What recourse do I have with my useless management company?
July 26, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

My management company refuses to do anything about the (lackluster) security of my building. What recourse do I have?

I've lived in the same apartment for three years now. It's located in Chicago in a safe neighborhood located very near to a busy street and a not so safe neighborhood a few blocks away. My apartment is located in a 6-unit building. There are two other 6-unit buildings that share the same courtyard, all owned by the same management company. The company is a bunch of rude morons. Two years ago, they tried to charge me an additional "security deposit," which is illegal in Illinois. They didn't back off until I got a lawyer involved. The water and electric in the apartment are ancient and awful, and they're lax about fixing any of it. I once went without electricity for two days and the drains regularly stop working.

In addition to this stuff, security has always been something of a concern. The buildings are located nearly at the intersection of a very heavily trafficked street. There is a gate to our courtyard, but it's about four feet high, wire mesh, and is always open. There is no lock on the gate, so anyone can come right in from the main road. In the past, the front door to my building has stopped locking properly for weeks at a time; at one point, the actual doorknob fell off into a visitor's hand. It took them two days to fix it. They also leave a ladder in the courtyard basically at all times, allowing for anyone to easily climb up to one of our windows.

All this is an issue now because in the last year, there have been two break-ins in the buildings. One was in the apartment directly below mine; they somehow got in and ransacked the place. The other took place this past weekend; someone brought or got a chair nearby, stood on it, cut open the screen of a window, and jumped into the unit. I was not informed of either of these incidents by the management company; I found out through my neighbors in the first case, and because I saw the cops at the building in the second. The real kicker is that in the immediate aftermath of the incident, the landlord moved the chair that was used in the break-in right under the first floor windows of my building instead of putting it inside somewhere or trashing it(!!!).

The management company's party line is that the buildings are completely safe and secure. When I spoke with the landlord in the courtyard this weekend while the cops were still there, he kept saying that the offender and the woman in the unit probably knew each other, and that the building was extremely safe and he had been there for 20 years and had never had a problem. I wrote to the management company today and I got a rather terse and rude e-mail in response that basically said "Things happen, we're not going to change anything." I totally get that we live in a big city, but there are security flaws here that could very easily be fixed and protect us better from this stuff. A locked gate would be easy and a LOT more secure. And we're not even being notified that this stuff is happening - they're taking a "close your eyes and pretend it doesn't exist" approach.

I called my local alderman earlier today and they basically said they can't do anything because there are no building code violations. They put me in touch with a tenants' organization that I'll call later. What other recourse do I have here?
posted by anotheraccount to Law & Government (12 answers total)

I don't mean to be blithe, but you've described a lot of annoying things that, as you say, fall below the level of building code violations. And you've described that these sorts of things have been going on for a long time. I highly doubt you'll be able to change the management company's attitude and it doesn't sound like you have any legitimate reason to withhold rent. So maybe the solution is to find someplace else to live.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:14 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh my gosh, these guys sound like a nightmare. Call the tenants' rights organization you have the number for and try to figure out if there's any way you can get out of your lease and move ASAP.

I live in Chicago, too. There are plenty of extremely cheap places in nice neighborhoods with working electricity, locking doors, and responsive management. I live in one. I assume you're living where you are because it's cheap? (Good lord, I hope it's cheap.) Don't let the assumption that there's nowhere cheaper keep you from living safely and comfortably.
posted by phunniemee at 10:17 AM on July 26, 2011

Property gates that don't lock? I'm pretty siure that is a code violation.

When the locks are broken, call the city and make a complaint. That's the best you can do.

Also, your problem (doors and gates that don't lock) gets lost amid all the other complaints that are valid, but not enforceable.

In truth, I think you would be happier moving.

You could try these inexpensive security alarms for your doors and windows in the meantime... Very effective!
posted by jbenben at 10:18 AM on July 26, 2011

Based on my own experience with landlords, they're not going to change no matter what you do. Move. Find somewhere with more reasonable management.
posted by Lexica at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I agree with Blah and phunnie. Everything seems wrong. Call the tenants' rights group.
posted by resurrexit at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2011

Yes, I agree with jbenben. It seems like there could be at least one violation somewhere in here.

You had luck with a lawyer before. Can you try that avenue again?
posted by amodelcitizen at 10:47 AM on July 26, 2011

Moving sounds like your best bet, especially since phunnieme says there's lots of options in Chicago. (And I doubt there's any kind of requirement that management or the cops or anybody else inform everyone in the building whenever one of the neighbors gets broken into.)
posted by easily confused at 12:04 PM on July 26, 2011

INYL, TINLA. Consider talking to a lawyer about your rights as a tenant. A lawyer familiar with landlord-tenant law can probably provide you with some guidance as to whether they are violating the express or implied terms of your lease agreement such that you're entitled to break it without penalty.

Voting with your feet is the best option, and you should exercise it as soon as you're (legally) able to. It's never worthwhile to rent property from morons.
posted by Hylas at 2:24 PM on July 26, 2011

Well you could do a bunch of stuff to secure YOUR apartment. Put dowels in the windows so they can't be opened from the outside, same with sliding doors. Replace the screws holding your doors hinges and lockplate with 4" deck screws. This things are all really easy and cheap to do and will do a lot to increase your passive security. In increasing complexity and possible lease violations you can replace your locks with a higher security model (keep the old ones to put back in when you move out), install brackets behind the doors that hold a bar across them so they can't be physically opened.

This site goes into greater detail. You may not want to do any of this but it doesn't require the actions of anyone else to help you out.
posted by bartonlong at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2011

Move. Broken locks may be a violation of your lease agreement with the landlord, but they're almost certainly not a violation of city code, and even if the lack of security is serious enough that it might be construed as a safety hazard, it's not going to be something that the city can enforce.

The tenants' rights organization will be able to give you information on how to pursue the landlord for (some) repairs and/or pay for repairs yourself and deduct from your rent or bill the landlord, but the option that will cause you the least long-term hassle is finding out how to break your lease and move. Deadbeat landlords are unlikely to improve things if people continue to be willing and/or stuck renting their substandard units. City governments expect people who have the means and ability to chose where they live to vote with their feet-- if you don't like the way your building is being managed, don't live there.
posted by Kpele at 2:45 PM on July 26, 2011

Just move. This place sounds awful, and they have told you that they refuse to fix the problems.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:00 PM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to all for your comments. Moving isn't an option at the moment; I just re-signed a lease through May 2012. I really do like the location and the apartment itself, but the management company is just evil. Unfortunately I don't really see a way to break my lease, and I certainly can't afford to get out and keep paying on this place until the lease is up.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:29 AM on July 27, 2011

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