In honor of the social media trend of sharing old photos on Throwback Thursday, Open Communities is sharing old blog posts that are still relevant today.
Originally posted December 8, 2011 by Gail Schechter
After more than 30 meetings and as many drafts since 2007, the Village of Winnetka adopted a Property Maintenance Code to provide a mechanism by which renters in commercial properties can complain about unheeded life/safety violations to the Village. This new Code, passed on December 6, 2011, also covers storefront businesses and other offices in downtown commercial buildings.
Open Communities (formerly Interfaith Housing) has long advocated for this code for many years. Two years ago, a group of tenants living above stores downtown complained to Open Communities about broken stairs, mold, and collapsing ceilings. Despite repeated calls for help to the management company, requests went unheeded.
Because the Village had no code, the best the Village could do was to express sympathy. The only way the Village could intervene was to issue a vacate order — a very extreme, inappropriate, and unsatisfying solution. Tenants had no recourse but to move.
As Brendan Saunders, Director of Organizing & Advocacy at Open Communities and the agency’s landlord/tenant expert, wrote in a letter to the Village and to local papers, when “the property further deteriorates, it is a lose-lose for everyone but the landlord who is able to re-rent the apartment as is.”
“Under state law, tenants have the right to sue a landlord; unfortunately this is a very complicated and costly system. Without an attorney tenants are often unable to accomplish anything. In court the most common agreement reached is to allow the tenant to break their lease and move out. This does not solve the problem. Property Maintenance Codes are not set up to police and penalize landlords. Rather they are designed to encourage proper care of buildings, uphold property values, and promote strong communities.”
The Property Maintenance Code was also a recommendation by the Winentka Plan Commission within its affordable housing report because Winnetka lost 260 rental units between 1980 and 2000, a 37.5% decline.
This victory would not have been possible without the advocacy of local tenants like Sunita Amatya and Surrosh Shakir, the latter having spoken up numerous times before the Village Council and the media about the neglect in her downtown apartment, and Winnetka Is Neighborly, a grassroots group of hundreds of residents who have advocated for diverse and affordable housing in their own backyards.
Finally, we thank the Village Council, which voted unanimously in favor of the new Winnetka code, and the City staff.
If you are a Winnetka tenant and you have been unable to resolve your concern with your landlord or property manager, contact the Village’s Community Development Department at Bnorkus@winnetka.org or 847-716-3522.
In mid 2011, we helped this Winnetka tenant move from her moldy unit.