Smile Politely

Negligent landlords and renters’ rights in C-U

Outside photo of the Champaign Park Apartments. Green grass is on the left, there is a grey sidewalk in the middle, and apartment buildings to the right. There are picnic tables in the grass and a tennis courts in the background.

For low- and moderate-income residents in Champaign-Urbana, affordable, safe, and comfortable housing is hard to come by. Like many social issues, this issue has only been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. The League of Women Voters of Champaign County recently posted an informative video on the subject if you want a deep dive into the topic. That said, the recent issue with Champaign Park Apartments provides a chilling (pun intended) representation of the issues. 

The problems at Champaign Park Apartments began in October 2022 when residents began complaining of a lack of heat in the apartments. City inspectors declared many of the buildings unlivable. When the property owners failed to provide alternative housing, the City of Champaign had to step in and help displaced tenants find accommodation at local hotels. After the property manager completed some repairs in December, some of the tenants could move back in, only to have to leave again during the extreme cold event in December. As of January 10, 2023, only seven of the 42 apartment buildings in the complex are without condemnations or critical code violations. At this point, City of Champaign will step in a second time to assist residents.

While we applaud the City of Champaign for stepping in to help displaced citizens in this fiasco, we can’t imagine that living out of a hotel for months on end is a comfortable situation. Moreover, Champaign Apartments Owner, LLC is not the only negligent landlord in our community. A quick sweep of the UIUC Subreddit reveals seemingly endless horror stories from renters ranging from leaks, frozen pipes, and cockroach infections to furnace explosions and much more. In one of the many recent frozen pipe allegations, the City of Urbana allegedly had to intervene and force the landlords to provide alternative housing and fund repairs. 

Landlords in this community need to do better by their tenants. The City of Champaign and City of Urbana should not have to step in every time there is a cold snap to ensure that residents’ rights aren’t being infringed upon. That said, residents would do well to know their rights and who to contact for help in an emergency.

Landlords must provide habitable living conditions. These include ensuring there is central heating of some kind and hot running water. Among other things, they must also address infestations, leaks, and missing or inoperable smoke detectors. Additionally, landlords must also provide safe living conditions, including sufficient lighting in hallways and entrances, operable locks on windows, and deadbolts on doors. 

When there are issues that require repair, tenants should first contact their landlord. If the problems are not resolved promptly, tenants are advised to take the following steps: 

  1. Send a written request through Certified Return-Receipt Mailing.
  2. File a complaint with the housing inspector for the City of Champaign or the City of Urbana, depending on the address of the impacted residence.
  3. File a complaint with Off-Campus Community Living (for University of Illinois students only).
  4. Consult with an attorney.

Tenants have other rights well-described on the University of Illinois Off-Campus Community Living’s helpful resource page. The Champaign-Urbana Tenants Union is also a good resource for tenants facing issues with their landlords. Although closed to walk-in appointments, you can email them and get help. 

Along with rights, tenants also have responsibilities. These include cleaning out the lint traps and checking dryer vents to prevent fire risks, and checking and changing the batteries of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Also, even if you are going out of town for a vacation, you should never turn your heat off in the winter. We know energy costs are egregious right now, but a burst pipe will ruin everyone’s apartments. 

We hope that local landlords will step it up. Still, in the meantime, we hope tenants will understand their rights and feel comfortable contacting the appropriate authorities to step in whenever necessary. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Trude Namara, and Mara Thacker.

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