Austin resident Andrea Rogers spent the beginning of this cold Chicago winter without any heat in her three-bedroom apartment.
Her building, located at 5839 W. Washington, has changed management multiple times. For the last two and a half years, management has been “pretty bad” according to Rogers.
Work orders she’s submitted are still pending two years later, and up until Dec. 7, of last year, nine apartments in the 12-unit building, including hers, didn’t have heat.
The problem may be symptomatic of growing landlord abuses. According to Shannon Weiss of the Center for Renters’ Rights in Chicago, landlord misconduct, including unfair evictions, has worsened in the last eight years.
Another tenant in Rogers’ building contacted the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, which provides free advice to renters regarding their rights.
Malik Wornum received the call by a tenant concerning heating problems. Wornum, one of the organization’s advocates, was able to arrange a meeting and brief the tenants on their rights.
Once organized, the group found out that three units in the building were getting heat after re-routing the gas from other apartments. The heat was finally turned on after the tenants organized with the help of the Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing. The committee is a partner with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization.
Oftentimes, tenants won’t stand up for their rights, Worum explained, because they fear eviction or other retaliation from their landlords, even though such acts are illegal. Organizing groups of tenants within a building helps as well, he added.
“Last year we identified 71 buildings [with landlord violations] and we organized 45 of them,” Worum said. “Organizing is always a successful tool because there’s strength in numbers.”
Rogers noted that legal representation also helps management to take complains more seriously.
“If you call them you will get an answering service or their operator which can only take a message, and they won’t return your calls,” she said.
The building’s landlords could not immediately be reached for comment. In fact, the number to the management firm was disconnected, as was the line for the general information contact on the company’s website.
Concerning whether landlords just blatantly disregarding their responsibilities, Weiss said, “It’s even more complicated now than it used to be because of the economy. They’re not going to care [as much] right now.”
Though the heat is on in her apartment, Rogers still has several pressing plumbing issues including “a big bubble in the ceiling [that looks] like it’s about to fall in, and it’s molding.”
She said her landlord promised to fix the damage in September, but no progress has been made. Unfortunately for Rogers, the teamwork that helped the tenants get the building’s heat turned on hasn’t helped get the plumbing fixed.
“It’s like [management] don’t care anymore,” she said.
As far as moving, Rogers doesn’t believe she should have to. Rogers’s rent is subsidized under Section 8 by the Chicago Trust Fund. Her contact at the trust fund advises her to move, but Rogers doesn’t want to.
“I can’t just up and leave and move,” she said. “I like my apartment, the area and everything.”