Legal advice to help survive the long winter

Unless you are planning to hibernate the rest of the winter, it’s a good idea to know your rights and responsibilities for heating your apartment.

I. The 1990 BOCA Basic Property Maintenance Code as adopted by the City of DeKalb, requires all owners of residential dwelling units to provide the unit with heating facilities capable of “maintaining a room temperature of 65 degrees in all habitable rooms, bathroom and toilet rooms during the hours between 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. and maintain a temperature of not less than 60 degrees during other hours. The temperature shall be measured at a point 3 feet above the floor and 3 feet from exterior walls.” Under the code, “every window and exterior door shall be fitted reasonably in its frame and be weather-tight. Weatherstripping shall be used to exclude wind or rain from entering the dwelling or structure and shall be kept in sound condition and good repair.”

If after checking the windows, doors and the temperature you find that the defined standards are not being met, contact your landlord and discuss the situation. If there is no reasonable response, you should complain to the City of DeKalb Department of Building and Community Services 748-2070. Buy a thermometer and keep a daily log of the temperature in your apartment as evidence in the event the matter ends up in court.

The City Code does not require that storm windows be provided. Additional weather barriers are useful and cost efficient, so consider self help. Recent technological developments make installing plastic film on windows almost as easy as operating a hairdryer. Talk to your landlord about picking up the costs of heat-saving devices.

II. Most tenants are responsible for heating costs. If so, you should know about your rights and responsibilities in relation to the utility companies. Utility companies in Illinois are regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). By law, every utility company is required to have one person available at all times to resolve complaints and problems. If this person cannot answer your question or resolve your complaint, ask to speak to a supervisor. If this does not help, contact the ICC’s Consumer’s Assistance Office, 1-800-735-3287. The Consumer’s Assistance Office investigates both sides of a complaint and reaches a decision or arranges a compromise. If you are still dissatisfied, you can request a hearing before the Commerce Commission, or take the case to court. The utility cannot discontinue service while the ICC is investigating your complaint, provided you promptly pay the undisputed portion of your bill.

The Commission also forbids discontinuance of service on any weekday or day preceding a weekend or holiday if the National Weather Service has forecast a temperature of 32 degrees or below for that day or any 24 hour period during the weekend or holiday. Between December 1 and March 31, a utility must continue service even if you are behind in your bills, provided you pay your current bill promptly and pay 10 percent of the back due bill every month.

Don Henderson

Lynn Richards

Students’ Legal Assistance