“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!)

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

The Chicago Park District has designated 62 Field houses as warming centers for the remainder of the Winter. Click here for locations.

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.)


 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

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!


Alternative Electricity Provider Info

ARES Electricity Deregulation


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/ .

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.


Common Utility Problems

Tenants Without Access to Fuse Box
In buildings over four units, the Chicago Electrical code requires that a tenant have access to their fuse box.   If the tenant cannot get to their fuse box, the tenant has the right to call a locksmith and have the door opened and a key made.   Before calling the locksmith, the tenants must give the landlord written notice as required in the repair remedies section of the Chicago Ordinance (14 days notice for non emergencies and less for an emergency).

Unfortunately, most locksmiths will not make a key without the owner’s permission.    A second possible solution is to request an electrical inspection by calling 311, requesting an electrical inspector come out, and get a reference number for your call.    The city inspector will cite the landlord for the violation.   Going through the building department takes a while (21 days just for the inspection).   An inspection does not guarantee access to the fuse box.

Lastly tenants can use the rent withholding provisions in the Chicago Ordinance reduce the rent. Before withholding any rent, please call the Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s Hotline at 773-292-4988.

Diversion of Tenants Utilities
Diversion of a tenant’s utilities is a common problem and most tenants do not even realize that it is happening. Some examples of a utility diversion are when a neighbor’s apartment is hooked into the tenant’s meter, or the tenant is paying for common area lighting or the hot water for the entire building is being heated on the tenant’s gas bill.   According to Illinois state law 765 ILCS 735/1.1, the landlord must inform the tenant of all loads on the system.   In the real world landlords never inform their tenants.   Many tenants have said they thought their bill was high but did not know why.   They discovered the situation by chance.   The fuse blew and the neighbor’s fan also went out.   This diversion of power is called theft.   It is a criminal offense.   The landlord is responsible for correcting the wiring and compensating the tenant.

Utility Companies are Liable
Getting compensation and correcting the mis-metering is easier said than done.   The tenant will run into many roadblocks along the way.   The first roadblock will be the utility company.   Once the tenant finds out that his/her power is being diverted, s/he should call the utility company and demand an inspection.   The Public Utility Act requires the utility to inspect and if possible determine who is tapping into the tenant’s power.   The utility companies try hard to avoid their responsibility.   The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) enforces the act.   If the utility refuses to inspect, the tenant should call the ICC at 1.800.524.0795.

When a tenant first calls, the utility representative may inform the tenant that they have nothing to do with the problem – “it is a landlord-tenant problem.”   The tenant needs to insist that the utility company come out and inspect.   If necessary, the tenant should ask to talk to a supervisor.   It is important for the tenant to request that they be present at the time of the inspection.   Otherwise the inspector may just come out and check the meter to see if it is working and never check to see if there is and additional load on the line. The utility company should issue a report confirming the theft and give it to the tenant.    Should the utility refuse to inspect, a complaint should be filed with the ICC.

In theory the utility companies are required to adjust the tenant bill for the past two years to reflect the overpayment due to a tap on the power line.    In practice it will be hard to get any refund.   It will be easier to get a refund from the landlord.

Landlord’s Responsibility
Tenants should then inform the landlord in writing that the utility has determined they are paying for additional loads and that when they agreed to pay utility costs they only agreed to pay for service they use. They should state that they want the defective wiring corrected and compensation for their over payment.   If   the landlord is willing to work something out, the tenant can proceed ahead with negotiations.   The Resources for Apartment Dispute Resolution (RADR) may be able to help mediate this process along.   If   the landlord does want to rewire the house the tenant could suggest that all utilities be included in the rent.   If the landlord refuses to negotiate, under the Rental Property Utility Service Act, the courts can hold the landlord liable for triple the damages.   Hopefully,   the landlord and tenant can work something out.

It is our experience that most landlords will refuse to remedy the situation.   So then what?

Some possible suggestions are:

1. Give the landlord a 14-day notice to correct the faulty metering.   If the landlord fails to correct the situation the tenant can take the cost of the over billing off their rent.   How much money should the tenant reduce their rent?    Call the MTO hotline if you choose this option.

2. Under state law the tenant can take the landlord to court to recover the overpayment.   The tenant can sue the landlord asking for triple damages.   The tenant can sue for the total cost of the electricity or gas.   The tenant is still responsible for the utility they used, but   it is the landlord’s burden to prove the tenant’s usage.    If the total amount of the lawsuit is over $3000, the landlord can be held liable for attorney fees.

3. The tenant should send a letter to the utility company stating that they will not be liable for service used by others without permission.   Register a complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commission regarding the over billing. The ICC can be reached at 1.800.524.0795.

4. Lastly, for low-income residents, Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF) has had some success filing complaints with the ICC and forcing the electric company to reimburse the tenant for the overpayment.   Low-income tenants can contact LAF at 312.341.1070.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

Heat & Other Essential Services – FAQ


NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

What are essential services?
Heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas,and plumbing.

Who is responsible for paying for these services?
That depends upon the terms of your lease agreement.

What if I’m responsible for the cost of heating my apartment?
Your landlord must give you a written statement setting forth the projected average monthly cost of heating your unit. (Your landlord must do this even if your tenancy is not governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance).

What if I get a shut-off notice because my landlord didn’t pay a utility bill?
After giving your landlord written notice of this problem, you can

  • pay the utility company to keep the service on, and
  • deduct from your rent the amount you pay the utility company.

What is the first thing I should do if an essential service that my landlord is supposed to supply is shut off?
You must first give your landlord written notice of this problem. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. After providing such notice, you have several options. These options are set forth in the answers to the next five written questions.

Can I pay the utility company to restore the service?
Yes, and you can deduct this payment from your rent. Make sure you get a receipt from the utility company so you can prove how much you paid.

Can I buy something (such as a space heater) that can supply the essential service?
Yes, and you can deduct from your rent the cost of what you’ve bought. Make sure you get a receipt for your purchase so you can prove how much you paid for it. Do not use a gas stove to heat the apartment!

Can I sue my landlord?
Yes, but contact an attorney first. He/she can help you sue your landlord for an amount that reflects the reduced value of your apartment plus attorney’s fees.

Can I move out of my apartment and stay in a motel until the essential service is restored?
Yes, and you do not have to pay rent for the period you’re in the motel or other temporary housing. Furthermore, you may deduct from your future rent payments the cost of this temporary housing (as long as it does not exceed your monthly rent).

If my landlord doesn’t restore the essential service, can I terminate my lease?
Yes, but only if your landlord doesn’t restore the service within 72 hours of receiving your written notice. If that happens, you can send your landlord another written notice stating that you are terminating the lease agreement.
NOTE: You may not terminate your lease agreement for lack of an essential service if the utility company is unable to provide the service). If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, your lease will remain in effect.

What if a member of my family, a guest, or myself are responsible for the lack of service?
In that case, you may not use any of the remedies set forth above.

Am I entitled to notice if the building’s utilities are going to be disconnected?
Yes. Your landlord must provide you with written notice of any proposed shut-off. This notice must:

  • Identify the service that will be terminated;
  • State the intended date of termination; and
  • State whether the proposed termination will affect your apartment.

What if my landlord fails to provide me with this notice?
You can notify him/her, in writing, that you will terminate the lease agreement in no less than 14 days if he/she does not provide you with the required information. If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, your lease will remain in effect.

How warm should my apartment be?
The Chicago Municipal Code states that, from September 15 of each year to June 1 of the following year, the temperature in your apartment must be at least:

  • 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • 66 degrees for all other times.

*This is true even if your tenancy is not governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.*

What if my apartment is too cold?
Record the temperature in your apartment three times a day for a week. If these recordings show that your apartment is too cold, send your landlord a letter stating that he/she is violating the Chicago Municipal Code and must increase the temperature in your apartment. If he/she doesn’t comply with this demand, call the City’s Heat Hotline at 312/744-5000.

What if my landlord shuts off my utility service in an attempt to force me out of the apartment?
Call the police and an attorney. (For more information, see “Lock-outs and Retaliation“).

Please Note: This information, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicago’s Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.