Tricia Jones recently relocated to the bed bug capital of the United States – Chicago, IL. In her very first Chicago apartment, she was welcomed by a full blown infestation. She didn’t know what to do so, as many of us would, she hit the internet and found MTO. A call to the tenants rights hotline developed into a relationship lasting months which would yield – not only improved living conditions – but a stronger and more cooperative relationship with her landlord.
How did she get from point A (a horrible bed bug problem and no relationship with landlord) to point B (a great living situation and great relationship with landlord)?
First, Tricia connected with a hotline volunteer who informed her of her rights under the Bed Bug Ordinance. (This is always a good first move!) She was told that it was important to establish a pattern of communication with her landlord. She had the right, indeed the obligation, to inform her landlord of the bed bug problem in writing. If the problem was not addressed within 10 days, she had the right to withhold a portion of her rent – she was advised to hold onto the money so that when issues were addressed she would have the rent she owed to pay. She was also advised to send the letter certified mail to create a paper trail. The 10 days came and went – no action was taken and Tricia started withholding a portion of her rent. (Things are looking bleak for Tricia, but read on…)
In the meantime, another issue surfaced and Tricia again contacted MTO. The hotline counselor again advised her that she needed to inform her landlord of the problem in writing (certified mail) and give him 14 days to address the issue. Again, Tricia followed this advice. This time her landlord did respond: with an eviction notice. Tricia called MTO. We referred her to the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, but fortunately, Tricia ran into the owner of the building on the street. The owner was the father of her landlord – and Tricia told him her story. He called his son for a meeting and the son denied ever hearing from Tricia! Fortunately, Tricia could produce certificates of having notified him on numerous occasions. (Remember that great advice the hotline counselor gave her?) She also was able to pay all of the back rent she withheld (because she held onto it) when the owner agreed to immediately address her concerns. Eviction charges were dropped and Tricia’s apartment was painted and repaired.
The next time Tricia called MTO it was to thank the hotline counselor who walked her through these first difficult days in her apartment. (That was Sara. Sara is really great.) She hopes to train to become a hotline counselor in the future so that she can provide this kind of support to other renters in need.
There are few things more disturbing than moving to a new place and having your sanctuary – your new home – be a source of immediate chaos. Tricia did everything right in this situation. She documented all communication to her landlord, and she held onto the rent she withheld. Most importantly – she called MTO. We’re here to help!
July is membership month at Metropolitan Tenants Organization and we hope each and every one of you will join the movement for housing justice! There are many ways to get involved as members. Every bit of support means a better life for more Chicagoans.