Woodlawn residents withhold rent due to ‘unsafe and unsanitary' living conditions

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Woodlawn residents are banding together to demand their landlord resolve what they say are unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.

The group unionized, calling themselves 312 Tenants Union. Megan Franklin, who’s lived in the building on the 6600 block of S Kenwood Avenue for nearly 10 years, is the organizer.

“Pretty much everything negligent that you can think of, we’ve been through,” she told NBC Chicago. “We have black mold, rats, mice, roaches, stairs that don’t work, doors that don’t lock.”

Franklin said she once fell through the floor when a cracked tile gave-in.

“Since then I sort of have been trying to connect with my neighbors to see what else is going on because I’m sure I’m not the only one,” she said.

Franklin was not alone. Others sent videos of sewage leaking into their apartment, roaches, rodents and mold. Now seven of the 35 units are part of the 312 Tenants Union.

“We connected with the law center for better housing and we found out that we have the right to withhold up to 50 percent of rent if the damages match the price,” Franklin said.

The group wrote letters to the management company, 312 Properties, notifying them that if conditions aren’t fixed in the next two weeks they will withhold rent.

It’s a legal renters right under the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance in Chicago.

NBC Chicago spoke to Chicago Tenants Rights Law Managing Attorney Charles Drennen about those rights.

“A tenant is entitled to withhold a portion of the rent until the repairs are made, a tenant is entitled to make repairs themselves and deduct that expense from the rent and they’re entitled to terminate a lease and move,” Drennen explained. “It basically just says you must give your landlord proper legal notice, and if the issue is not completely resolved then you can withhold rent.”

He said it’s important to note the issue must be eradicated in order to be resolved. For example, if there is an infestation a landlord could put out traps or chemicals, but if the pests don’t completely leave tenants still have a right to take those options into their own hands.

“It’s no surprise to most people in Chicago there are a lot of slumlords in Chicago,” Drennen said. “And [there are] a lot of landlords who just aren’t complying or not maintaining their properties properly.”

Drennen said it’s important for Chicago renters to know their rights.

NBC Chicago reached out to 312 Properties and spoke over the phone. They provided the following statement:

"Our management team has made every possible attempt to communicate with residents and complete maintenance requests. The vast majority of our residents have been fully cooperative and their issues have been resolved. However, a small group of residents have denied our team entry for over a week after issuing repair requests. We have called, emailed, and been on site for the past week, but are not receiving responses and have still been denied entry. Our goal is to handle any repair needed in a timely and efficient manner.  With proper cooperation this matter can be resolved in a few days. We encourage all of our residents to reach out to our team as soon as possible to resolve any issues." 

Tenants told NBC Chicago the management company has showed up unannounced, when they aren’t home or have only provided short notice.

“A tenant should accommodate that request and make it as easy as possible for the landlord to address those issues,” Drennen said. “That said, a landlord does have an obligation to give a two days notice in writing before entering an apartment.”

For Franklin, it’s about standing her ground in the community she loves.

“We are not leaving, we are Woodlawn,” she said. “With the Obama Center and everything coming, we deserve to see the fruits of those labors. We’ve been the ones sticking it out.”

She encourages renters across the city to know their rights and stand up for safer living conditions.

“You have to be able to be brave enough to talk to all your neighbors,” she said. “I know that can be scary because everyone is so ashamed to be living like this, but there is hope on the other side.”

According to city building records, the property was cited 14 times for violations. That only included exterior issues. The site says inspectors were unable to evaluate the interior, but would return to do so.

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