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City moves to protect tenants at five South Side buildings with inadequate heat

Chicago’s Department of Buildings moved Thursday to protect tenants at five South Side buildings accused of providing a “dangerous lack of heat and/or water” on the coldest day of the year.

The five buildings fast-tracked in Housing Court in response to resident complaints are located at: 1250 S. Albany; 3359 W. 61st Pl.; 8331 S. Buffalo; 2828 S. Pulaski and 3639 W. 85th St.

If necessary, the city will ask that a “heat receiver” be appointed to make the emergency repairs necessary to comply with the city’s temperature requirements during cold-weather months.

From Sept. 15 to June 1, the mandatory minimum temperature is 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and 66 degrees overnight. The fine for failing to supply adequate heat to maintain those temperatures is $500 per day. The requirement applies to all rental units and any Chicago unit where the tenant does not have “individual control” over the temperature.

“Mayor Emanuel has made it clear that we will take the necessary steps to hold landlords responsible for providing basic safety standards and protections, especially during these extremely cold temperatures,” Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis was quoted as saying in a press release.

“As the enforcer of the Chicago Heat Ordinance, the Department of Buildings works diligently to quickly address complaints of no heat and no water and to gain compliance from building owners.”

Last month, the City Council agreed to create a “bad landlords” list to inform tenants — and both shame and punish building owners who fail to provide the most basic services, including heat and water, after testimony from a grieving father.

Eric Patton Smith’s daughter, Eri’ana, was one of four children who died last year in a Roseland fire in a building without working smoke detectors.

The 18-unit building that burned in the 11200 block of South Vernon had been cited for serious violations six times over the past nine years, according to Davis.

The most recent inspection — on June 9, 2014 — cited the building owner for failing to install and maintain working smoke detectors.

“Losing a child hurts, regardless of how you lose them. But to find out that you lost your child simply because someone did not put a smoke detector in or did not fix a $20 lock on a door to keep a vagrant out is hard,” Patton Smith told aldermen then.

“How do you go through with life after losing a child for something so simple? A lot of times, I want to blame myself. If I would have known that all I had to do [was buy] a $20 lock or a smoke detector, I would have put it in myself. . . . That day has forever changed my life, and it could have been prevented.”

Patton Smith said he grew up in South Side apartments with broken boilers and no heat and never once got offered a rent discount because of the sorry conditions.

“I understand your concern for your constituents that are [landlords]. But this is drafted for those that really just don’t care . . . They’re trying to get renters in at a cheaper price that won’t complain while they go along and collect the rent while you live in unsafe conditions,” he said.

The list is comprised of building owners who have had more than three cases referred to administrative hearing officers over the prior 24 months for violations such as inadequate heat, lack of working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.

The first list included 45 properties. It could trigger a new round of penalties that would make landlords ineligible for zoning changes, business licenses, building permits, and acquisition of city land.