Buildings must meet certain requirements

When you and your roommates sit down for breakfast, is it so cold in your apartment you can see each other’s breath when you speak? When you go into the kitchen for an early a.m. snack, do you catch hordes of roaches picnicking on your countertops?” If so, you likely are living with conditions which constitute violations of the City of DeKalb Property Maintenance Code.

What follows is a brief discussion of how you can take action to induce your landlord to remedy substandard conditions.

Preliminary Steps. Under law, landlords are not presumed to be aware of all the things that might or have gone wrong with your apartment, and are entitled to a reasonable opportunity to fix the problem once notified. What is reasonable depends on the circumstances. A week or ten days might be reasonable time to fix a cracked window, but is too long a time to repair a nonfunctioning furnace during the winter.

If oral communication proves ineffective, try a letter. The letter should explain in some detail the nature of the problem and include a deadline on or before which you expect the conditions to be repaired. Again, be reasonable but firm. Keep a record of all your attempts to notify the landlord of your complaints and the nature of his response or non-response.

Making a Housing Code Complaint. The City of DeKalb Housing Code establishes minimum conditions of heath and safety for all occupants of residential dwellings within the city limits. Specific areas include minimum space requirements, ventilations, exterior and interior structures such as windows, stairs, porches and railings, plumbing, electrical and heating facilities, fire protection systems, garbage disposal and pest extermination.

To make a complaint, call the City of DeKalb at 756-4881 and arrange for a code enforcement officer to inspect your premises. (You can also call the code enforcement office simply to determine whether a given condition in your premises is covered by the code). The city cannot inspect individual rooms or apartments where they have not been invited.

If you fear retaliation by the landlord, consider joining in with other residents of the building in making your complaint. Realize, also, that Illinois law prohibits a landlord from terminating or refusing to renew a lease in retaliation for a housing complaint.

Obviously, you and/or one of your roommates need to be present for the inspection. Be prepared to show the inspector all the conditions you are complaining of as well as the length of time the condition has been present. Physical evidence, such as a sample of the roaches you’ve killed, also should be preserved and shown to the inspector. Request that you receive a copy of any correspondence the inspector sends to the landlord.

Enforcement Procedures. Typically, where housing code violations have been discovered, the city will notify the landlord in writing and establish a deadline for the landlord to come into compliance with the code. The housing code gives the city several enforcement mechanisms to deal with recalcitrant landlords, including a citation system which can lead to daily fines for noncompliance and even imprisonment. The city also has authority to arrange for private contractors to make the necessary repairs and bill the landlord. In extreme situations, the city can also declare the premises uninhabitable, which would result in the onerous, but necessary consequence that you would have to find other housing.

Lease Remedies. The existence of substandard conditions in your apartment also may violate specific provisions in your lease contract. Illinois law also imputes a “warranty of habitability” in all residential lease agreements. What options and remedies are available to you under your lease are matters that you should seek legal counsel about. The Students’ Legal Assistance Office is available for all fee-paying students for this purpose.