Tenants and Condo Purchasers Win Protections

WBEZ/AP M. Spencer Green


With Mayor Daley overseeing his final Chicago City Council meeting, the aldermen unanimously passed a condo conversion ordinance.  The ordinance represents five years of struggle on the part of tenants, condominium buyers, community organizations and advocates.  This legislation will protect tenants and condominium buyers caught in the instability created by the conversion of rental buildings to condominium buildings.

The roots of this ordinance are found in the condo craze of 2005 to 2007, which ultimately contributed to the mortgage crisis and related foreclosure crisis.  In 2006, renters were being ejected from their homes with minimal to no notice and left those purchasing converted units with few protections against what was often a speedy and poorly implemented conversion process.  Quickly, those victimized in the process, along with their advocates, recognized the need for protections to be put in place.  This outcry resulted in Mayor Daley appointing Alderman Ray Suarez to lead the Condo Conversion Task Force.  The Task Force’s work spanned almost four years and ultimately led to an ordinance that provides renters and condo buyers with critical protections including:

  • Changing the notification period from 120 days to 180 days.  For seniors and those with disabilities, notification would change from 180 to 210 days.
  • Low and moderate income renters receive relocation assistance.  The assistance equals the larger of one month’s rent or $1,500 (up to a maximum of $2,500).
  • Consumer protections for condo buyers.

According to Zakiyyah S. Muhammad, a victim of condo conversion, “I enjoyed fighting for protections for families who rent so that they can avoid the devastation that I encountered.  This ordinance has been a long time coming; when you fight you win!”  MTO celebrates the victory for tenants’ rights and the clear demonstration that tenants, working together, have the power to create change to protect their rights to safe, decent and affordable rental housing.

In another victory for affordable housing advocates, the City Council passed the Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance which allows TIF funds to be used for maintaining affordable housing.

The full text of the Condo Conversion Ordinance can be found here.

Condo Conversion: Action Update


On Tuesday, April 19th, the Mayor’s Condo Conversion Task Force met to discuss proposed changes to their report in the latest episode in the now five-year long battle for an ordinance to protect renters and condo buyers during condo conversions.

The Task Force is proposing to change the notification period from 120 days to 180 days.  For seniors and those people with disabilities, notification would change from 180 to 210 days.  The Task Force also recommends that low and moderate income renters receive relocation assistance.  The assistance equals the larger of one month’s rent or $1,500 up to a maximum of $2,500.  City officials are still discussing how they will identify renters who qualify for this assistance.

The bill has been close to passing before and we are hopeful it will pass on Mayor Daley’s final City Council meeting.  Significant progress has been made; however, there are still obstacles ahead.  The next hurdle to clear is for the Housing Committee of the City Council to approve the bill.  The Housing Committee’s meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3rd, at 10:30am in room 200. MTO is encouraging all renters who have experienced displacement due to condo conversion to attend and testify.

MTO has been working on condo conversion since 2006.  In 2006, renters marched through the Hyde Park neighborhood demanding justice for those being displaced by rampant condo conversion.  In response, the Mayor convened the Condo Conversion Task Force; however, it failed to meet for a year.  Following another demonstration led by MTO, this time at City Hall, the Committee held its first meeting.  MTO was able to win a seat for a renter on the committee and has continued to monitor its work.

While there have been many ups and downs, a hopeful conclusion to years of struggle is close at hand.  All those interested in attending the meeting of the Housing Committee on May 3rd to testify about their experiences should contact Shirley Johnson at 773.292.4980 ext. 224.

Fiesta Rumba May 19th, 2011

Join tenants, neighbors, and community leaders for appetizers, drinks, live music, and dancing at the La Encantada Restaurant in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.

This event will benefit the Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s work for social justice in all Chicago neighborhoods and now, in suburban Cook County too.

Suggested Donation $6

Where: 3437 W. North Ave, Chicago 60647

When: Thursday, May 19th, 2011      Doors Open: 6pm    Doors Close: 12am

Extremely High Levels of Lead Detected in Pilsen Air

MTO’s offices are located directly across the street from the Fisk Generating Station and very near Perez Elementary School.

New monitoring data obtained by the Tribune reveal that high levels of toxic lead frequently lingered in the air last year outside an elementary school in the predominantly Latino enclave that is attended by nearly 500 children.

Average lead levels at Perez Elementary School were at or above federal limits during three three-month periods in 2010, the data show. Lead pollution exceeded health standards during a fifth of the days monitored and, on one day in December, spiked more than 10 times higher — findings that alarm even veteran investigators.

Read more here at chicagotribune.com.

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.

The Poor Fight Back!

Originally posted on www.commondreams.org

On Friday evening February 25th, 400 people, mostly low-income tenants, braved a chilly winter day to take to the streets in Chicago to stand up against the proposed Republican budget cuts. The cuts would decimate many of the nation’s affordable housing programs. Initiated by the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of organizations focused on preserving subsidized housing, the demonstration included acts of civil disobedience. Although many of the organizations had never previously engaged in civil disobedience, the Coalition felt that the situation is so dire that we have to take stronger action. Eleven people blocked a main downtown street to send a message that low-income and working families are ready to fight.

People came to the demonstration to tell elected representatives that the economic crisis is not over for the majority of people living in this country. Rents are too high. Foreclosures have not slowed down. Millions are still looking for work or working at jobs that don’t pay enough. So many people are struggling just to survive and to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families. Ms. Adrena Townsend, one of the protestors, said, “I came here because I cannot tighten my belt any more. I cannot do without my home. The House’s proposed cuts are aimed at basic human needs such as housing, food, education, and health care. These are not extra trimmings, they are basic necessities.”

Just before it left for its February recess, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash $61 billion from the current federal budget. They want to cut the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by 66%. The program provides people with money to pay for heat in the winter. Are these lawmakers willing to turn down or turn off their heat to cut the deficit? They want to cut Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program by 10 %. This program helps pregnant women, new mothers and young children eat well. The House’s spending bill would discontinue housing assistance for homeless veterans and cut housing subsidies, job programs and more. In addition the House wants to cut programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that fund the agencies that provide necessities such as rental subsidies and energy assistance. These cuts are direct hits to “human services” programs the help meet the basic needs of so many.

The government may need to make cuts, but who decides what to cut? On February 11, 2011 House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised that budget cuts will be historic. The Republican controlled House proposed cutting the Housing and Urban Development’s $43.5 billion 2011 budget by over 21%. Yet on February 24th we learned that the Air Force is awarding Boeing a $35 billion contract to build air tankers. Why do the House’s proposed cuts almost solely target human need programs? Why is it that Congress does not ask working families what is most important to them?

During the demonstration, protestors chanted, “Tax cuts for the rich, service cuts for the poor, we can see who you’re for and we won’t take it anymore,” a slogan that highlights a very real division in this country. One aspect of this division is defining the role of government. The Tea Partiers and their (billionaire) backers want people to think that government is too big and business can handle things on its own without any government interference. According to Herman Bonner, a subsidized tenant and protestor at Friday’s demonstration, “I believe the role of government is to ensure that the basic needs of everyone are met and that people have a voice in how this is done.”

How you view the government and its role shapes what you think causes the crisis facing this country. For those Tea Party budget cutters in Washington the crisis facing our country is the huge deficit. If nothing is done about the deficit then the country will fall into default and decay. Yet less than two months ago those same representatives voted to cut the taxes on the rich. These cuts were pushed through in the face of growing evidence that wealth disparity in this country has reached epidemic proportions. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the wealthiest 1 % of the population owns 33 % of all the wealth and the top 10 % own over 70 % of all the wealth. The last time there was such inequality was the 1920’s just before the depression. Rather than ask the rich to pay their fair share, the Tea Party plans to cut the deficit and to do it on the backs of the poor.

For millions of Americans, the day to day struggle to maintain food on the table and a roof over one’s head defines the crisis. For many families, the economy is stuck in a depression. They worry whether they will have a job next week or next year and what will happen if they don’t. Young and old alike worry about social security benefits and retirement. They are afraid that the government will abandon any commitment to help and that they will be left to fend for themselves. They don’t expect handouts but they do expect – and deserve – support.

The tenant representatives who blocked traffic on Friday are the beginning signs of a budding movement to demand economic justice. This brewing discontent can also be seen in Madison, Wisconsin where union workers are battling for their right to collective bargaining. There will be more protests as people are asked to “compromise” and to forgo basic necessities. In January, the wealthy won their tax cuts and now they want more. It is in this context that the tenants took to the street chanting “They say cut backs and we say fight back.” It is for this reason that people need to unite and fight the draconian cuts to human services that are happening across the country on the local, state, and federal level.

-John Bartlett

Major Protest Friday Against Devastating Budget Cuts

Not on Our Backs: Stop the Slash-and-Burn Budget Cuts to HUD

Friday, February 25th
4pm – Teach In and Testimonies; 77 W. Washington – The Chicago Temple
4:45pm – March and Rally at the Thompson Center; 100 W. Randolph – Corner of Randolph and Clark

23.8% cuts to HUD’s budget will devastate Illinois communities

Just a few of the specifics include…

  • 67% – 70% cuts to Housing for the Elderly & Disabled

  • Over $78.3 Million will be cut from IL’s public housing budget, leading to unsafe conditions & continued demolitions while over 118,000 families languish on IL public housing and voucher waiting lists
  • Additionally, LIHEAP is being slashed 66% and WIC is being cut 10%
  • Funding for Community Health Centers is cut 46%

We need you to come out and make your voices heard! RSVP to Sara Mathers at 773.292.4980 x 240 or by email at sara@tenants-rights.org.

Sponsored by the Chicago Housing Initiative, Kenwood Oakland Community Organizations,  Jane Addams Senior Caucus,  Logan Square Neighborhood Association,  Lakeview Action Coalition, Metropolitan Tenants Organization,  O.N.E.,  Southside Together Organizing for Power

Co-Sponsoring Organizations:  Access Living,  Action NOW,  Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance,  Bickerdike,  Chicago Coalition for the Homeless,  Coalition to Protest Public Housing,  Housing Action Illinois,  Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs,  Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and growing.

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

No RLTO – Terminate Tenancy – Sample Letter

This letter applies to residents within the city of Chicago only who are covered under the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). Please see the Exceptions to the RLTO to ensure the law applies to you.
For tenants in suburban Chicagoland, please click here for the law as it applies in your town.


PHOTOS: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Chicago Rental Housing

Chicago’s current 311-reporting process does not work to protect renters against their slumlords. A mandatory rental housing inspection program with strong enforcement power is imperative for Chicago and the health of its communities. Below is a brief photographic summary of the conditions MTO witnesses on a regular basis.

Low-income renters experience higher rates of disease than their higher income counterparts. In my work as a healthy homes organizer, it has become strikingly clear why.

We have entered hundreds of apartments over the past few years and in them,  seen deplorable housing conditions that were the direct cause of a child’s disease which brought us to that apartment in the first place. For some unconscionable reason, the landlord chose not to invest the money needed to maintain the apartments in a livable condition and the city was often unresponsive to calls for help from the parents of these sick children.

Because of decades of activism, the City of Chicago has set up a system that is helpful to parents whose children have been lead poisoned. But – children are still the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ in the vast majority of cases. There is no program in place to prevent kids from lead poisoning and in particular, the most vulnerable children suffer.

There are even fewer controls in place for other healthy homes issues such as cockroach and rodent infestations, and mold problems. As of right now, there is little help in place for renters enduring unhealthy housing and absentee landlords. These conditions can be particularly harmful to children with asthma and other respiratory ailments. In most cases, especially in today’s economy, parents do not have the option to pick up and move. Instead, they make the difficult choice of having a roof over their family’s head or watching their kids suffer from their illnesses that are exacerbated right in their own home.

There needs to be programs with strong enforcement mechanisms for these families to turn to in order to correct these grossly negligent – and sometimes criminal – building code violations. Children living in unhealthy housing will suffer the effects of environmental injustice for the rest of their lives. This fact has been repeatedly proven and documented in numerous medical and public health academic journals. A recent Shriver Center report demonstrates how socioeconomically-integrated, safe, affordable housing offers children access to good schools, stability, and the health necessary to achieve their potential.

MTO is calling on Chicagoans to support a mandatory inspection program that would identify healthy homes issues and force landlords to maintain their buildings according to the Chicago building code requirements.

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.

Warning: Some of the following photos are graphic and may be disturbing for sensitive viewers.