Program aims to help renters

By Jenette Sturges

For Cristina Revelo, a sophomore in LAS, the nightmare of renting an apartment began as soon as she moved in last August.

“We’ve had problems with the air conditioner since when we first moved in,” Revelo said. “It wouldn’t work because of the filter, and we had to buy our own.”

But the air conditioner was only the tip of the rental iceberg for Revelo and her sister, who live on the 1100 block of West Stoughton Street. On move in day, they found a broken window covered in plastic and duct tape in one bedroom, a problem that wouldn’t be fixed until the end of the semester. Also, during the first month of their lease, crickets hopped in through a hole in the wall.

“I called (the rental company) because I would just hear the crickets all night and I couldn’t sleep,” Revelo said.

However, Revelo said the service she got was worse than the initial problems in her apartment.

“They called the exterminator, but he said he couldn’t hear them, which made sense because he came during the day,” she said.

At the time of publication, the rental company had not responded to phone calls from the Daily Illini.

The Urbana City Council is hoping their recently passed rental registration program will help renters like Revelo by mandating more regular apartment inspections to keep lax landlords on their toes.

The program, effective Feb. 16, requires Urbana landlords to pay a registration fee to the city. The revenue generated will allow the city to hire more inspectors.

“We’re one of the last college towns to adopt this program,” said Charlie Smyth, Urbana councilman for Ward 1, which incorporates parts of campus. “The bottom line is that you end up with safer housing.”

The city of Champaign still does not have a regular inspection program.

Though the program will help students like Revelo with rundown apartments, students in houses are more likely to benefit.

“A lot of these houses have never been inspected because they were built before they instituted inspections and have never been seen since,” said Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union.

The Tenant Union supported the new program, but Patt said that the legislation would have been more helpful in its original form. When first introduced, it included clauses that would impose fines on landlords who were slow to fix problems.

“The city gives a deadline to fix something, and when the deadline comes there’s no consequence to the landlord. And then they give them another deadline,” Patt said. “And then they get referred to the legal department and only then do they fix the problem. But it takes 3 months for them to fix something that a responsible landlord would have done in a week.”

The removed clause was amended to the city’s building code Monday night by the Urbana City Council, and failure to fix problems will now cost landlords $100.

Revelo said she was looking forward to the day she moves out. While crickets and air conditioning are no longer a problem for her, the winter brought problems with her heating.

“When we came back it was almost 100 degrees in the apartment and we couldn’t adjust it at all,” Revelo said. “We called back again and the lady who answered the phone said, ‘At least you have heat, I’ll put in a work order.'”

But the biggest problem facing student renters is that many don’t know their rights. When asked if she had called the city to ask for an inspection, Revelo said no.

“I haven’t thought about that,” she said. “I really didn’t know I could do that. But I will now.”

If you’re having problems with your apartment or house and you live in either Champaign or Urbana, you should:

  • Call the rental company first and give them a chance to solve the problem.
  • Go to the Tenant Union, 326 Illini Union, which can talk to the landlords on your behalf.
  • Call your city’s building inspector to schedule an inspection. Urbana (217) 384-2436 or Champaign (217) 403-4700

As of Jan. 1, state law requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed within 15 feet of every bedroom.