The story began when the landlord of their five-story building neglected basic repairs to the point of building deterioration: no heat, major security issues, and often no running water. This reached a peak in February, one of the coldest months on record in the city. On February 23rd, the landlord’s response to all of these problem was to send 30-day notices to the building’s residents. He said they had to be out by March 23rd. Four days later, the Courts ordered the residents out by March 9th, deeming the building a fire safety hazards because of its unreliable water supply.
From notice to final day, “the system” had given them just 14 days. With little to no money, and affordable housing scarcely available regardless of their means, residents were facing personal crisis. As Brown noted in his first column, “there has to be a better way.”
In the end, 75 tenants were dislocated. Some, but not all, have been able to find emergency housing — some in new “permanent” units, others staying with friends, many landing in homeless shelters. And in the end, more affordable housing in the city, has been eliminated, instead of being fixed and preserved. The current building inspection system is a complaint-based service provided by city inspectors. This means that tenants hold the burden of requesting proper maintenance, property owners can neglect buildings without regular code enforcement, and families are forced to relocate or live with egregious conditions affecting their health. In today’s economy, moving is not always a viable option.
The Metropolitan Tenants Organization believes that there is a better way to prevent emergency building closures. It’s called proactive rental inspection (PRI) programs. In essence, it means preventing the dilapidation of rental properties through routine code enforcement. Perhaps the residents of 7270 S. Shore Drive would not have to evacuate with one week’s notice if the owner of the building would have been required to maintain the building and make small repairs before they became too large to fix and too dangerous for the tenants.
We believe that the City should initiate a proactive inspection program that could identify home-based health hazards and require property owners to make the necessary repairs. Sign this petition calling on your Alderman to support the Chicago Healthy Homes Inspection Program!
Mark Brown columns: