Everyone deserves a warm, dry, and safe home. But for several years, residents at an apartment complex in Harvey dealt with no heat, collapsed stairs, criminal activity, and several other unsafe living conditions. All while being expected to pay their rent in full.
After several ignored orders from the City of Harvey to renovate, the owners of the apartment complex on 144th and Halsted were told that the buildings were uninhabitable and must be evacuated by October 28, 2023. However, when it came to notifying the tenants of the imminent eviction, the landlord and the city were less than thorough.
When January 5th, 2024 came along, several tenants woke up to construction noise and upon attempting to exit their home, they found bolted planks of wood trapping them in, many having to escape through their windows. The workers in unmarked clothing ignored warnings that people were still inside the apartments they were boarding.
Nothing justifies this gross lack of empathy and respect for these Harvey residents. The complete disregard for their safety by both the city and the slumlord owners is completely unacceptable, and Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers will not let them go unanswered.
In This Article:
- Types of Unsafe Living Conditions
- What is a Landlord’s “Implied Warranty of Habitability”?
- Illinois Laws Protecting Tenant Rights
- Impact on Low-Income Residents
- How Much Does it Cost To Speak to A Lawyer?
Types of Unsafe Living Conditions
Your home should be warm, dry, and secure. However, several unsafe living conditions can interfere with these basic needs. Unsafe living conditions can include:
- Rodent or pest (i.e. bed bugs) infestation
- Heating issues
- Structural issues
- Accumulation of garbage, trash, refuse, or debris
- Faulty electrical systems
- Broken windows
- Broken locks
- Sewage backup
- Leaking roof
- No hot water
- Improper lighting in stairways and hallways according to municipal code
- Unsafe environment (i.e. criminal activity)
- Damaged floors or stairs
It’s important to note that the tenant has a responsibility to keep the rental unit clean and undamaged. However, it is not the tenant’s responsibility if the damages are from normal wear and tear.
What is a Landlord’s “Implied Warranty of Habitability”?
If you are renting your home, then it is your landlord’s responsibility to maintain the property to ensure it is habitable. This is also referred to as the “implied warranty of habitability.” Put simply, the implied warranty of habitability is, the landlord’s implied responsibility to maintain the property in a habitable condition.
With garbage and broken bottles everywhere, two buildings with no heat, and a set of collapsed stairs, the landlord at the Harvey apartment complex was clearly in breach of the implied warranty of habitability. Landlords who allow their tenants to live in these conditions are commonly referred to as slumlords. Slumlords only care about profit and allow their buildings to go into despair before spending a dime on maintaining the property.
If your landlord does not promptly and adequately fix any issues causing unsafe living conditions, you have rights as we’ll discuss later in this article. The first step is always to notify your landlord of any issues and to do so in writing. Having clear documentation of your requests can help protect you should your landlord later ignore those requests.
Ultimately, it is the city’s responsibility to hold landlords accountable for maintaining the property’s habitability. In the case of the Harvey residents, after years of complaints, the city appropriately deemed the property uninhabitable after the landlord’s continued refusal to make necessary repairs.
The question is, did the city fulfill its duty to protect these residents and was the housing crisis they were facing adequately resolved? One might argue that boarding up residents in their homes is not fulfilling that duty.
Tenant Rights When a Landlord Refuses to Make Repairs
Several state and local laws are in place to protect tenant rights when a landlord refuses to make repairs. One law that covers all Illinois residents is the Illinois Residential Tenant’s Right to Repair Act. This act allows tenants to withhold part of their rent equal to the cost of repairs if a landlord refuses to make the repair within fourteen days after notification by the tenant. A tenant must first notify the landlord in writing (via certified or registered mail) of their intentions to exercise this right.
In the city of Harvey, the municipal code offers specific protections when the landlord fails to supply heat, electricity, hot water, plumbing, or gas to the rental unit. The tenant should give notice to the landlord in writing to restore services or provide suitable substitute housing. If the landlord fails to act within 36 hours of receiving the notice, the tenant’s options are:
- If continued occupancy is lawful, the tenant can remain in the rental unit and procure alternative sources of essential services, deducting the cost from the rent.
- If continued occupancy is lawful, the tenant can remain and recover damages based on the diminution in fair rental value, along with determined costs and fees by the court.
- The tenant can procure substitute housing for the lease term, making good faith efforts to find comparable housing at a similar cost to the rent paid. In this case, the tenant is excused from paying rent for the period of the landlord’s noncompliance and can recover excess costs, including moving expenses and other determined costs and fees by the court.
** There are similar laws in Chicago and other nearby cities in Illinois as well.
If the landlord continues to willfully ignore requests, the tenant may also recover actual damages and additional costs and fees awarded by the court. It is always in the tenant’s best interest to contact an attorney or legal aid when dealing with complex housing laws. In extreme cases, such as with the Harvey tenants, the city may interfere by issuing warnings to the landlord to remedy the unsafe living conditions or condemning the building entirely.
Impact on Low-Income Residents
Low-income and other at-risk residents are often vulnerable to slumlords. These unethical landlords count on the fact that finding a new place to live is difficult for residents who may not be able to afford it. Knowing they have nowhere else to go, slumlords will spend as little as possible on managing the property, taking all the profit for themselves.
With 24.4% of Harvey residents living in poverty, many members of this community have been victimized by slumlords. No one deserves to live in such conditions. That’s why our firm has started taking cases for the residents who were boarded up or impacted by this event. The city should have done more to protect these tenants, some of whom are disabled or living on Section 8, which requires a lengthy approval process.
How Much Does it Cost To Speak to A Lawyer?
Understanding your rights as a tenant in Illinois is invaluable but it cannot be stressed enough that housing laws can be tricky to navigate. There are several loopholes and opportunities for landlords to take advantage of their tenants. That’s why having an experienced attorney in your corner who understands housing laws and is passionate about protecting the rights of all Illinois residents can make all the difference. You should not have to go it alone.
At Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers, we never back down from any case we take on. And we’re not backing down from protecting the rights of these Harvey tenants who deserved much better from both their landlord and the city. If you are reaching the last straw with your landlord, you can speak with one of our attorneys to discuss your case at zero cost to you. And if we move forward with your case, it’s free unless we win — and winning for our clients is what we do.
Contact us today for a FREE case review or call (312) 600-6000. Find out why thousands say… Larry wins!