Lately, LCBH’s Affordable Housing Preservation Program (AHPP) attorneys have been working with many renters confronted with displacement and eviction because of redevelopment. In the Logan Square neighborhood stands an extraordinary apartment building. It was quaint, diverse, and had rents of only $600 - $700 a month. It had one vintage elevator with an iron gate to close. The building was close to public transportation and lots of shops, and was in a safe and quiet area. The renters living there loved most everything about it.
The building was sold to an investor who intended to gut and rehab the building, and, of course, substantially increase rents. In order to do this, the investor would need to vacate the building of its current residents. A few weeks before Christmas, a barrage of 30-day notices went out followed by eviction filings and court summonses. A few tenants attempted to renew their leases, but were refused. Some of the tenants moved out, accepting that they would no longer be able to live there.
During this push to move the tenants out, unpermitted construction at the property began. The construction was noisy and disruptive. The tenants watched as their building underwent rehabilitation that they would not have an opportunity to benefit from. At the same time, basic maintenance and repairs to their individual units had just about stopped completely.
Some of the tenants had been there ten years. Others had searched and searched before finding this place and were afraid to search again. One tenant wanted to be able to live in Logan Square with her daughter because it was safe, and she was certain that the only places she could afford would not be as safe. Others wanted to stay and could not understand why they were not allowed to renew their lease while new tenants, area students in particular, were being asked to move in. So a few brave tenants banded together and began a quest for some form of justice. They started by contacting the Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization (MTO) which then contacted LCBH. Together both organizations helped the tenants form a tenants’ union and demand that these unfair practices end.
The effort took various forms. Tenants first notified the City of Chicago about the construction. Tenants notified the landlord about defects in their units pursuant to the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). Tenants also rallied in front of the management office. In the end, from all of the pressure from the tenants’ union, the investor agreed to settle the tenants’ grievances with the LCBH legal team. The parties reached a resolution that was fair for both sides: all the eviction cases that had been filed were sealed, tenants were given several months to find new housing, and monetary assistance was provided to help with their moves.
Although, the tenants were unable to stay in the building, by forming a union and working in this fashion, they achieved much better outcomes for themselves. Tenants who could not have moved in the time the court required would have an eviction on their record, thereby making it very difficult to find new housing. Tenants may have also had a money judgment entered against them for outstanding rent, thereby leaving them open to poor credit and even a wage garnishment. Tenants would have had less time to move and/or been forced out by the sheriff in the winter. This case highlights the power of tenants’ unions and speaking out about unfair or illegal landlord practices.
This case also sheds light on the burgeoning issues of redevelopment of SROs and other older affordable buildings. It raises the question of what to do about renters being displaced or forced to move to poorer neighborhoods or out of state. Renters are dealing with a lot in today’s housing market, including: foreclosure, redevelopment, increased rents, and tarnished tenant profiles from unfair evictions. This means that there is still much work for tenant advocates – for all of us – to do to preserve affordable rental housing for renters.