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City Should Inspect Apartments Every 5 Years To Prevent Landlord Neglect, Ald. Says

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez introduced the Healthy Homes ordinance at City Council in December and said she hopes to garner enough support for a hearing.

Marminta Dunnigan speaks at a press event on Jan. 20, 2022, outside the offices of BSD Realty, 7701 S. Cottage Ave. Tenants at buildings managed by the realty company said living conditions are unsafe and unsanitary.
Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A proposed ordinance aims to hold neglectful landlords to account by requiring apartments to be inspected regularly.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization, a tenants rights advocacy group, has teamed up with progressives in City Council to push for its Chicago Healthy Homes ordinance. The ordinance would require apartments be inspected by the city’s health department at least once every five years.

Routine apartment inspections — for ventilation, mold control, lead levels and heating — are not required in Chicago.

John Bartlett, executive director of Metropolitan Tenants Organization, said the inspections would spot deteriorations before they become life-threatening for tenants — instead of inspectors playing catch-up with dangerous buildings.

Mandatory inspections would also protect tenants who fear they’ll face retaliation for raising concerns, Bartlett said.

“If there’s lead in the pipes, we want that fixed before your kid gets sick,” Bartlett said. “If we put inspections into a third party’s hands, then it doesn’t affect the landlord-tenant relationship.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) introduced the ordinance at City Council in December and said she hopes to garner enough support for a hearing.

Thirteen alderpeople back Healthy Homes so far, Rodriguez-Sanchez and Bartlett said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Fall foliage flourishes next to an apartment building in South Shore on Oct. 14, 2022.

Rodriguez-Sanchez said she’s leading the effort as tenants in her ward — particularly those who are undocumented or low-income — continue to bring issues to her office they say landlords aren’t addressing.

“This problem is prevalent,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “And we have to intervene too often.

“… There’s an unfortunate culture of landlords that are not responsible to the needs of their tenants. It’s a bad dynamic when housing is driven exclusively by profit.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
CFD responds after a massive fire destroyed Twisted Hippo Brewery, Ultimate Ninjas Gym and an apartment building near the corner of Montrose Avenue and Richmond Street early Feb. 21, 2022 in Albany Park.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization has a tenants’ rights hotline and has received 85 calls this month about tenants not having heat, Bartlett said.

When heaters break down, residents sometimes bunker in cold apartments as they wait on fixes — even though the city requires landlords to heat units Sept. 15-June 1, Bartlett said. That scenario is more preventable with proactive inspections, Bartlett said.

“We don’t want to put the onus on tenants to call when there’s a problem,” Bartlett said. “The goal is to ensure that units are maintained and to go after landlords who are not living up to their responsibilities.”

Los Angeles requires rental property inspections at least once every four years.

In hopes of drumming up more support for Chicago’s proposal, Rodriguez-Sanchez said the inspections program will at first be a 180-day pilot program in three or four wards: the 20th, 22nd, 33rd and 49th. The pilot would conclude with a report, Rodriguez-Sanchez said.

The next steps could be requiring landlords to register their units with the city so inspectors can keep track of their compliance.

Housing should be a fundamental right, and too many Chicagoans are stuck in the cold — inside and outside — this winter, Rodriguez-Sanchez said.

“I believe this is something urgent,” she said.