“How-To” Guide – Dealing with Extreme Cold

Landlords in Chicago must heat residential buildings to at least 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees overnight (from September 15 to June 1). 

If you are unable to resolve a heating problem with your landlord, call our Hotline between 1-5PM, M-F at 773-292-4988. You can also send your landlord a 24-hour notice using Squared Away Chicago.

It is vital to know your rights and to look out for the homeless, elderly, and your most vulnerable neighbors during extremely cold weather.

  • If you are worried that your pipes might freeze, leave the tap dripping overnight to ensure they do not freeze. Also, put a towel under your door to help keep the heat inside.
  • When it snows, make sure to clear off sidewalks for the elderly, disabled and young children in strollers. For snow removal assistance, call 311 or click HERE
  • Keep extra hats, gloves and scarves with you when you’re on the move. Your extra gloves might save someone’s fingers from frostbite.

Call 3-1-1 to:

  • Request a well-being check for someone suffering due to extreme weather
  • Report inadequate heat in a residential building (inspections can take up to 3 days!)
  • Learn about programs that assist with home heating costs
  • Connect to shelter and supportive services

IMPORTANT NOTE: Anytime you call 311, get a reference # so you have a record of your call!

The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) operates six Warming Centers during work weekdays when temperatures dip below 32 degrees. DFSS Warming Centers are not open on weekday holidays unless specifically indicated. Additional facilities are opened as needed including Senior Centers, libraries, and Park District buildings, so it is important to call 3-1-1 for info concerning Warming Center locations during off hours and on weekday holidays. The centers below are open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday (but hours may be extended during extreme cold.)

DFSS WARMING CENTERS 

 Garfield Center (Open 24/7)
10 S. Kedzie Ave.

Chicago, IL 60612

Englewood Center
1140 W. 79th Street

Chicago, IL 60620

King Center
4314 S. Cottage Grove
Chicago, IL 60653

  North Area 
845 W. Wilson Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640

South Chicago
8650 S. Commercial Ave.
Chicago, IL 60617

Trina Davila
4357 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60639

Tenant Wins Settlement Over Illegal Lockout

The south side block Donna Johnson called home.
The south side block Donna Johnson called home.

Donna Johnson always paid the rent on time in the south side apartment where she lived with her daughter. She enjoyed living in the modest three-unit building near Marquette Park. By any definition, Donna was a model tenant and a loving mother. But when her apartment became infested with bed bugs, her landlord treated her like anything but. Initially, her requests for repairs were ignored. Donna made phone calls and even sent letters to her landlord. Eventually, a representative of the landlord would respond, but the response would be anything but professional.

On more than one occasion after Donna requested repairs, the property manager showed up unannounced, letting himself into the apartment with no warning. Donna’s daughter awoke one day to find the property manager looming over her as she slept. One day soon after, Ms. Johnson was taking a shower when she heard a noise outside the bathroom. She listened and soon realized the property manager was in her apartment again! He had illegally entered her home, and now he was face to face with Donna, making sexual advances towards her. Feeling shocked, angry and violated, Donna kicked him out of the apartment and called the police. In retaliation, the landlord cut off her gas. Donna was being illegally evicted – because she wouldn’t put up with her landlord’s criminal behavior.

That is when Donna called MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline for help. She spoke with a counselor who explained her rights and how she can document the situation. They spoke about Donna’s desire to terminate her lease and find a new apartment where she and her daughter felt safe. To aid her in this effort, MTO connected Donna with a trusted community partner, the Law Offices of Brian J. Gilbert. Donna brought suit against her bully landlord for illegal lockout, illegal landlord entry, and other violations of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance. Rather than fight a battle he was certain to lose in court, the landlord agreed to settle.

And while Donna has a settlement check in her hand today, she did anything but settle. Donna has a new home, a fresh start, and is free from the fear of illegal lockouts or harassment. Her daughter is happy and safe today because Donna followed through and did what is right. Donna fought for her rights. And she couldn’t have done it with out the assistance of strong community partners like the Law Offices of Brian J. Gilbert.

MTO believes safe housing is a human right. We have a number of ways you can lend your skills to make that a reality.

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Friendly Reminder: Heat requirements start Sept 15; end June 1

We would like to remind everyone that starting September 15th the heat should be turned ON.  Heat minimum requirements are from September 15 – June 1.  The minimum heat requirement for residential units is: 68 degrees between 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and 66 degrees from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Chicago tenants have a right to heat.
Chicago tenants have a right to heat.

Chicago Building Code Chapter 13-196-410 states that:  Every family unit or rooming unit to which heat is furnished from a heating plant used in common for the purpose of heating the various rooms of the dwelling shall be supplied with heat from September 15th of each year to June 1st of the succeeding year so that the occupants of a family unit or rooming unit may secure, without such undue restriction of ventilation as to interfere with proper sanitary conditions, a minimum temperature of 68 degrees at 8:30 a.m. and thereafter until 10:30 p.m. and 66 degrees at 10:30 p.m. and thereafter until 8:30 a.m. averaged throughout the family unit or rooming unit.

If you have no heat:

  • Call 311 and ask for a building inspectionor make an online request here.  Write down the Service request number for your records.
  • Notify your landlord using Squared Away Chicago. If your landlord does not respond, click “Escalate” and send 24-hour notice.
  • After sending notice, print it & send by certified mail, keeping a copy for yourself.
  • Visit our Heat & Essential Services FAQ page for more information.
  • Call MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline – 773-292-4988 – to speak to a counselor for help.

Stay warm, Chicago.  Exercise your rights – housing is a human right!

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Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO)

What is the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance? 

The City of Chicago enacted the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosed Rental Property Ordinance, commonly known as the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO), in response to the harmful effect of the mortgage foreclosure crisis on renters in Chicago. The ordinance aims to keep renters in their homes by requiring new building owners to offer bonafide tenants a lease renewal or $10,600 in relocation assistance. You can view the full text of the ordinance by scrolling down or clicking here.

The KCRO Requires New Owners to Serve Tenants with Written Notice of Change in Ownership    Notice of change in ownership must be provided within 21 days after a person becomes an owner or within 7 days of determining the tenant’s identity. Notice must be delivered to known tenant or household member 13 years or older or mailed. In addition, notice must be posted on the primary entrance of each foreclosed property . Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-040(a),(b)

The Ordinance requires that the notice be given in English, Spanish, Polish and Chinese. The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) has translated the notice and those translations may be used by owners to inform their tenants in accordance with the law. The notices can be downloaded by clicking here.

The KCRO Requires Notice Before the Owner Can Collect Rent
Until the owner serves notice under § 5-14-040, the owner cannot collect rent or terminate a tenant’s lease for failure to pay rent. Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-040(c).

The KCRO Requires Owners to Renew or Extend Leases or Pay Substantial Relocation Assistance
The Ordinance requires the owner of a foreclosed rental property to either:

  1. offer the Qualified Tenant a renewal or extension of their lease with a rent increase of no more than 2%; or
  2. pay the tenants a relocation fee of $10,600 within seven days of the Qualified Tenant vacating the unit. Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-050(a).

If the owner elects to offer a lease, the owner must continue to offer renewals or extensions (with rent increases of no more than 2% per year) until the owner sells the property to a “bona fide third-party purchaser.” Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-050(g).

What Tenants Are Entitled to Protections Under the Ordinance?
The Ordinance protects “Qualified” tenants who have a bona fide (valid) lease or rental agreement. The definition of a bona fide lease or rental agreement includes all agreements, whether written or oral, as long as:

  • The tenant is not the mortgagor, or the child, spouse, or parent of the mortgagor;
  • The lease or tenancy was the product of an arm’s-length transaction; and
  • The rent required under the lease or tenancy is not substantially less than fair market or is subsidized by the government. Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-020.

In other words, leases entered into with children, parents, or the spouse of the former owner; leases where both parties did not negotiate in their own best interest; and leases with substantially less than fair market rent are not considered bona fide, and tenants without bona fide leases are not qualified tenants under the Ordinance.

Which Property Owners Are Subject to the Ordinance?

  1. any person who acquires ownership of a property pursuant to a judicial sale of a foreclosed rental property, after the sale has been confirmed by the court and any special right of redemption has expired; or
  2. mortgagees that acquire ownership of a property through foreclosure or a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-020.

Which Property Owners Are Not Subject to the Ordinance?

  1. an owner of a foreclosed rental property who was the owner prior to the effective date of the Ordinance;
  2. a person appointed as a receiver and issued or assigned, a Receiver’s Certificate; or
  3. a bona fide not-for-profit in existence continuously for a period of five years immediately prior to becoming the owner of the rental unit and whose purpose is to provide financing for the purchase or rehabilitation of affordable housing. Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-030.

Penalties
If an owner fails to comply with § 5-14-050 (Tenant relocation assistance), the qualified tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the relocation assistance fee. Chicago Municipal Code, § 5-14-050(f). Penalties for violation of the KCRO are significant enough that LCBH expects substantial compliance.

NEED ASSISTANCE? Call the LCBH’s free Tenants in Foreclosure Help Line: 312-784-3507 or call our free Tenants Rights Hotline, Monday-Friday between 1:00pm – 5:00pm: 773-292-4988.

To find out if your building is in foreclosure, click here and follow the step-by-step instructions.

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The “Keep Chicago Renting” Ordinance

Section 1. Title, Purpose and Scope.

This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the “Keep Chicago Renting” ordinance and shall be liberally construed and applied to promote its purposes and policies. It is the purpose of this ordinance, in order to protect, maintain, and improve foreclosed rental property, preserve rental housing stock, mitigate losses to area property values, and avoid neighborhood destabilization due to foreclosure, to prevent vacant foreclosed residential buildings and preserve tenancies in these properties. Except when this ordinance conflicts with the statutory or regulatory provisions governing federal housing subsidy programs, including, but not limited to, public housing and project-based Section 8 housing operating pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et seq., the provisions of this ordinance shall apply to and regulate ei;er3′ foreclosed property in which occupants hold possession of dwelling units. The rights, obligations and remedies established by this ordinance shall be cumulative and in addition to any others available at law or in equity. Nothing in this ordinance shall affect a landlord’s obligation to provide notice of termination of tenancy as required under applicable laws governing actions for possession.

Section 2. Definitions.

Whenever used in this ordinance, the following words and phrases shall have the following meaning:

(a) “Dwelling unit” means a structure or the part of a structure used as a home, residence or sleeping place by one or more persons who maintain a household, together with the common areas, land and appurtenant buildings thereto, and all housing services, privileges, furnishings and facilities supplied in connection with the use or occupancy thereof, including garage and parking facilities; except that this ordinance shall not govern dwelling units described in Subsections 5-12-020 (b) and, (c) of this Code.

(b) “Foreclosed property” means any property for which legal and equitable interests in real estate were terminated by a foreclosure action brought under the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Law (“IMFL”), 735 ILCS 5/15-1101 et seq.

(c) “Foreclosing owner” means a person or entity, or an agent acting on behalf of a person or entity that holds title in any capacity, directly or indirectly, to a foreclosed property and either (1) was a mortgagee who was a party to the foreclosure or is the subsidiary, parent, trustee, nominee or agent; or (2) is the Federal National Mortgage Association or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation.

(d) “Occupant” means any person in lawful physical possession of a dwelling unit in all or part of a foreclosed property and as described under Sections 1223 and 1508.5 ofthe IMFL.

(e) “Tenant” means a person entitled by written or oral agreement, subtenancy approved by the landlord or by sufferance to occupy a dwelling unit to the exclusion of others, as defined by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”) in Section 5-12-030 of this Code.

(f) “Bona fide third party purchaser” means a person or entity that is not a foreclosing owner and purchases the foreclosed property from the
foreclosing owner.

Section 3. Eviction of Occupants Prevented; Exceptions.

A foreclosing owner may not maintain an action for possession, except in accordance with this ordinance or unless a binding purchase and sale agreement has been executed and is in effect for the purchase of the dwelling unit by a bona fide third party purchaser.

Section 4. Notice Requirements.

Within 21 days of taking title to foreclosed property, a foreclosing owner must notify in writing all occupants of dwelling units of the real estate using the text provided in subsection (d) of this section. This notice must be printed in English and Spanish in no less than 14 point type, on paper at least eight and one-half inches by 11 inches in size.

(a) Service requirements shall be satisfied i f the foreclosing owner has (i) posted this notice in a prominent location in the building; (ii) mailed this notice by first class mail to each unit; and (iii) has made an attempt to personally serve an occupant of each unit in the building.

(b) The Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development (DHED) shall make available for distribution, both in print and in an easily printable format on the department’s Internet website, the following notice in English with a Spanish translation that may be used to satisfy the notice requirements of this section.

(c) Compliance and Curing Noncompliance. For purposes of collecting rent or maintaining an action for possession as described in Section 5, a foreclosing owner may cure a failure to timely provide notice by providing the notice more than 21 days after the transfer of title. Curing the notice deficiency, however, shall not waive any occupant’s right to remedies as described in Section 8 of this ordinance. Additionally, a foreclosing owner shall have no right to collect back rent that accrued during the period of time that the foreclosing owner was not in compliance with the notice requirements of this section.

(d) Text of Notice Provision:

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO OCCUPANTS

City of Chicago law requires that we provide you this notice informing you of your rights as occupants of [INSERT PROPERTY ADDRESS]. This property is now owned by [INSERT NAME OF FORECLOSING OWNER]. The former owner of this property no longer owns the property because the property was foreclosed. Chicago law protects your right to remain in your home after a foreclosure. [NAME OF ORDINANCE AND CITATION]. This law protects all occupants, even if you do not have a written lease. The law states that you cannot be evicted just because your building was foreclosed. You do not have to pay the new owner any rent owed before the due date provided in this notice. You can only be evicted if you do not pay rent starting on the due date provided in this notice, if you commit a crime or allow someone you know commit a crime in your home, if you damage your home, or if you refuse to let the new owner inspect your home and make necessary repairs. You can only be evicted after the new owner of this building files an eviction claim in court and you are given a chance to defend yourself in front of a judge. You can only be removed from your home by personnel of the Cook County Sheriffs office with an order from the court. Your rent cannot be raised unless the new owner of this building files in court and you have had a chance to defend your current rent in front of a judge. The former owner of this building has no right to collect rent since the former owner does not own the building anymore. You should now pay your rent to the new owner of this building: [INSERT NAME, ADDRESS, AND TELEPHONE CONTACT INFORMATION OF THE FORECLOSING OWNER, THE BUILDING MANAGER, OR OTHER REPRESENTATIVE OF THE FORECLOSURE OWNER RESPONSIBLE FOR COLLECTING RENT]. Please pay your rent on the [INSERT DAY] of each month by [INSERT METHOD OF TRANSMISSION]. You are not responsible for paying any back rent owed prior to the due date provided in this notice. The new owner of this building must maintain the property including making sure the building and your unit are safe and secure, removing trash and debris, and exterminating any vermin. The owner must also make sure that heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas and plumbing services are all available. For maintenance issues and emergencies, please contact [INSERT NAME, ADDRESS, AND TELEPHONE CONTACT INFORMATION OF THE FORECLOSING OWNER, THE BUILDING MANAGER, OR OTHER REPRESENTATIVE OF THE FORECLOSURE OWNER RESPONSIBLE FOR COLLECTING RENT]. If you do choose to move, you are entitled to collect your security deposit from the new owner of this building. If the new owner of this building tries to evict you, raise your rent, refuses to return your security deposit, or fails to maintain your building, you may be eligible to collect damages. Please contact a lawyer, a legal aid or housing counseling agency, or the Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS) legal aid hotline at (312) 738-9200 to discuss your rights.

Section 5. Right to Possession.

Except as described in Section 3, and except when state or federal law provides an occupant with additional or superior rights, a foreclosing owner shall have the right to maintain an action for possession of a dwelling unit against an occupant only after complying with the notice requirements of Section 4 and:

(a) thirty days have passed, an occupant has failed to pay rent, and the landlord has complied with all the applicable notice and cure periods governing eviction for nonpayment of rent, including, but not limited to, those provided by the RLTO and the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/9-101 et seq. (“Forcible Entry and Detainer Act”) (hereinafter “FEDA”); or

(b) an occupant has failed to cure a breach of the lease agreement or other tenant responsibility as described in Section 5-12-040 of this Code and the landlord has complied with the applicable notice and cure periods governing eviction for breach of lease or tenant responsibilities, including, but not limited to, those provided by the RLTO and the FEDA; or

(c) an occupant violates Section 9-118, 9-119 or 9- 120 of the FEDA, and the landlord has complied with all other applicable notice and cure periods
required under these statutes; or

(d) thirty days have passed, an occupant’s bona fide lease or other rental agreement has terminated, and the foreclosing owner, by written request, has offered a lease under the same terms that were in effect at the time that the foreclosing owner took title, and the occupant has rejected that offer.

Section 6. Increase of Rent.

After complying with the notice requirements of Section 4, a foreclosing owner shall be entitled to recover rent. A foreclosing owner shall not charge an occupant of a dwelling unit a rental amount above that which the occupant had been paying for use and occupancy of the dwelling unit prior to foreclosure
without leave of court. The court may allow an increase of rent if, in an action brought by a foreclosing owner, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the current rent is below market rate and an increase of rent is necessary to operate, manage, and conserve the dwelling unit. In the event that the foreclosing owner and an occupant of a dwelling unit agree to a rent increase for that dwelling unit, the foreclosing owner is excused from the requirements of this section as to that dwelling unit. Nothing in this section shall alter the terms of any lease agreement.

Section 7. Misrepresentation of Right to Possession.

It shall be unlawful for a foreclosing owner:

(a) to willfully or negligently misrepresent, by written or oral statement, the rights of the occupant or foreclosing owner regarding rightful possession of the dwelling unit;

(b) to withhold essential services, as defined under Subsection 5-12-110(f) of this Code, except that this ordinance shall also prohibit actions taken against occupants; or

(c) to interrupt occupancy as defined under Section 5-12-160 of this Code, except that this ordinance shall also prohibit actions taken against occupants.

Section 8. Defenses and Remedies.

If a foreclosing owner acts in violation of this ordinance, the occupant shall have a complete defense against the foreclosing owner in any action for possession. If an occupant in a civil legal proceeding establishes that a violation of this ordinance has occurred, the occupant shall be entitled to recover
$5,000.00 in damages or actual damages, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. Each violation of this ordinance shall constitute a
separate offense.

For more information or assistance, contact our Foreclosure Organizer, Saul Garcia at 773-292-4988 ext 247 or at saul@tenants-rights.org

LIHEAP enrollment begins Nov. 1

LIHEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) is a block grant program that provides financial assistance for energy costs to low-income households.   The program will begin open enrollment starting Tuesday Nov. 1, 2011 for winter energy service and operates until funds are exhausted.  Illinois residents have the option between 2 programs:

– Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Direct Vendor Payment (DVP) helps income-eligible households in the form of a one-time benefit payment to the utility companies applied directly to the energy bill.

– Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Percent of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) helps income-eligible households in the form of monthly payments to the utility companies based on utility usage and monthly income.

To find the nearest intake site click here.  Appointments fill up quickly so arrive early/on time  to avoid rescheduling.  Be sure to have all of your information ready.

To apply, you will need the following:

  • Proof of gross income from all household members for the 30-day period prior to the application date.
  • A copy of current heat and electric bills issued within the last 30 days (if energy directly paid for).
  • A copy of rental agreement (if renting) showing that utilities are included, the monthly rental amount and landlord contact information.
  • Proof of Social Security numbers for all household members.
  • Proof that household received TANF or other benefits, such as Medical Eligibility or SNAP, if receiving assistance from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Income Guidelines are as follows:

Family Size                                                  Annual Income

1                                                                       $21,780

2                                                                       $29,420

3                                                                       $37,060

4                                                                       $44,700

5                                                                       $52,340

6                                                                       $59,980

7                                                                       $67,620

8                                                                       $75,260

*Remember that using the stove for heat is NOT SAFE.

 

Alternative Electricity Provider Info

ARES Electricity Deregulation

MULTIFAMILY RENTAL FACT SHEET

Tenant Choices

If tenants receive their own electricity bills, they can make their own decisions about switching to an alternate provider. NOTE: Tenants should ask new providers if they accept LIHEAP.* Blue Star does NOT work with LIHEAP.

Real Time Pricing

Before checking with other ARES providers, you should explore Real Time Pricing (www.thewattspot.com). Many households will pay less with this program.

Tenant and Owner Considerations Before Choosing an Alternate Provider

1.  Consider Real Time Pricing. If you work and are not at home during the day, you will likely save more money with this program. See above for information.

2.  Check if the company is registered with the Illinois Commerce Commission. Check http://www.icc.illinois.gov/utility/list.aspx?type=are

3.  Check the company’s per kilowatt-hour (kWh) rate: is it less than 7.921 cents/kilowatt-hour. Right now, Com Ed’s rate is 7.921 cents per kWh. That rate is expected to decrease slightly next year, so if the ARES you are considering has a rate just under 7.921 plus additional fees (see #3 below), you may want to reconsider.

4.  Check for fees, and whether rates are fixed or variable.

Fees: Check for monthly fees, fees for start-up, early termination, etc.

Variable v. fixed rates: If companies charge variable rates, there is no way to know what they will charge month to month.

Contract term: If Com Ed’s rate does decrease in the near term, you do not want to get stuck with a higher rate for several years.

5.  Always check your bill to make sure your provider is the provider of your choice. Sometimes providers switch your bill without your permission.

6.  If your unit or building uses an electric heat system DO NOT SWITCH.  You will get better discounts through Com Ed.  Ask your landlord if you are not sure.

Good resources:

ICC website:    http://www.pluginillinois.org/ , or call the ICC at 1-800-524-0795

CUB website: http://www.citizensutilityboard.org/ciElectric_cubfacts_alternativesuppliers.html , or call CUB at 1-800-669-5556

* LIHEAP clients should also consider the new Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), which allows LIHEAP clients to pay a percentage of their income, receive a monthly benefit towards their utility bill, and lower their overdue bills for every on-time payment they make by the bill due date.  http://www.ildceo.net/dceo/Bureaus/Energy+Assistance/Illinois+LIHEAP/ .

Condo Conversion Ordinance

Condo Ordinance 4-28-11

MTO takes on Application Fees

MTO hotline counselors have been hearing that landlords have been charging applicants outrageous fees when applying for housing without providing any explanation for the basis of the fees or if they are refundable. These ambiguous fees can go towards background checks, credit checks, or simply be used as a holding fee to “guarantee” the next available room. We do not know how many landlords are asking for these large fees. However, we are aware that some applicants have paid several hundred dollars in mysterious application fees only to find out there is no vacancy in the building. Subsequently, these applicants are denied a refund.

Representative Barbara Flynn Currie is responsible for introducing HB 1607 ca. HB 1607 will require landlords and management companies to charge reasonable fees and provide a written itemized account of each fee. HB 1607 was passed by committee on March 16 by party vote. This bill will make it illegal for companies to charge prospective tenants fees when there are no rental units available and hold companies responsible for making a good faith effort to return any amount of an application fee that is not used. Management companies or landlords that violate this law would be liable to the applicant for the application fee, civil court filing costs, and reasonable attorney fees incurred. Metropolitan Tenants Organization would like to hear from you. Have you been charged an application that seemed high? If so, what was it for and did you rent the apartment? Your stories can be helpful in securing passage of this law.

Deadly Dangers of Using the Stove for Heat

During the winter season, MTO’s hotline receives numerous calls from tenants about a lack of heat in their units.  When we ask what steps the resident uses to address the problem in the meantime, a frightening number report that they are using their gas stoves as a solution.  Some residents leave the burners on, some continuously boil large pots of water, and others leave the oven door open.  All of these actions can and do lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

What prompted the writing of this post was a recent conversation with a tenant.  The tenant was following up to report the lack of heat in her unit.  She explained that not only was this problem irritating, but that her entire family has experienced constant headaches and she was even having trouble waking up, which was not normally a problem for her.  She mentioned that her sister had called her earlier and she hadn’t heard the phone ring.  Her kids – especially her daughter who slept in the back bedroom near the kitchen— was having a lot of difficulty waking up for school.  All of these incidences are major symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide can slowly put you to sleep and once asleep, you are unable to escape the hazard.  Hundreds of people die in a carbon monoxide induced sleep every year according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Those that don’t die from heating their homes with gas stoves still experience less than lethal, but still harmful, side effects.  “At low concentrations, [CO can cause] fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, [CO can cause] impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Fatal at very high concentrations.” (USEPA)

So what should one do when it just gets too cold? Electric space heaters with safety mechanisms to prevent fires and other hazards are good options for small spaces. Tenants should also call 311, request a heat inspection, and get a reference number for their phone call. Generally, during the winter season, it may take up to three days for a heat inspector to conduct an investigation in your home.  For more information about your rights and possible remedies when heat or other essential services are not working properly, click here.

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