What to do if your apartment is too hot

Chicago has laws for landlords to keep all apartments warm during the winter but does not have a similar blanket rule to keep them cool during the summer.

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Jasmeet Burmi (centro), de 7 años, con su familia de vacaciones en Chicago desde Canadá, come helado en las escaleras cerca de Buckingham Fountain en Grant Park mientras una ola de calor golpea el área de Chicago, el martes 22 de agosto de 2023.

Jasmeet Burmi (center), 7, with family on vacation in Chicago from Canada, eats ice cream Tuesday on steps near Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As extreme heat bears down on Chicago, everyone is taking measures to keep cool.

But what should you do if your apartment is too hot? Do you complain to the landlord? Or call 311?

We’ve got answers.

What’s required of landlords

Chicago does not require landlords to provide air conditioning in all apartments.

But under last year’s cooling ordinance, air conditioning is required in common areas of large apartment buildings and in all rooms of nursing homes and elderly homes.

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Landlords also must maintain existing air-conditioning units, according to state law.

If an apartment’s air conditioner is broken, tenants can ask the landlord to fix it. Under the law, landlords have 14 days to respond to repair requests, according to Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.

If a landlord doesn’t, a tenant can repair it themselves and deduct the amount from their next month’s rent.

Under extreme conditions, like in a heatwave, tenants can send an emergency request that must be completed within 24 hours

Tenants in suburban Cook County have similar rights under the county’s 2021 Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance.

First try your landlord, then 311

You can call 311 to report landlords not lawfully providing or fixing air conditioners, but your first call should be to your landlord, tenant rights lawyer Sam Barth said.

“Generally, the fastest way to get something resolved is to work with your landlord,” said Barth of the Law Center for Better Housing.

Tenants should carefully document their requests, Barth said. Many state and local laws require tenants to send repair notices to landlords in writing.

“I always tell folks to have their boxes checked,” Barth said.

The Law Center for Better Housing has an interactive tool to help tenants write repair request letters at rentervention.com.

New Chicago cooling ordinance

After the deaths of three people last year at the James Sneider Apartments, the city passed a cooling ordinance that requires air-conditioned common areas in residential buildings that are at least 80 feet tall, have more than 100 residents or are senior homes.

Landlords must turn on air-conditioning units to maintain a “safe” indoor temperature when the outdoor heat index exceeds 80 degrees, the ordinance states.

Buildings for seniors must have air conditioning in all common indoor spaces, while other buildings must have at least one air-conditioned common area.

The ordinance says landlords can use temporary air conditioners in common areas until April 30, 2024, when they will be required to use permanent units.

Under a separate ordinance passed last year, all rooms in nursing homes and elderly housing in Chicago must be cooled to 75 degrees when the outdoor heat index exceeds 80 degrees.

When to call 311

Residents can report landlords who don’t supply air-conditioned common areas to 311.

You should call 311 if you’re unable to contact a neighbor or relative and fear they may be in danger of excessive heat.

If you know there’s a heat-related medical emergency, call 911, the city says.

Keeping an apartment cool, and yourself

  • Keep shades drawn and blinds closed but windows slightly open.
  • Keep electric lights off or turned down.
  • Minimize use of oven and stove.
  • Stay hydrated — drink lots of water and avoid alcohol, caffeine, sodas.
  • Wear loose, light, cotton clothing.
  • Take cool baths and showers.
  • Do not leave anyone (including pets) in a parked car — even for a few minutes.

Cooling centers

Besides keeping cool at Chicago Public Library buildings and Chicago Park District field houses and splash pads, the city has opened cooling centers from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. The Garfield Center is open 24 hours.

  • Englewood Center, 1140 W. 79th Street
  • Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave. (24 hours)
  • King Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove
  • North Area Center, 845 W. Wilson Ave.
  • South Chicago Center, 8650 S. Commercial Ave.
  • Trina Davila Center, 4312 W. North Ave.

The city also opened senior centers as places for folks to cool down from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Regional Service Centers:

  • Southeast, 1767 E. 79th St.
  • Southwest, 6117 S. Kedzie Ave.
  • Central West, 2102 W. Ogden Ave.
  • Northeast, 2019 W. Lawrence Ave.
  • Northwest, 3160 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • Renaissance Court, 78 E. Washington St. (10 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

Satellite Senior Centers:

  • Pilsen, 2121 S. Morgan St.
  • West Town, 1615 W. Chicago Ave.
  • North Center, 4040 N. Oakley Ave.
  • Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave.
  • Portage Park, 4100 N. Long Ave.
  • Abbott Park, 49 E. 95th St.
  • Chatham Park, 8300 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
  • Roseland, 10426 S. Michigan Ave.
  • Garfield Ridge, 5674-B S. Archer Ave,
  • Kelvyn Park, 2715 N. Cicero Ave.
  • Auburn Gresham, 1040 W. 79th St.
  • Englewood, 653-657 W. 63rd St.
  • Austin, 5071 W. Congress Parkway
  • Edgewater, 5917 N. Broadway
  • South Chicago, 9233 S. Burley Ave.
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