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Family With Newborn Goes Week Without Heat: 'We're Running Out of Options'

By Josh McGhee | February 20, 2015 5:17am
 Buildings witthout heat.
Buildings Without Heat
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GARFIELD PARK — For over a week, Otis Redmond has exhausted idea after idea to keep his wife and three kids, including his month-old son, warm since the building's furnace went out last week.

All the windows in his home are covered in thick plastic, and he uses a mattress to block the cold air from the front room of the apartment. His wife and kids have spent most of the week barricaded in a back room, near a stove with all four burners on along with the oven. He understands the dangers, but has run out of answers, he said Thursday.

"I ain't want to do it at the time, but after a while, the temperature kept dropping and dropping; then it was either that or freeze to death. We were running out of options. When it's that or death, you go with the way that's working," Redmond said.

The furnace in the three-story apartment building in the 3800 block of West Congress Parkway went out Feb. 12, he said. Since then, Redmond has seen and heard people working on the furnace, yet he's still without heat. Workers were at the apartment building until 1 a.m. Thursday, but when city inspectors came in later the apartment was 42 degrees, he said.

"And to me, it's been colder than that. Just imagine it at night time," said Redmond, 35. "Basically, I've been freezing my a-- off."

Thursday morning, the Chicago Department of Business and Law told several building owners to restore heat in tenants' homes, although Redmond's building was not among them. 

The city said nearly 300 buildings have been inspected for heat-related issues this week.

City Building Department officials could not immediately give details later Thursday on the inspectors' visits to Redmond's building.

But Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said his office was aware of the problems at the building and he is working "to get the situation resolved as expeditiously as possible."

"I am always disappointed by the actions of bad landlords that leave their tenants to suffer in brutal conditions. No one should have to go without heat or hot water during this extreme weather," Ervin said Thursday. 

In a news release, Ervin said that it was his understanding the heat was back on at the building, but Redmond said the heat in his apartment had only been restored briefly Thursday and was off again.

From Sept. 15 to June 1, landlords are required to keep apartments 68 degrees or higher from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Apartment temperatures need to be kept at least 66 degrees or higher at night. Landlords can be fined $500 per day if adequate heat is not supplied, according to the city's heat ordinance.

Some city residents have taken to complaining to the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, which has a website to educate residents about their rights regarding heat.

If a building is found to have dangerously low heat, the city can step in to make repairs, the department said.

Redmond and his family have lived in the apartment since November, and have had numerous problems that have been adequately addressed by their landlord, he said. When he moved into the apartment, debris remained from previous construction. Other problems he reported were ignored or partially fixed, including rotten windowsills that were just painted over, he said.

He's come to expect heating problems living in Chicago during the winter, but it's especially scary with a newborn, a 3-year-old and 5-year-old, he said.

"I pay my rent on time, and every time there's a problem she'll beat around [the bush] and never come back and fix nothing," Redmond said.

His landlord, Renee Conley, did not be respond to repeated messages left on her cellphone Thursday.

Redmond wasn't the only one complaining about the building. When he woke up Thursday there was no running water in his apartment, but his downstairs neighbors' kitchen was filled with icy water they said came from above them.

"It was just all over the floor this morning," said Sheppard Earnice.

Earnice and her daughter, Deloise Davis, said they've also witnessed people working on the furnace for a few days, but have grown impatient.

"I don't know what they're doing, but I'm freezing. I don't want to get [our landlord] in trouble, but I'm 63 years old. How long am I going to have to endure this? Just breathe and you'll see your breath," Earnice said.

To stay warm in the apartment, the family flocks to the front room, where they depend on sunlight and space heaters to keep warm, or they pile into one bedroom, said Earnice, who was dressed in layers of hoodies, scarves, hats and sweatpants.

When the family moved in in August, they faced problems with the radiator. She ended up dealing with the problem on her own, she said.

"I'm a country woman. I just fixed them myself," she said adding it has now gotten to the point where it's too cold for her to shower or cook food.

"I've been trying to be lenient with her. I can deal with many things, but I can't deal with the cold."

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