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.

 

 

Radon – FAQ

What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, dense, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally in soil.

How does radon get into homes?
Radon gas forms naturally in the soil in the Midwest. When the gas is produced, it simply rises up through the ground and is released into the natural environment.
However, when homes are built in or on soil emitting radon, instead of the gas rising up through dense soil, radon gas chooses the path of least resistance – normally through the floors or wall of the first level of the home – the basement. Depending on how the home was built and how ventilated the basement is, levels of radon can fluctuate.

Why is radon dangerous to human beings?
Radon has been classified as carcinogenic by the US EPA. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer – first being smoking. People who are exposed to both radon gas and smoke (first or second-hand) have a multipled risk of developing lung cancer.
Most radon-induced lung cancers occur from low and medium dose exposures in people’s homes.

Why are basements the most likely place to find radon gas? Why not in my second floor apartment?
Radon gas comes from decay of radioactive substances that are ubiquitous in the Midwestern soil. Because basements and first floor units are most often the first point of contact between soil (the source of radon gas) and the building, this is where radon normally enters the building.
Radon gas is also far more dense than “air.” Helium is lighter and less dense than air and therefore balloons filled with it fly away and up into the sky if not held down. Radon is heavier than air. For that reason, it sinks below lighter “air” to remain in our basements and lower level units. The more time someone spends in a unit/basement that has radon gas, the more exposure that person receives.

How do I know if my family and I are being exposed to radon gas?
If you live in the basement or first floor of a building, it is likely that you are being exposed to radon gas. The risk goes up if the building was poorly built, is poorly maintained and/or is poorly ventilated. There is no safe level of radon but minimizing exposure can reduce you and your family’s risk of lung cancer.
If you live in a second floor unit or higher, it is unlikely that you and your family are being exposed to significant levels of radon in your home.
The only way to know for sure is to test your living space(s).

Is there a test for radon?
Yes. Tenants, landlords, and homeowners have an easy and affordable option to test the level of radon in their home. Air Chek Inc. has sold over 4,000,000 radon tests worldwide. The Illinois Department of Public Health referrals for the test kit get the customer a major discount, which normally costs $14.95.
Those interested in purchasing the radon test can access the discount by phone, online, or through the mail. With the discount, each kit is $6.95. Call 800.247.2435 and ask for the Illinois discount or go online to il.radon.com for online or mailing instructions. Each test kit ordered includes the testing kit itself, testing instructions, shipping to and back, cost of lab work and reporting of results to you.

Bed Bugs – FAQ

What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs prefer human blood, but can also feed on pets if people aren’t present.

Are bed bugs disease carriers?
There isn’t any medical evidence that bed bugs pose any sort of health risk. Some people do, however, experience mild reactions to their bites. It is also possible for the bites to result in secondary infections if scratched.

How did I get bed bugs?
A bed bug infestation is not an indicator of a lack of cleanliness. Bed bugs feed on blood and are attracted to CO2. They may have hitchhiked onto your belongings and into your home or, if you live in a multi-unit building, they may have traveled from an adjacent unit.

So, there really isn’t any link between bed bugs and sanitation?
None. Bed bugs are not attracted to filth nor do they feed on it. However, reducing clutter is extremely important as clutter can provide hiding space for bed bugs. Bed bugs will thrive in cluttered environments because the effectiveness of your pest control plan will be limited.

I have a bed bug infestation. What do I do?
Around the House

-Reduce clutter in the home. These are safe havens for bed bugs.
-Vacuum frequently.
-Wash clothes in hot water and dry in high heat for a minimum of 20 minutes.
-Do not apply pesticides on your own. Applying pesticides should be left to licensed pest control professionals.
-Never use bug bombs or total release foggers. These can worsen the infestation and are extremely harmful to your health.

Beds and Furniture
-Steam clean your bed and other furniture at a heat of 120 degrees or more.
-Encase your mattress and box spring with bed bug proof mattress protectors.
-Do not apply pesticides to your bed or other furniture. Pesticides are often harmful to people.
-Do not throw away your furniture until a pest control professional tells you that it can’t be salvaged.
-If you must throw away your bed or other furniture, please dispose responsibly. Render the furniture unusable by slashing all sides or spray paint “bed bugs” in large letters.

Remember, bed bugs and their eggs absolutely cannot survive temperatures higher than 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is my landlord responsible for ridding my unit of bed bugs?
On June 5, 2013 Chicago alderman passed an ordinance on bed bug control.  The ordinance requires eradication to be performed by a pest control professtional as many times as necessary to eliminate the reported problem.  Click here to read the full ordinance.  

The City of Chicago has recently been named the nation’s #1 city infested with bed bugs.  Everyday MTO’s tenants’ rights hotline receives calls from renters throughout the City and suburbs dealing with the pesky pests.  Bed bugs are not unique to Chicago.  They are undoubtedly a nuisance and hard to control.  Controlling bed bugs requires tenants and landlords working together. There are key components of the ordinance that all renters should know.  Let’s start with landlord responsibilities:

  • To supply a tenant starting or renewing a lease with an informational brochure
  • To maintain a written record of bed bug control efforts
  • To send a written notice to the tenant explaining their responsibilities before the inspection
  • To provide pest control services when bed bugs are found by a pest management professional as many times as necessary to eliminate the problem
  • To inspect within 10 days and treat if necessary the two units on either side as well as the two units above and below of the infested unit

The ordinance also outlines what tenants’ responsibilities are to help eliminate bed bugs.  Please note that this section of the ordinance does not apply to tenants living in assisted living or a shared housing establishment, when the establishment provides assistance with daily living activities.  According to the ordinance, tenant responsibilities include:

  • To notify the landlord in writing of any suspected or known infestation in the tenants’ unit, clothing, furniture or personal property within 5 days
  • To notify the landlord in writing of any recurring or unexplained bites, stings or sores suspected to be caused by bed bugs
  • To cooperate with the landlord in the control, treatment, and eradication of bed bugs including
  • To grant access at reasonable times upon reasonable notice for inspections and treatments/to not interfere
  • To prepare unit prior to treatment including:  cleaning, dusting, vacuuming
  • To properly dispose of personal property that cannot be treated or cleaned before the pest control services

The Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance also mandates the disposal of bedding, clothing, furnishings or other infested materials.  For example, you may not place, discard or dispose of any bedding, clothing or furnishings infested on the public way (i.e. dumpsters, sidewalks, hallways).  To get rid of infested items, you must enclose the item in a plastic bag and label it as infested.  Doing so should prevent neighbors from bringing to their home infested items, therefore stalling the spread of bed bugs.

The ordinance will be enforced by the Department of Buildings and the Department of Public Health.  If any person is found violating the ordinancethat person may be fined $300.00 to $1,000 per day for each offense.  By complying with the ordinance, these fees can be avoided.   The full ordinance can be found atwww.cityofchicago.org.  You can make a request for a City inspector here.

My landlord won’t accept responsibility. What should I do?

You can call MTO’s Tenants’ Rights Hotline to speak with a hotline counselor about your situation. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 1pm – 5pm. If you live in a building with 12 or more units and other renters in the building are living with bed bugs, you may also request a visit from an organizer who can assist you in getting your requests met by your landlord.

Learn more about tenant remedies for pest infestation here

Have bed bugs in your apartment building? What is your landlord doing about it?

Tenants Get Repairs and Fight Foreclosure

In August of 2008 tenants from a building in Englewood called MTO’s Tenants Rights Hotline complaining about egregious conditions including broken security locks, pest infestations, and lack of essential services, like heat.  MTO immediately sent organizers out to assess the situation.  The Ada-Throop buildings are subsidized by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In addition to confirming the deplorable conditions tenants reported, MTO organizers learned that the building was in foreclosure and that the building’s subsidy was at risk.

The Ada-Throop buildings, in many ways, represent the predicament that the foreclosure crisis has caused in many tenants’ lives.  The tenants in Ada-Throop lived in quickly deteriorating conditions because the owner was either unwilling or unable to attend to the upkeep of the building, let alone pay the mortgage.  Often unresolved repairs are the first sign of a landlord in foreclosure.  Because of unacceptable building conditions, there was fear HUD would eliminate the subsidy of the property, and thus everyone would have to move.

Foreclosures also put into question the person ‘in charge’ during the court process.  The courts, the banks, or the old owner often do not want to invest the needed resources in foreclosure buildings.

Fortunately, the tenants worked together with MTO to take back control over their living conditions.  The tenants association secured the assistance of the City of Chicago’s Troubled Building Initiative and a court appointed receiver took over management of the buildings.  Working with the court appointed management company, tenants continued to organize, heat was restored in the building and conditions were improved.

Thanks to the efforts of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization working in conjunction with the Shriver Center, the Community Investment Corporations (CIC) and HUD, these buildings and their affordable housing subsidizes were all preserved.  Today, there remain problems and obstacles to overcome in the building. But since the tenants have organized, conditions have improved and new owners will soon be ready to take over the buildings. These new owners are currently looking into securing loans to do rehabilitation work on these affordable subsidized buildings.

Summary Prepared by Robert Clack

Tenants and Foreclosure – FAQ

Tenants impacted by foreclosure: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a foreclosure?
When an owner falls behind in mortgage payments, foreclosure is the court process by which a bank forces the sale of a building used as security in order to pay off the owner’s debt. In an effort to protect tenants who live in a building that is in foreclosure, the city passed the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO). Under the KCRO, you may be eligible for a lease renewal or $10,600 in relocation assistance. To learn more click HERE.

Who owns the building while it is in court?
Just because a building is in foreclosure does NOT mean that the building has been foreclosed on or will be foreclosed on. Until the court approves a sale and there is a confirmation of sale, your landlord still owns the building. In most cases, the bank acquires the property and becomes the owner.

What are some common signs that my building might be in foreclosure?
Maintenance suddenly stops
– Utility shutoff notices
– Banks sending notices to the landlord
– Realtors hanging around the building, or taking pictures of the building
– The landlord disappears and/or stops collecting rent.

How long does the foreclosure process take?
The court process takes an average of nine months. If the owner is not able to satisfy the bank’s requirements, the court puts the property up for sale where it is usually bought by the bank.

Where can I find out if my building is in foreclosure?
1. Get the PIN # of the property by going to www.cookcountyassessor.com and entering the building address.

2. Enter the PIN # at www.cookrecorder.com or call the Recorder of Deeds at 312-603-5050 and give them your PIN #. If the building is in foreclosure, they can provide you with the foreclosure notice (the “lis pendens”) and the associated foreclosure court case number.

3. For more information about the case go to www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org or call the Chancery Court, at 312-603-5133. You can also go to http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org – go to online case info – full docket search – and search the chancery division for the landlord’s name under defendant or using the case #.

Under the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance (KCRO), if your building is in foreclosure, you may be eligible for a lease renewal or $10,600 in relocation assistance. To learn more about the KCRO, click HERE.

Do I still have to pay rent?
Yes. As long as you are living in the unit you must pay rent. Checks or money orders are best so that you have proof of payment. You can still be evicted for nonpayment of rent even though your landlord is in foreclosure.

What if I don’t know to whom to pay rent or the landlord stops collecting it?
Click here to find our who the owner is or contact a lawyer to assist you in determining the new owner of the property. Be sure to ask any new people claiming to be the owner for proof before giving them rent money. The law only requires that tenants make a good faith effort to pay the rent if the landlord disappears. Some examples of good faith efforts to pay rent may include:
– Holding the rent in a money order
– Using the rent on utilities your landlord was paying
– Using the rent to make repairs to the property
– Sending a letter via certified mail, requesting information from the new owner on where to send the rent. (Keep             a copy of the letter for yourself)

Do I have the right to break my lease because my landlord is in foreclosure?
No…however, if you are covered under the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance and did not receive proper notice, please see below under Are landlords required to tell their tenants that their building is in foreclosure?

The bank has taken over the building. What do I do?
The bank is your new landlord. You must pay them rent once they have notified you as to whom and where to pay, and they are responsible for repairs, any utilities paid by the old landlord, etc. If you are uncertain of who to pay, hold your rent in escrow. Also, check to see if you’re covered by the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance. You may be eligible for relocation assistance if the bank chooses not to renew your lease.

The sheriff posted a notice saying that my landlord or unknown occupants must vacate the building. Does this apply to me?
No. If your name is not on the notice, you do not have to move. Immediately contact the sheriff’s office at (312) 603-3365 to inform them that there are tenants in the building and contact an attorney to get legal help. If the sheriff shows up, you will need to show them identification, as well as your lease, a piece of mail, or other evidence proving that you are a tenant in the building and not the landlord.

Will I have to move? How much time will I have once a new owner takes over?
If the building is foreclosed upon and sold, the new owner must give you 90 days or until the end of your lease, whichever longer. However, if the new owner would like to use the unit as a personal residence, they do not have to honor the lease, but they must give you at lest 90 days notice prior to eviction proceedings. Once the lease expires, the owner must give you a 30 day notice in writing before proceeding in eviction court. (This is assuming that you are lease complaint and up to date on rent.)

NOTE: The sheriff’s office can and will evict tenants during the winter, with the exception if it is 15 degrees or snowing.

Can the bank or new owner put me out without a court date?
No. If anyone tries to evict you before taking you to court, then it is an illegal eviction, also known as a lockout. Call the police, file a police report (get officers name and badge #) and contact the Tenants Rights Hotline at 773-292-4988. If you receive a summons to court make sure to contact an attorney.

Will this eviction show on my record?
If you were evicted solely because of the foreclosure your attorney can petition the judge to seal the record. If you are evicted for nonpayment of rent, it will be on your record.

The bank offered me a “Cash for Keys” deal. What should I do?
Sometimes banks offer tenants a cash for keys deal in order to vacate the building more quickly. Evaluate the entire situation first and make sure you have enough time to find a safe and decent apartment. Make sure you get any deal in writing and talk to a lawyer before you sign. If the bank does not offer a settlement feel free to ask for one. However, be aware that many tenants are eligible for $10,600 under the KCRO, which is more than most banks will initially offer. Call us or contact an attorney before agreeing to any “Cash for Keys” deal.

How do I get my security deposit back?
If your tenancy is NOT governed by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO): The bank is not responsible for your deposit. If you do not receive your security deposit back within 45 days of moving you can take your landlord to court. If you know your landlord is in foreclosure court or is about to lose the building ask for written permission to live out your security deposit. If you live out your deposit without permission you can be evicted for non-payment of rent. If your tenancy is CRLTO please see below.

Additional Information for tenants who are covered under the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO): If you live in Chicago, the Ordinance governs your tenancy unless you reside in:

  • An owner occupied building containing less than seven apartments;
  • A hotel, motel, inn, rooming house, or boarding house (unless you have resided there for more than 31 days and pay rent on a monthly basis); or
  • A hospital, convent, monastery, school dormitory, temporary overnight or transitional shelter, cooperative, or
  • A building owned by your employer (assuming your right to live there is conditioned upon you being employed in or around the building).

What happens to my security deposit?
In the event that the building is lost to foreclosure, the lender is responsible if the landlord fails to return the security deposit.

Are landlords required to tell their tenants that their building is in foreclosure?
If your tenancy is governed by the CRLTO: The landlord is required to tell current tenants about foreclosure filings within seven days of being served with a foreclosure complaint. The landlord must also inform any potential tenants before they move in. Tenants who were not properly informed about the foreclosure can sue for $200 in damages and/or terminate their leases.

Additional References:
Building Inspectors: Call 311 for an inspection if you have repairs that need to be made or are lacking utilities.
If you need assistance moving or with a security deposit call 311 and inform them that your landlord is in foreclosure.

Request an inspection online

Lawyers Committee for Better Housing: (312)-347-7600

Legal Assistance Foundation (Subsidized Tenants): (312)-341-1070

Sheriffs Eviction Unit: (312)-603-3365

Chancery Court: (312)-603-5133

Metropolitan Tenants Organization Tenants’ Rights Hotline: (773)-292-4988 Open: Mon-Fri, 1-5pm

Chicago Legal Clinic: (773)-731-1762

Citizens Utility Board: 1-800-669-5556