A group of fed-up residents from a Rogers Park apartment building showed up at the property’s management company Wednesday morning to announce they’d formed a tenants association — alleging improper bedbug mitigation, inadequate maintenance and other problems. It’s part of what organizers said is a resurgent tenants union movement, including in Chicago.
After briefly entering the office to read their demands, residents were quickly ushered outside by company staff. On the sidewalk, nearly a dozen residents and organizers read aloud the letter they sent to the management company, Winnemac Properties, and the building’s owner, Evanston resident Henry Woo.
The letter says after bedbugs were found last year in the building at the northeast corner of Sheridan Road and Lunt Avenue, managers failed to consistently treat the affected units and those surrounding them, and didn’t notify affected tenants in nearby apartments. The letter also includes claims of an inefficient maintenance system, unprofessional treatment from staffers, broken laundry machines and leaky or malfunctioning plumbing.
“It has been incredibly frustrating and disheartening,” said resident Celia Williams. She helped organize the Lunt Tenants Association and said it numbers nearly 30 tenants. “We know our rights and we know that they’re being violated, and something needs to be done about it.”
Speaking with WTTW News after the demonstration, the president of Winnemac Properties and the building’s property manager broadly disputed the residents’ claims, saying the company brought in its preferred pest management company to “aggressively attack” the bedbugs and ensure they wouldn’t spread throughout the building — and said they followed Chicago’s laws on bedbug treatment, with both the city inspector and the local alderperson’s office in the loop every step of the way.
While both the company’s president and property manager said complaints about specific maintenance issues or staff conduct would have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, Winnemac’s C. Allen Smith said the property staff works to treat residents with “the utmost respect” and is willing to sit down with the association.
City records show that in addition to being cited for bedbugs, the property in the past year has been cited for building code violations including rotting or worn roof eaves, rusted lintels and broken chimney capping. Residents also shared video and photos of water rushing down a back staircase and standing in hallways after this past July’s heavy rains.
But the property’s managers said maintenance issues happen with any building and that they’ve gone “above and beyond” in their year or so of running the Rogers Park property.
Several residents laid blame on the building’s owner for being too cost-conscious. WTTW News was unable to reach Woo for comment.
Derek Eller of the Chicago Union of Tenants helped the Lunt Tenants Association organize. He said the issue of tenants rights goes beyond this building; the Lunt Tenants Association is the third union in the city his group has helped to form.
Eller’s organization uses what he calls a “sword and shield” approach, with the shield being the rights of residents enshrined in law to have a safe, adequately maintained home.
“The sword is … using your collective power as tenants, your economic power as tenants to make demands above and beyond those things relating to housing with dignity and good conditions and reasonable prices,” Eller said. “By getting together and making collective demands of management and putting pressure on them, you can assert a much better life as a tenant.”
Eller said tenants unions “made a lot of gains in the ‘70s, and then they kind of went away in most of the intervening period. … We’re in a bit of a resurgence.”
While the property managers were taken aback by Wednesday’s demonstration and stood firmly by their work, they said they’re happy to address all the Rogers Park union’s issues.
Williams said meeting so many of her neighbors has been an “amazing” experience.
“In this building, a majority of people that you talk to have shared frustrations,” she said. “People want to see something done.”