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Chicago's Worst Landlords List Highlights Struggles of City Tenants

By Josh McGhee | January 27, 2015 6:40am | Updated on January 28, 2015 8:17am
 Ronald Williams said his family complained about 30 times to the city about their living conditions in 2014.
Ronald Williams' Apartment
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CHICAGO — Ronald Williams estimates his mother made close to 30 complaints against their landlord last year.

So when he learned the city would be publicly shaming bad landlords by releasing a list of the city's most problematic building owners, he knew his was a shoo-in.

"We were looking for it on TV. We woke up this morning expecting to see the list on the news," said Williams, 34, of Englewood.

Tuesday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel released the first Problem Landlord List, which identifies "residential building owners repeatedly cited for failing to provide tenants with basic services and protections, such as adequate heat, hot water, and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors," the city said.

 Neighbors create a sidewalk memorial for four children who died in a Roseland fire last September in Roseland.
Neighbors create a sidewalk memorial for four children who died in a Roseland fire last September in Roseland.
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DNAinfo/ Josh McGhee

William's landlord made the list, which includes 59 owners of 45 properties who are not providing their residents with services required by the city, officials said.

The list identifies "residential building owners repeatedly cited for failing to provide tenants with basic services and protections, such as adequate heat, hot water, and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors," the city said.

Josh McGhee says legal efforts take time, but the list helps potential tenants immediately:

The neighborhood with the most properties on the list is Austin, with six. North Lawndale, Roseland, Englewood and Woodlawn all have at least three properties on the list.

"We've complained, [the landlord] just don't do anything," Williams said Tuesday morning, explaining that his mother, Jacqueline Bradfield, pays about $900 a month for the third-floor apartment in the 6400 block of South Yale Avenue in Englewood.

Pointing to chipped paint on one wall, Williams said, "That's just the beginning."

Every window in the apartment is lined with thick plastic and covered with heavy drapes to stop heat from escaping.

Williams said they have two space heaters in every room.

"We'd be freezing without them," he said.

Williams said he and his mother have to "get creative" to keep their unit comfortable, relying on multiple space heaters and even boiling water continuously on the stove for added warmth.

"I can't even bring my kids here because of the mold," he said. "They're asthmatic."

His mother's pantry is dark, with exposed wires poking out where there should be an overhead light fixture.

One side of the kitchen sink works, the other half has a bucket below it. The bathroom sink hasn't worked in five years. When they need to wash their hands, they use their tub.

Check out the full bad landlord list here (story continues below):

Emanuel proposed compiling the list and making it public in early January after the city took the owners of 20 properties — or 280 residential units — to an emergency heat hearing to force them to restore heat after several days of single-digit temperatures.

The inspiration for the list was a tragic fire in Roseland last September, when a blocked exit trapped four children inside their apartment building.

The new list is the direct result of an ordinance approved last week honoring Carliysia Clark, Carlvon Clark, Shamarion Coleman and Eri’ana Patton Smith, the children who died in the fire, the city said.

According to city building data, the Clark family's building had failed more than 20 inspections since 2006. The most recent inspection, last June, found several broken doors, missing locks, leaks causing water damage, missing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and a broken third-floor kitchen door.

The building last passed inspection in February 2014, according to the website.

Making the list leaves landlords ineligible to buy city land, to get zoning changes, business licenses and any permits that don't address building violations. In the worst cases, third parties will take over the unsatisfactory properties.

The list will be updated twice a year.

As for the Williams family, they just hope the list will lead to some improvements around their home.

"We been thinking about [moving], but money is tight," Williams said. "It ain't hard to leave this place. It's hard find a new one."

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