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

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



Chicago Building Code RE: Pests


13-196-630  Residential buildings – Responsibilities of owner or operator.

Every owner or operator must:

(a)     Comply with the requirements imposed on him by this chapter;

(b)     Maintain in a clean, sanitary and safe condition the shared or public areas of the dwelling or premises, and maintain and repair any equipment of a type specified in this Code which he supplies or is required to supply;

(c)     Exterminate any insects, rodents or other pests in any family unit, if infestation is caused by the failure of the owner or operator to maintain the dwelling in a ratproof or reasonable insect-proof condition, and he must exterminate such pests in any family unit in the dwelling, regardless of the cause of infestation, if infestation exists in two or more of the family units in the dwelling or in the shared or public parts of any dwelling containing two or more family units; and

(d)     Supply and maintain the facilities for refuse disposal which are required of him by Section 7-28-220.

Learn more about tenant remedies for pest infestation here: