Keeping records limits hassle when tenants file complaints

By Hannah Hess

Pipes burst. Drains clog. Roofs leak.

When these problems arise, after calling their landlords, many student tenants turn to the Tenant Union to report their issues.

Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union, hears these complaints each day at her office on the third floor of the Illini Union.

“We’re advocates for the tenant. We’re catalysts to get the landlord to get it done,” she said.

Many times, filing an official complaint with the Tenant Union about neglected repairs or unwarranted charges is enough to compel the landlord to comply with their legal responsibility to the renter.

Brian Kirkley, junior in Business, said that he found a five-day eviction notice taped on his door for not paying his rent.

“I knew it was all paid up because I had all of my receipts,” said Kirkley, who now assists students facing similar problems as an employee of the Tenant Union.

In Kirkley’s case, the College Park employees who failed to collect his payment from their drop box admitted their error after he filed a complaint at the Tenant Union.

Documenting all transactions is crucial to problem resolution, said Patt, who helped students file more than 150 complaints last year.

She recommends saving all receipts and photographing any damage because evidence is essential if you seek legal action.

The Tenant Union can only encourage landlords to follow ordinances, not enforce property law.

“We’re the legal backup,” said Thomas Betz, an attorney at the Student Legal Services office.

Any student enrolled at the University who has not requested a refund of their $14 Student Organization Resource Fee is eligible to use the service.

“This is the least expensive access to an attorney you’re going to get anywhere in the world,” Betz said.

Last year Student Legal Services represented 339 students as tenants in landlord suits. Betz encourages students to explore options at the Tenant Union before seeking litigation on housing matters.

“What amazes me in the 23 years I’ve been here is the number of landlords who are completely oblivious to ordinances regarding property. Often times it simply takes a phone call or a letter and the problem can be resolved,” Betz said.

Whether resolving a housing conflict can either take months of litigation or a 10-minute phone call, Betz and Patt both agree that the smartest step students can take is to check complaint records at the Tenant Union before signing a lease.

“Bring your lease in and have it reviewed before signing,” Patt said.