Hello, Everyone! I owe you an update. Being trapped by poverty and the rising rents in my area, having dogs and no options to move, after two fires in the building and no alarms going off, I called a city inspector. It took months for anyone to show up, too. I though saying the words “two fires” would put some hustle into a response, but no such luck.
The inspector found a whopping gas leak from multiple sources in the basement that could has killed the tenants on the first floor if not all of us. The city did put the big smack down on my slumlord for thousands of dollars in fines and many more in needed repairs. The building I live in still needs to pass an engineering inspection and could still be condemned. The current new repairs have made this dump kind of nice. No repairs were made to my unit, so the ceiling still leaks and other bad things.
I had let the inspector go through every nook and cranny of the building, and the slumlord damn well knows it was me. He immediately ordered us to move, and we do not have a lease. Our slumlord was stalking and harassing us every time he saw us in person. He does not have a job of any kind so he can hang around all day long and all week long for as long as he wants. We did to him what he has done for six years: we lied. We said we were looking for a new place. This is sort of true as our desperate search for anything we can afford has lasted years. The slumlord kept demanding we get out and there was a stalemate. The fines and repairs cost him thousands and we are still a source of income. We have paid rent on time and he has cashed all the checks for months.
Part of the issue is that our slumlord does not own the building. His mother owns it. It was years before I learned that fact. He says he owns it, he acts like he owns it, he signs leases but he is just a proxy. This is a legal limbo since I am not sure he has the authority to evict us. I am finding this happens a lot in Chicago. The “owner” you may be speaking to or used to dealing with could just be a manager, friend, relative or other proxy and not the legal owner. Check county records for the deed and see who really owns where you live. You might be surprised. If someone’s name is not on the title, that person does not own a thing.
I spoke with an attorney and learned our slumlord is going to lose big if he does serve eviction papers, because that would be overt proof of retaliation against us. I exercised my legal right to call a city inspector. The attorney I spoke with was sharp, went over the details of my situation quickly. He told me we can 1. sue for decrease in rent: since the apartment was not up to code for a number of years so we are entitled to a decrease in rent by getting a percentage of rent paid back, maybe about 20% of our monthly rent payment; 2. we can sue him for retaliation under tenant’s rights laws if the landlord serves us papers and tries to evict us in court (or as the lawyer put it “he is going to regret it, seriously”); and 3. we could sue him for violation for the Chicago tenants code for security deposit and interest, plus attorneys fess / consultation. At least that is what I understand from the conversation I had with the attorney. We can’t afford $1500 to hire the attorney but may have to pull something together in an emergency some day. I’m keeping the attorney’s number handy. I called a lot of other attorneys and got their dippy assistants, or worse, their dippy own selves. Trust me, if an attorney can’t get the basic facts of your case right in the first go-through, they do not care or just need to retire. If you need a litigator, you want a shark. You want someone who can think fast, knows the laws inside and out and will bite hard.
I tried emailing and calling two Chicago tenant’s rights groups and they were useless. It was like they were not able to understand what I needed from them [prompt legal help] or they refused to understand. I kept getting the same responses to go to the same web sites that were no help! Maybe I needed to try and meet with someone in person. If anyone can suggest a group or organization that has it together and actually helps, I’m interested. Having called the city inspector would not be an issue if the slumlord did not promptly retaliate with verbal evictions and if he did fix the stuff in our apartment. Since the slumlord is at maximum hostility and refuses to fix stuff for our unit, the only changes have been exterior building improvements, pest removal and basement repairs. That has been 50% of the equation. We’re biting the bullet on the problems with our unit in the mean time. I climbed out onto the roof to plastic seal over one of the broken windows now that it is winter. We are going live in the current stand-off situation for as long as possible.