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

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

Saturday, September 25th: the Rents Rights Expo

Learn about bed bugs, credit repair, foreclosure, repair issues, housing subsidies and more.

Come join us Saturday September 25th from 9am- 2pm at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., for the cities largest rental housing expo, hosted by “Chicago Rents Right”. The highlight of the expo will be the workshops that will be put on by various organizations including workshops on bed bugs, building code violations, reasonable accommodations for the disabled, subsidized housing, foreclosures, credit repair, updates on the amended Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance, and even workshops for condo board associations.  There will be translators available for Spanish speaking tenants.  There will be counselors who specialize in foreclosure prevention and general landlord/tenant questions.

One of the most essential workshops this year will be on the subject of bed bugs. Nationwide, Chicago is one of the top 5 cities being hit by the bed bug epidemic.  The workshop on bedbugs will be useful for those who are trying to get rid of bed bugs and useful for those trying to avoid getting bed bugs.  If Chicago is going to be successful in doing away with this epidemic it will have to be done by those educated on how to effectively exterminate bed bugs AND citizens educated on how to stop the further spread of bed bugs.

“Chicago Rents Right” is a program of the Chicago Department of Community Development, and has a committee comprised of local community organizations, including Metropolitan Tenants Organization, with a common goal of helping tenants and/or landlords.  Admission to the event and workshops is free.

State of the Renter in the City of Chicago

The Hotline has served as MTO’s eyes and ears into the lives of renters. Since its inception in 1994, the MTO Hotline has fielded more than 150,000 calls, carefully collecting information and tracking data on housing issues. In collecting this data, Hotline counselors have spent thousands of hours listening to the stories told by Chicago’s renters. The story of renters in Chicago is that they are increasingly facing unpredictability in the rental housing market, financial stress, and deteriorated living conditions. Their lives are and have been in tumult for years.
– John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization

Above is an except from the State of the Renter report issued by MTO in 2009. For too long, the needs of renters – invaluable investors in our communities – have been marginalized in favor of a policy that focuses only on homeownership. Renters have been regarded as transient occupants rather than stakeholders. MTO recommends a national housing policy that balances homeownership and rental housing. Policy makers have failed to recognize the importance of a stable rental housing market and certainly have an insufficient understanding of the issues facing renters.

An executive summary of the State of the Renter report can be found here. For the full report, click here. We always welcome feedback. Please feel free to leave comments or questions in the space provided at the bottom of this page.

Contact Your Alderman

The Aldermen of the Chicago City Council are elected to represent their constituents: you.

Find your alderman by clicking HERE and make a call voicing your support of tenants’ right to have a voice in the decisions that affect the affordability and availability of safe, decent and accessible housing.

If you do not know which ward you are in, find out here. To search for your Alderman with your home address, click here.


Across our television screens and on billboards throughout the city announcements about that the 2010 Census are springing up.  The campaign for census participation is one of the biggest in the history of the census.  Why?  Because there is a significant effort underway to make sure that those of us who have not been counted in the past are included in this year’s census count.  The mantra, “Be Counted!” attests to this central focus of the 2010 Census campaign.

Recognizing that renters are among those who have been undercounted in the past, MTO has engaged the 2010 Census as a Count-Me-In partner.  Count-Me-In is a campaign funded by ten of Illinois’ leading philanthropies, including The Boeing Company, the Chicago Bar Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, Steans Family Foundation, and Woods Fund of Chicago. In addition, LISC/Chicago is supporting five New Community Program lead agencies in this effort. The Joyce Foundation has awarded separate grants to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, the Illinois League of Women Voters, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and Citizens Advocacy Center for census related work in Illinois.

An accurate census count is imperative to establishing benchmarks in our communities to guide government funds.  When decisions are made regarding how many subsidized housing vouchers a community should receive, census numbers are consulted to determine levels of need.  When decisions are made around where to place subsidized and affordable housing, census numbers determine which communities benefit.  Everything from the amount of money allocated to fix potholes in the street to the funds allocated to benefit your local schools is determined, in part, by census numbers.  If a community is undercounted, that community will lose funding and representation for years to come.  Undercounts can mean the difference between your community flourishing and your community wasting away.

Beginning in March, households across the country will begin receiving their census forms.  Ten short questions to help determine the future.  This is your chance to say, “I matter!”  Step up and BE COUNTED.    MTO is hosting a raffle for all renters who attend an MTO meeting in March and do one of the following:  bring a sealed envelope with your census forms enclosed that you are preparing to mail, bring a photo-copy of a sealed envelope that you have already mailed or bring your forms to fill out at a meeting.  Any of these activities will earn you a raffle ticket – making you eligible to win one of three cash prizes – $300/first prize, $150/second prize, $50/third prize. Raffle winners will be announced at the April Community Congress meeting. Remember, your census responses are completely confidential.  If you have any questions regarding the census, consult the 2010 Census website at: