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As brutal cold grips city, mayor invokes emergency powers against bad landlords

Chicago apartment buildings in winter (Credit: iStock)

With the city locked down amid wind chills pushing 50 degrees below zero, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a rare order Wednesday instructing building inspectors not to wait for permission from landlords before fixing heating systems in rental buildings that violate city code.

The mayor directed buildings department Commissioner Judy Frydland to “use her police powers” to “to restore heat in buildings where landlords are failing to do their jobs,” Emanuel said in a press release.

The frigid weather forced local courts to close Wednesday and Thursday, but city leaders “are not waiting 48 hours … to hold landlords accountable,” Emanuel said.

The city’s heat ordinance requires apartment owners to maintain daytime temperatures of 68 degrees or higher, and nighttime temperatures of at least 66 degrees. Earlier this month, city officials said they had received more than 600 tenant complaints about cold units and were taking legal action against 10 landlords, according to NBC Chicago.

In cases when landlords don’t abide by the ordinance, city attorneys usually ask judges to appoint a “receiver” to make emergency repairs, officials said. But with courts closed, the buildings department is appointing maintenance workers on its own.

By the time the announcement went out Wednesday morning, crews already had made emergency repairs to three buildings, according to the city. Once the courts reopen, the city will sue for reimbursements from the landlords.

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