DeKALB — Ceilings falling, gunshots heard outside of bedroom windows, compromised safety, mold in bathrooms — these are only some stories members of the Tenant’s Association had to share during their informal meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 900 Normal Rd.
During the meeting, there were a few children playing in the back of the room while the adults sat at two tables together. One table laughed and played cards while the other table voiced concerns about how unfairly they were treated by landlords in the past and even now. The tenants shared their misfortunes that have come with their renting experiences over pizza and snacks.
The goal of the Tenant’s Association is to educate renters on what their rights are.
Jacob Maas, organizer for the Tenant’s Association, said landlords are accustomed to renters not knowing their rights. Because of that, the city needs to do more to protect and educate tenants and prove affordable housing, he said.
“I believe housing is a human right,” Maas said. “I’m fortunate enough to have a decent relationship with my landlord. They treat me pretty well. It’s because I’m comfortable that I have a responsibility.”
Maas said that the Tenant’s Association is pushing for a common lease that would apply to all property rentals in the city.
“In Evanston, they have to use a lease provided by the city,” he said. “It helps maintenance and renters get their security deposits back — it lessens the varying legal questionability.”
One of the issues the attendees discussed is feeling as though their safety and security is compromised in their apartment complexes.
“Drug deals are going on in my apartment,” tenant Christopher Lewis said. “People keep the doors open so buyers can come in and out. It’s not secure.”
There was an armed robbery Oct. 23 at the 1400 block of West Lincoln Highway, near Lincoln Tower apartments.
“I heard gunshots from my bedroom window the other day,” Caprisha Williams said. “I’m from Chicago. I spent 18 years dodging bullets. I shouldn’t be still doing that here.”
Another issue the tenants have is the condition of their apartments. Lewis said his carpets have not been cleaned or maintained. Williams said water damage causes her ceilings to collapse, her heating does not work and her windows are not properly insulated. Rukisha Crawford, another tenant at the Tenant’s Association, heard there was a water issue with the well, and tenants were concerned with their pets losing hair as a result.
“I can smell mold in my bathroom,” Williams said. “My damn heat should work — it doesn’t. My windows aren’t properly insulated. There’s a hole in my ceiling because it fell again. I told [the landlord] about it yesterday, but no one called me about it.”
Williams said she cannot afford to move because she has not found work. She’s looking to move, but many nearby apartments are out of her price range.
Sid Kincaid, another member of the Tenant’s Association, said he left DeKalb because of the landlord troubles he had.
“I was struggling to get by, so I was late on paying my rent each time,” Kincaid said. “Because of that, I kept accruing fees. If it weren’t for the fees, I would’ve been able to pay my rent on time. It’s like a de facto poor tax. Eventually, when my lease was up, I was like ‘I’m done. I’m out of here.’ That was one of the reasons I moved to Rockford.”
A few of the tenants at the Tenant’s Association meeting said they feel as though the management does not care about the state of the apartments they rent out.
“The management companies are here to rent the apartments; they’re not there to fix the apartments,” Lewis said.
Some of the tenants said they are afraid to complain because they fear retaliation.
“The landlords aren’t sympathetic; I can’t do anything because I don’t want any retaliation,” Lewis said. “I need a place to live.”
Maas said he believes an organized group of renters can stand together as a community.
“We have to be standing as a collective because they can’t ignore everyone,” Williams said. “I come [to the Tenant’s Association] to support because it’s nice to know that others are going through the same [stuff].”
Many of the tenants said they believe in standing together as a collective and coming together as a community to combat their concerns with their landlords.
“The only thing we renters have is each other,” Maas said.