prepared by the pest management professional. The record shall be maintained for three years and shall be open to inspection by authorized city personnel, including but not limited to employees of the departments of health and buildings.

(b) In any multiple rental unit building in which an infestation of bed bugs is found or reasonably suspected, it is the responsibility of the landlord to: 1) provide pest control services by a pest management professional until such time that no evidence of bed bugs can be found and verified within the building or portion thereof including the individual rental units; and (2) maintain a written record of the pest control measures performed by pest management professional on the building. The record shall include reports and receipts prepared bv the pest management professional. The record shall be maintained for three years and shall be open to inspection by authorized city personnel, including but not limited to employees of the departments of health and buildings.

(c) A landlord shall provide the pest control services within 10 days after: (1) a bed bug is found or reasonably suspected anywhere on the premises; or (2) being notified In writing by a tenant of a known or reasonably suspected bed bug infestation on the premises or in the tenant’s rental unit.

(d) The extermination of bed bugs shall be by:

(1) inspection, and if necessary, the treatment of the dwelling unit on either side of the affected dwelling unit and the unit directly above and below the affected dwelling unit. This pattern of inspection and treatment shall be continued until no further infestation is detected; or

(2) any other method approved by the commissioner in rules and regulations.

(e) A landlord may not knowingly terminate a tenancy, increase rent, decrease services, bring or threaten to bring a lawsuit against a tenant for possession or refuse to renew a lease or tenancy because the tenant has in good faith:

(1) complained of a bed bug infestation within the tenant’s rental unit or the premises in which the tenant’s rental unit is located to a competent governmental agency, elected representative or public official charged with responsibility for enforcement of a building, housing, health or similar code;

(2) complained of a bed bug infestation within the tenant’s rental unit or the premises in which the tenant’s rental unit is located to a community organization or the news media:

(3) sought the assistance of a community organization or the news media to remedy a bed bug infestation within the tenant’s rental unit or the premises in which the tenant’s rental unit is located;

(4) requested the landlord to provide pest control measures for a bed bug infestation as required by a building code, health ordinance, other regulation, or the residential rental agreement: or

(5) testified in any court or administrative proceeding concerning any bed bug infestation within the tenant’s rental unit or the premises in which the tenant’s rental unit is located.

If the landlord acts in violation of this subsection (e), the tenant has a defense in any retaliatory action against him for possession and is entitled to recover possession of the rental unit or terminate the rental agreement and, in either case, may recover an amount equal to two months rent or the damages sustained by him, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. If the rental agreement is terminated, the landlord shall return all security and interest recoverable under Section 5-12-080 and all prepaid rent. In an action by or against the tenant, if there is evidence of tenant conduct protected herein within one year prior to the alleged act of retaliation, that evidence shall create a rebuttable presumption that the landlord’s conduct was retaliatory. The presumption shall not arise if the protected tenant activity was Initiated after the alleged act of retaliation.

7-28-840 Condominium and cooperative buildings-plan for treatment of bed bugs.

(a) No later than 90 days after the effective date of this section, the governing association of a condominium or cooperative building shall prepare a pest management plan for the detection, inspection and treatment of bed bugs in the building. The plan shall include the provisions of section 7-28-830(c).

(b) The governing association shall maintain written records of anv pest control measures in the building performed by a pest management professional retained by the governing association and any report prepared by the pest management professional. The plan and records shall be: (1) maintained either on-site in the building or at the property management office: (2) maintained for three years: and (3) open to inspection upon request by authorized city personnel, including but not limited to employees of the departments of health and buildings.

(c) Every owner of condominium unit or a lessee with a proprietary lease in a cooperative shall immediately notify, in writing, the governing association of any known or reasonably suspected bed bug infestation in the presence of the unit or cooperative, clothing, furniture or other personal property located in the unit or cooperative, and cooperate with the governing association in the control, treatment and eradication of bed bug infestation found or suspected to be in the unit or cooperative.

(d) For purposes of this section the following definitions apply:

“Condominium unit” or “unit” has the meaning ascribed to that term in section 13-72-010.

“Cooperative building” means a building or buildings and the tract, lot, or parcel on which the building or buildings are located and fee title to the land and building or buildings is owned by a corporation or other legal entity in which the shareholders or other co-owners each also have a long-term proprietary lease or other long-term arrangement of exclusive possession for a specific unit of occupancy space located within the same building or buildings.

“Cooperative” is an individual dwelling unit within a cooperative building.

“Governing association” means the board of managers of a condominium homeowners’ association or the board of directors of a cooperative building.

(e) The commissioner shall prepare and post on the health department’s publicly accessible website a sample plan for the detection, inspection and treatment of bed bugs for the governing association of condominium or cooperative building. The sample plan shall set forth the best practices for the detection and treatment of bed bugs in such buildings.

7-28-850 Tenant Responsibility.

(a) Within 5 days after a tenant finds or reasonably suspects a bed bug infestation in the presence of the tenant’s dwelling unit, the tenant shall notify, in writing, the landlord of any known or reasonably suspected bed bug infestation in the presence of the tenant’s dwelling unit, clothing, furniture or other personal property located in the building, or of any recurring or unexplained bites, stings, irritation, or sores of the skin or body which the tenant reasonably suspects Is caused by bed bugs.

(b) The tenant shall cooperate with the landlord in the control, treatment and eradication of bed bug infestation found or reasonably suspected to be. in the tenant’s rental unit. As part of that cooperation, the tenant shall:

(1) not interfere with inspections or treatments:

(2) after reasonable notice in writing to the tenant, grant access at reasonable times to the tenant’s rental unit for purposes of bed bug infestation inspection or treatment:

(3) make any necessary preparations, such as cleaning, dusting or vacuuming, prior to treatment in accordance with any pest management professional’s recommendations: and

(4) dispose of any personal property that a pest management professional has determined cannot be treated or cleaned before the treatment of the tenant’s dwelling unit.

(5) prior to removing any personal property from the tenant’s dwelling unit, safely enclose in a plastic bag any such personal property while it is being moved through any common area of the building, or stored at any other location. The personal property shall remained enclosed in a plastic bag until such time that the property is either properly disposed of or treated and no evidence of beg bug infestation can be found and verified.

(c) Prior to inspection or treatment for bed bug infestation, the landlord shall send a written notice to the tenant of the rental unit being inspected or treated, which advises the tenant of the tenant’s responsibilities under this section and sets forth the specific preparations required by the tenant.

(d) This section shall not apply to any tenant of an assisted living or shared housing establishment, or similar living arrangement, when the establishment is required to provide the tenant assistance with activities of daily living or mandatory services. In such cases, the landlord will be responsible to make the necessary preparations, such as cleaning, dusting or vacuuming, of the tenant’s rental unit prior to treatment in accordance with any pest management professional’s recommendations. For purposes of this subsection, the terms “assistance with activities of daily living,” “assisted living establishment.” “mandatory services” and “shared housing establishment” have the meaning ascribed to those terms in the Illinois Assisted Living and Shared Housing Act. 210 ILCS 9/10.

7-28-860 Sale of secondhand bedding.

(a) For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:

“Act” means the Illinois Safe and Hygienic Bed Act. 410 ILCS 68/1.

“Bedding.” “manufacturer.” “renovator.” “rebuilder.” “repairer.” “sanitizer.” and “secondhand material” have the meaning ascribed to those terms in section 410 ILCS 68/5 of the Act.

“Secondhand bedding” means bedding that is made in whole or part from secondhand material or that has been previously used or owned.

(b) Every manufacturer, renovator, rebuilder. repairer and sanitizer of bedding whose product is sold in the citv shall comply with the Act.

(c) Every person who sells at retail any secondhand bedding shall post in a conspicuous location nearby the secondhand bedding a written notice in English. Spanish. Polish and Chinese that the bedding is made in whole or part from secondhand material or was previously owned or used.

(d) Every person who sells at retail any secondhand bedding shall provide to the purchaser of such secondhand bedding a written notice in English, Spanish, Polish and Chinese that the bedding is made in whole or part from secondhand material or has been previously owned or used.

(e) Every person who sells at retail any new or secondhand bedding shall inspect all material for soiling, malodor, and pest infestation, including bed bugs, prior to use, sale or distribution of the bedding. If any material in the bedding appears to be soiled, malodorous or infested with pests, the person shall not use, sell or distribute such bedding. If the bedding is infested with bed bugs, the person shall dispose of such bedding and material in an enclosed Plastic bag and labeled as being infested with bed bugs.

7-28-870 Public information. The commissioner shall prepare and post on the health department’s publicly available website:

(a) a brochure containing, at a minimum, the following:

(1) a statement that the presence of bed bugs in any building or dwelling unit is a public nuisance:

(2) information on how to detect the presence of bed bugs;

(3) information on how to prevent the spread of bed bugs within and between buildings:

(4) a statement that tenants shall contact their landlord as soon as practicable if they suspect they have bed bugs in their dwelling unit; and

(5) contact information as to where people can obtain more information: and (b) information relating to licensing, registration or certification by the State of Illinois to perform pest control services.

7-28-880 Rules. The commissioner of health and the commissioner of buildings shall have joint authority to promulgate rules and regulations necessary to implement this article.

7-28-890 Enforcement.

(a) Inspectors from the departments of buildings and health shall have authority to inspect the interior and exterior of buildings, other structures, or parcels on which a building is located for bed bug infestation and when any evidence is found indicating the presence of bed bugs at that site and to report such evidence to the appropriate commissioner.

(b) This article may be enforced by the departments of public health or buildings. In addition, the department of business affairs and consumer protection shall have the authority to enforce section 7-28-860.

7-28-900 Violation-penalties Any person who violates this article shall be fined not less than $300 nor more than $500 for the first violation, not less than $500 nor more than $1.000 for the second violation within twelve-months of the first violation, and (3) not less than $1.000 nor more than $2.000 for the third or subsequent violation within such twelve-month period. Each dav that a violation continues shall constitute a separate and distinct offense to which a separate fine shall applv.

SECTION 6.

This ordinance takes effect 180 days after its passage and approval.

 

Chicago Council passes Bed Bug Ordinance

The City of Chicago has recently been named the nation’s #1 city infested with bed bugs.  Everyday MTO’s tenants’ rights hotline receives calls from renters throughout the City and suburbs dealing with the pesky pests.  Bed bugs are not unique to Chicago.  They are undoubtedly a nuisance and hard to control.  Controlling bed bugs requires tenants and landlords working together.

On June 5, 2013, the City Council passed an ordinance aimed at putting an end to the spread of bed bugs.  This ordinance will go into effect December 23, 2013.  There are key components of the ordinance that all renters should know.  Let’s start with landlord responsibilities:

  • To supply a tenant starting or renewing a lease with an informational brochure
  • To maintain a written record of bed bug control efforts
  • To send a written notice to the tenant explaining their responsibilities before the inspection
  • To provide pest control services when bed bugs are found by a pest management professional as many times as necessary to eliminate the problem
  • To inspect within 10 days and treat if necessary the two units on either side as well as the two units above and below of the infested unit

The ordinance also outlines what tenants’ responsibilities are to help eliminate bed bugs.  Please note that this section of the ordinance does not apply to tenants living in assisted living or a shared housing establishment, when the establishment provides assistance with daily living activities.  According to the ordinance, tenant responsibilities include:

  • To notify the landlord in writing of any suspected or known infestation in the tenants’ unit, clothing, furniture or personal property within 5 days
  • To notify the landlord in writing of any recurring or unexplained bites, stings or sores suspected to be caused by bed bugs
  • To cooperate with the landlord in the control, treatment, and eradication of bed bugs including
  • To grant access at reasonable times upon reasonable notice for inspections and treatments/to not interfere
  • To prepare unit prior to treatment including:  cleaning, dusting, vacuuming
  • To properly dispose of personal property that cannot be treated or cleaned before the pest control services

The Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance also mandates the disposal of bedding, clothing, furnishings or other infested materials.  For example, you may not place, discard or dispose of any bedding, clothing or furnishings infested on the public way (i.e. dumpsters, sidewalks, hallways).  To get rid of infested items, you must enclose the item in a plastic bag and label it as infested.  Doing so should prevent neighbors from bringing to their home infested items, therefore stalling the spread of bed bugs.

The ordinance will be enforced by the Department of Buildings and the Department of Public Health.  If any person is found violating the ordinance, that person may be fined $300.00 to $1,000 per day for each offense.  By complying with the ordinance, these fees can be avoided.   The full ordinance can be found at www.cityofchicago.org.  You can make a request for a City inspector here.

For more information on tenants’ rights, please call MTO’s hotline at 773-292-4988/Monday-Friday 1-5 pm or visit www.tenants-rights.org/bed-bugs-faq. You can read the full ordinance here.

“The Link Between Lead Poisoning and Underperforming Students” Chicago Reader feature story

With mounting evidence that lead poisoning results in lower test scores, more children repeating grades, and worse, why has so little been done in Chicago to reverse the damage?

By: Megan Cottrell – Chicago Reader – October 31, 2012

Patricia Robinson recalls a time when she fondly watched her son, Michael, then a toddler, sit in the windowsill of her Englewood home, completely engrossed. Matchbox car in hand, he would run the toy back and forth over the brown painted surface, making little vrooms and beep-beeps as he played.

Ten years later, Robinson’s warmth for that moment has long faded. That was where it started—where she believes Michael ingested the lead-filled dust that poisoned him, leaving him with lifelong learning disabilities. “There isn’t a day I don’t think about it,” Robinson says. “It’s taken over my life.”

Doctors, organic food, costly tutors, special ed teachers—Robinson has tried whatever she can to help her son get ahead, despite the difficulties he’s faced because of lead poisoning. But Michael’s struggles to learn, to pay attention in school, and to get along with other children continue.

While there’s no doubt that the number of children affected by lead poisoning has dropped precipitously since the 70s (when lead was taken out of paint and gasoline), Chicago has the distinction of being home to more cases of lead toxicity than any large city in the U.S.

A recent study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the blood lead levels of third graders between 2003 and 2006—students now likely to be roaming the halls at CPS high schools. It turns out that at three-quarters of Chicago’s 464 elementary schools, the students’ average blood lead level was high enough to be considered poisoned, according to standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although lead poisoning is rarely mentioned in the debate on how to improve schools, the UIC research shows just how much it may be damaging kids’ ability to succeed. According to the study, lead-poisoned students in Chicago Public Schools are more likely to fail the third grade and score notably lower on their yearly standardized tests.

Lead paint, which was banned in 1978, is still present in thousands of older homes and apartment buildings across Chicago, particularly on the south and west sides, where the housing stock is older. And though lead hazards are clearly identifiable and inexpensive to eradicate, the city’s budget for lead-poisoning prevention has plummeted in recent years.

“Lead poisoning is one of the few causes of social and learning problems that we know how to solve,” said Anita Weinberg, director of Lead Safe Housing Initiatives at Civitas ChildLaw Center at Loyola University. “We can resolve this problem within a generation, but it’s not a priority for the city.”

As money has dried up, the burden to get the word out has fallen on parents like Robinson. She tells parents about the dangers of lead poisoning every day as she helps Englewood residents obtain health care access and child care through her work at Children’s Home and Aid.

“I try to warn them,” says Robinson, who figured out what happened to her son through bloodwork and environmental tests of their home. “I want to let them know so they won’t have to go through what I have gone through.”

How do kids become lead poisoned? It’s not usually from eating paint chips. Instead, lead is typically ingested as dust—dust that’s created when old windows and doors are opened and closed, scattering a fine layer of the invisible stuff on a home’s floors and walls. As is presumed to be the case with Michael, children get this dust on their hands, then put their hands in their mouths. It doesn’t take much: a sugar packet’s worth of lead dust scattered over an area the size of a football field is enough to poison a child.

Once lead is in the body, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and can settle in the bones. It disrupts normal brain function, making a child more likely to suffer from learning disabilities, antisocial tendencies, and even violent behavior.

It’s a problem Anne Evens first became aware of when she was working on improving housing on Chicago’s west side in the 80s.

“I was sort of struck by the fact that so many low-income families and building owners were stuck with this situation of having so much lead in the environment—this huge burden that caused children to get sick and building owners to be stuck with the cost of removing the lead,” Evens says.

The problem bothered her so much that she joined the Chicago Department of Public Health and started working as an epidemiologist in the department’s lead-poisoning-prevention program. A few years later, she became the program’s director. In her ten years with the department, she revolutionized the city’s efforts to combat lead, turning the program from a slow-going effort that only helped children after they had already been poisoned to a proactive movement that aimed to prevent poisoning in the first place. Evens helped file a class action lawsuit in 2002 against the paint industry—an effort that later failed—to get more money to remove lead from Chicago’s homes.

Evens felt that to attract the money and attention necessary to rid Chicago of lead hazards, someone needed to quantify how much damage was being done. So she left the health department and got her PhD in environmental health. Her dissertation project? The largest study ever done on how lead poisoning affects schoolchildren.

Evens was able to get the health department and the Chicago Public Schools to share data, and she analyzed the records of thousands of students who were in elementary school between 2003 and 2006, looking at their lead-poisoning test results and comparing those with their standardized test scores. With the wealth of data from the two departments, she could control for outside factors that might affect a child’s learning ability, including poverty, the mother’s education level, and birth weight.

In addition to finding that a child with even low levels of lead in his or her body was more likely to fail the third grade, she also determined that lead-poisoned children scored an average of six points lower on standardized tests—enough to make a difference between passing and failing.

“When you think about how many kids in the CPS school system are just barely passing with regards to meeting the standards, absolutely it makes a big difference,” Evens says. “It impacts a huge number of kids.”

Economist Richard Rothstein has described lead poisoning as the “low-hanging fruit” of education reform, saying it is one of many factors that contribute to the achievement gap between white and minority students. He says the public perception is that lead is no longer a problem, but that’s not the case when it comes to poor, minority neighborhoods.

“Throughout the country, low-income children have more lead exposure than middle-class children,” Rothstein says. “All children are less exposed to lead than they used to be, but the biggest declines have been for middle-class children.”

A further analysis of Evens’s data looked at the average blood lead level for each school in the Chicago Public Schools system. The most widely recognized standard for lead poisoning is ten micrograms per deciliter in a child’s blood. Recently the CDC lowered that standard to five micrograms per deciliter—what the agency refers to as the “level of concern.”

Taking an average of the third-graders’ blood lead levels for each school, the data showed that nearly 75 percent of schools have an average blood lead level over five. In the worst schools, average levels top ten, going as high as 16. Using this new CDC guideline, the number of children considered lead poisoned in Chicago jumped considerably—from one in 80 children to one in ten, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Emile Jorgensen, an epidemiologist with the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that number likely overestimates the amount of children with lead levels above five because of limited accuracy in lab results. He estimates that the number of children with lead rates five and above is more like one in 12.

“When you think about all the challenges that our kids have in terms of performing in school—poverty, gang violence, the list goes on and on—lead is something you can actually do something about and have an impact,” Evens says. “It just seems crazy, as a community that cares about school performance, not to invest in preventing it.”

In addition to being the largest study of its kind, Evens’s research points out that even very low levels of lead can have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn.

Evens now works at CNT Energy, managing a program that replaces old windows to combat lead poisoning and increase energy efficiency. Since she left the health department in 2006, funding has fallen and inspectors have been laid off.

Says Evens: “As a city that has historically had so many lead-poisoned kids, to be substantially reducing efforts to fight it—that’s very worrisome.”

The corner of 69th street and Emerald in Englewood is occupied by two vacant lots, a small corner store, and a storefront office with boarded-up windows and a banner on the door that reads, “Imagine Englewood If . . .” As children file in for an after-school tutoring session, Joanna Brown locks the door after them. On the back of the door hangs a sign that reads, in scripted red marker, “Attention Children, do not open this door for anyone.”

If Chicago is the nation’s capital of lead poisoning, Englewood is its center square. In the 90s, the neighborhood had the highest lead-poisoning rates in the entire country.

“In poor neighborhoods, the lead just does not get cleaned up,” Brown says. “It’s in the soil, the windows, the floors, and the babies just walk through it.”

If Chicago is the nation’s capital of lead poisoning, Englewood is its center square. In the 90s, Englewood had the highest lead-poisoning rates in the country.

Brown sits at a long table, surrounded by the brightly decorated room, cubicles on one side and classroom-style setup on the other. She squints at her laptop, sending out e-mails about a meeting at the local school, Miles Davis Magnet Academy. Through a small grant from the Woods Foundation, Imagine Englewood If has been working to increase lead-poisoning awareness, talking to parents at local schools and encouraging local landlords to deal with lead hazards in their apartments.

“To me, it changes the whole conversation about why Johnny can’t read,” Brown says. “It’s no longer that he’s less able or less intelligent.”

Imagine Englewood If used to be able to administer lead tests to schoolchildren in the area, but the funding’s dried up. The group wants to petition Springfield for more funding and is hoping to develop legislation that would provide extra resources to communities like theirs.

Imagine Englewood If has gotten help from Loyola University’s child law program, which has also awarded a handful of small grants to aid efforts throughout the city to educate families about the dangers of lead. It’s not enough, says Loyola’s Weinberg. While making families aware of the lead is a start, the problem is too large to be taken on by the individual.

Weinberg points to potential legislation being drafted by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, an advocacy group for renters’ rights, that would require every apartment in the city to be inspected every few years, not just when a child is found to be lead poisoned.

“Right now, it doesn’t come to the city’s attention unless the child has already been poisoned,” Weinberg says. “We want to prevent the child from becoming sick.”

John Bartlett, director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, says they’re working on the ordinance. So far they’ve met with several aldermen, but none has signed on as a sponsor.

Chicago doesn’t directly spend a dime on lead-poisoning prevention. The lead-poisoning-prevention department is funded through grants from outside organizations: the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Illinois Department of Public Health, Cook County, and until recently, the CDC. From 2008 to 2011, the CDC gave the department nearly $5 million, but that ended in 2012, when the CDC’s national budget for lead-poisoning prevention was cut from $30 million to $2 million.

Dr. Cortland Lohff, director of Chicago’s lead-poisoning-prevention program, says the department was forced to eliminate some inspector positions and use those funds to support other nursing and administrative positions. He says a new, smaller grant from the Cook County Department of Public Health will help rehab 300 homes over the next three years and remove lead hazards.

So what does the city spend the rest of the grant money on? It’s not entirely clear. Although the 2012 city budget details what the department intends to spend in specific categories—inspectors, testing, epidemiologists, even office supplies—CDPH was unable to provide detailed numbers for previous years. Efrat Stein, a former department spokesperson, said those records were “not readily available,” and was unaware if the program spent every dollar collected on lead abatement. Quenjana Adams, the department’s current spokesperson, did not provide further information.

Lohff points to the department’s successes, saying the number of children found to have suffered lead poisoning has vastly decreased over the last decade. But the city mainly focuses on children with higher levels of lead: ten and above.

“The numbers of kids who have been lead poisoned have certainly come down, but when we start recognizing the dangers to kids at lower levels, those numbers are way up there still,” says Weinberg.

“All of my kids are different, but he was so different. It took a lot of one-on-one time.”—Kindergarten teacher Dorothea Lane

By law, a building owner has to safely get rid of a lead hazard once it’s identified, but Weinberg says this doesn’t always happen. When a hazard isn’t taken care of, the city pursues the property owner, filing a case with administrative hearings and escalating it to housing court if the hazard isn’t taken care of. The entire process takes months, sometimes years. This year alone, the city has filed 114 cases in housing court over lead hazards that still haven’t been abated.

In many households with toxic lead levels, families are often struggling to keep the lights on or put food on the table, says Judy Frydland, a city attorney who supervises lead cases in housing court. Frydland says her attorneys make sure lead hazards are cleaned up. She also says that, compared to the homeowners’ other struggles, the threat of lead can seem distant and vague.

“I remember handling cases saying to people, ‘You are hurting your own child,'” Frydland says. “But the population you’re dealing with has so many other problems.”

Nicholson Elementary kindergarten teacher Dorethea Lane first became aware of lead poisoning when a five-year-old boy named Michael ended up in her class. She had 32 kids in her classroom that year and the extra attention and help Michael needed was daunting. Lead poisoning had delayed his speech, he couldn’t focus, and he didn’t work well with the other children.

“All of my kids are different, but he was so different,” Lane says. “The other kids were affected by his behavior. It took a lot of one-on-one time.”

She could see that Michael was bright, but he couldn’t communicate or finish a task. When she noticed that he could calm down if he had something to do with his hands, she brought in Legos for him to build with. He loved learning about the solar system and astronauts, so she would find books, pictures, and computer games about space to help him.

Lane says no one—not teachers, principals, social workers, nor counselors—considers lead poisoning when trying to figure out what’s preventing a “low-performing” child from learning. She says lead poisoning has never been a part of her teacher training or professional development with the Chicago Public Schools.

“We as educators should know more about it,” she says

Michael’s progress has pushed Lane to learn more about how lead could be affecting her students. Ten years later, Michael has a larger vocabulary and no longer needs speech therapy. He still struggles with reading comprehension, but he excels in math. His attention span is getting better.

Lane says that if teachers knew more about what lead does to the brain and how it was affecting kids in their classrooms, more could be done to help them. But there’s currently no coordinated effort between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Department of Public Health to inform teachers or parents about the dangers of lead poisoning.

CPS spokesperson Robyn Ziegler says the school system tries to encourage students to get tested for lead poisoning, as required by law, before they start school, and works to connect students who have lead poisoning to medical help and special education.

But according to city data, less than half of Chicago’s kids have been tested for lead. In some neighborhoods, the testing rate is as low as 13 percent.

Ziegler says CPS works with supporting organizations to address the issue of lead poisoning, but did not give names of any specific organizations or programs the district is involved in.

Officials at CPS received Evens’s study, but had no official response. Ziegler notes that the district’s leadership has changed since the study was released.

Patricia Robinson, Michael’s mother, believes that officials don’t care because the kids who are affected live in neighborhoods like Englewood, not where their own children live and go to school.

“If it’s not in your family, if it’s not in your area, why should you care about it?” she says. “It’s not a concern for you.”

She blames herself, too, for what she wishes she’d noticed a decade ago, when her little boy sat playing in the windowsill.

“Why didn’t I know?” she says. “I should have known—but word don’t get out, so you don’t know.”

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