Get us the HELL outta here!
November 21, 2007 5:15 AM   Subscribe

My fiance got mugged two nights ago in Chicago. Now what?

My fiance, love of my life, showed up on Monday night late from work, bloodied and shaken up. He'd been mugged by six teenage hoodlums IN FRONT OF OUR BUILDING while walking home from a CTA bus stop.

Here's some background to answer some of your questions:

We live in Chicago, in the South Shore neighborhood, at 72nd and S. South Shore Dr.

He got a police report.

He got checked out and released by paramedics.

His wallet and cellphone were not taken, so no cancellations needed there.

The bag they stole contained a Nintendo DS, MP3 player, some work CDs and a pay stub with his name/address (but not soc #, nor bank account #.)

We just moved here. Literally. We signed our year lease on Oct 20th.

When we moved, it was a matter of convenience, as my old apartment company also owns this building. When we asked the leasing agent if I would feel safe living here, she said yes, I should, lots of police in the area, she's lived here for 12 years, etc.

We want to leave immediately, and have begun looking for new homes far, far away from here.

What should we/can we do about getting the hell out of our lease? We spoke the apartment manager who seems amenable to us leaving, but her supervisor gave me some bullshit song and dance about being responsible, year contract, management can't guarantee our safety outside the building, blah blah blah. This is not a personal choice because we FEEL unsafe. We ARE unsafe.

Please help us.
posted by santojulieta to Law & Government (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You did sign a lease, so it sounds to me like you need to work with the company to get out of your lease. To the best of my knowledge, there is no law absolving people from a contract when they get mugged. It truly sucks, but these are the risks you take living in a big city. If the management won't let you out early,

When I've wanted to get out of such situations early, I made sure to have a tenant lined up, and worked with the owner or manager to ensure the tenant was approved and then I was let free from the lease. Do that. Post a craigslist ad, find a new tenant, and let the management know that this is what you're doing. They don't care who lives there as long as the rent is paid on time.

Your other option is to just bail and lose your security deposit. Your choice.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 5:31 AM on November 21, 2007

Well, if it's that horrible, you could always sublet, if the landlord allows it. Barring that, get a nice big can of bear mace.
posted by Mach5 at 5:33 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just for future reference: When a realtor or leasing agent tells you there's "lots of police in the area," it is generally not a good sign.
posted by Reggie Digest at 5:53 AM on November 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

I agree with the first post. Your best bet is to find a suitable replacement tenant (one who can pass the credit check) and offer that person to the manager as one willing to sign a new lease. You will be responsible for any rent and turn over costs (repainting, cleaning) in prepping the unit for the next person if necessary. Insist on the having the landlord sign a new lease with the new person, don't go for any subletting deal because that leaves you on the hook.

There is no telling if that gang of teenagers is from the neighborhood you live in or not--they could have taken the same public transportation your boyfriend used to get to where there were. Crime is random and your landlord really can't guarantee your safety outside the building. I am sorry that happened, but it really isn't something your landlord can predict or control. Good luck.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:53 AM on November 21, 2007

Yeah, now you know why there are a lot of police in the area.

Honestly though, this could happen to anyone, anywhere. And I think you should talk to your neighbors to see if this is indeed the kind of place where it's common.

I understand your reaction, and I'm glad you went through all the proper procedures, which is something people often neglect to do during the period of shock that follows such an attack. But You may be making an expensive and unnecessary mistake in trying to leave, and you need to get as much info as you can (and wait until your brain quiets down a little) before you decide that's the way to go.
posted by hermitosis at 6:00 AM on November 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The hooligans are, in fact, from the neighborhood. A witness ID'd two of them as local high school students who live in the area.
posted by santojulieta at 6:00 AM on November 21, 2007

It's easy for me to say this. But I'll say it anyway. Take a deep breath and relax. Do some objective research on crime rates and determine if you really do live in a crime ridden neighborhood, or were just unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you make a rash decision you greatly increase the odds of making a bad decision. Years ago, I had a gun pulled on me in the parking lot of a Target in one of the "100 best small cities in America." Stuff happens sometimes.
posted by COD at 6:04 AM on November 21, 2007

In a position to buy a house? Our builder paid us out of our lease (in addition to the 35K off...buyers market!)

Also how much do you have to pay if you break your lease? If you can swing it you may just want to bail. Good luck.
posted by doorsfan at 6:06 AM on November 21, 2007

It is a traumatic experience but don't make any rash decisions because of it. Look for some community support groups. Maybe you could even join a watchdog group that can give you suggestions on what to do.
posted by JJ86 at 6:19 AM on November 21, 2007

If a witness ID'ed someone, has that been reported to the police? If so, you may be partway to having this problem solved for you.
posted by hermitosis at 6:24 AM on November 21, 2007

I'm with hermitosis on this one. Before ducking out on your lease, make sure that crime is a big problem in the neighborhood and that this wasn't a freak occurrence. Definitely get this information from someone who isn't renting you the apartment.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:38 AM on November 21, 2007

Honestly though, this could happen to anyone, anywhere.

Not true. The chances on this happening on the north side are much much lower. I think living on the south side is inviting trouble.

If they keep hassling you just leave the space and tell them to keep the security deposit. Your safety is worth much more than their profit margins. They absolutely know how unsafe your place is and know its tough to get people in there, so they'll do anything to keep you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:43 AM on November 21, 2007

Honestly, looking out at, if you browse to your neighborhood, it looks (from my perspective) extremely safe.

In the past two years, aside from your incident, only 6 crimes have been reported.
1) Missing Person
1) Auto Theft
2) Narcotics Possession Charges (both cannabis)
1) Armed Robbery
1) Domestic Battery

I'm thinking "freak incident" more than anything else.
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:50 AM on November 21, 2007

Actually, I misread that map. Nevermind. Using the "Grand Crossing" district, it still seems (to my eyes) relatively safe.
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:52 AM on November 21, 2007

Considering that you rented with them before, maybe you can convince the company to let you move to another building in a neighborhood you like? That way they know at least they'll have you in one of their units.
posted by drezdn at 6:58 AM on November 21, 2007

First off, my sympathies. That sucks.

I lived at 75th and South shore for a couple of years. Took the bus all the time. Never had that happen, or saw anything like that go down.

Nthing "take a deep breath." Where are you going to go in Chicago where you can be absolutely certain that something like it will not happen again? There are lower-risk places, but there are good reasons you took this one in the first place. Presumably if you could have afforded the River North Penthouse you'd have taken it.

Stay vigilant, and wait out your lease.
posted by stevis23 at 7:03 AM on November 21, 2007

Not true. The chances on this happening on the north side are much much lower.

Actually, it IS true. The odds may have been lower somewhere else, but people beat odds all the time. The person who gets mugged on the north side doesn't feel better because it was less likely to happen; if anything, he or she probably feels worse.

I live in New York City. In the past five years, various friends of mine have been mugged on the Upper West Side, in Union Square Park, on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, in Greenpoint, in Bushwick, and while riding the subway on a car where other passengers just looked on nervously. All of these locations have their own crime statistics that vary drastically, but the common denominator is the fact that in urban areas, muggings can and do occur everywhere, and there is absolutely nowhere you can go to escape that possibility.

Muggers work wherever they think they'll be most likely to get away with it. Some muggers specifically target people in "safer" neighborhoods where people's guard is down and where no one will recognize them, others stick close to home out of convenience, or counting on their ability to blend in to their surroundings.

As an urban dweller, you can't treat every freak incident as a cosmic sign that you are in grave personal danger. You have to quiet your jangling instincts and look realistically at your situation. The truth is, you have to beat odds in order to be the victim of ANY violent crime pretty much anywhere, and as long as you take the proper steps to stay on the right side of those odds, then you're probably doing just fine.
posted by hermitosis at 7:10 AM on November 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Looking at your profile, your previous posts suggest you're not only new to Chicago, but also to urban life in general. Which makes me wonder if there might not be some kind of "urban survival" class you and your partner could take (content along the lines of this Chicago Police Dept page). Little things that one usually does not know one is doing can often make urban newbies magnets for muggers -- things like posture, air of anxiety versus confidence, how you carry a backpack/purse, the kind of clothes you wear, how you look/gawk at unfamiliar surroundings or unusual urban sights/individuals, etc.

In my own experience, a basic martial arts class made a big difference for my comfort level. You probably will never actually have to use a move on a mugger, and you might not even be very good at it, but the incremental increase in self-confidence and poise makes you less of a target.

It makes me sad to have to use this sort of analogy, but you know in nature documentaries when there are a dozen gazelle by the water hole and the lion is studying them, and often one of the gazelles is spacing out and looking awkward and confused and not paying attention the way the others are? Which gazelle do you think the lion will choose to stalk? You want to train yourself not to be that easier victim gazelle.
posted by aught at 7:50 AM on November 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

Not true. The chances on this happening on the north side are much much lower. I think living on the south side is inviting trouble.

I'm a little perplexed why you decided to move to a part of Chicago that deep on the South side, unless you are affiliated with the University of Chicago, in which case it is completely understandable. I would advise you move somewhere north of 59th Street. YMMV.

It is unfortunate because some people do become targets of violence and theft, and there is really nothing the police can do about it, other than take down your report and wait for it to happen again. I would be worried that, by virtue of the incident, the perps - especially if they are teens - might return for more goods, or to target other people, if they perceived the event as an easy take-down. Something similar happened to my parents. Twice.

I would try my best not turn this into a me versus my landlord issue (of course, on my bad days, I tend to provoke that kind of drama, too!). I would try to contact renters right organizations, be open about your situation, and really ask them for help. And at the end of the day, you might have to spend some money, and just don't freak out about this. You might be able to find somebody to help you cover your lost security deposit. This is not the time to clam up and feel like the world is out to get you. Figure out how much it will cost to move out in a worst case scenario, get the money, look for a safer neighborhood, find a new apartment, make an offer to your current landlord re: leaving and finding a new tenant, move out, and educate yourself to give you the confidence to walk out the door and feel like this is not going to happen again. You know? Move the fuck on, with grace and confidence. The people that robbed your fiance will meet a sad fate soon enough - I guarantee it. So leave them out of the equation and worry about yourselves.
posted by phaedon at 8:05 AM on November 21, 2007

Nthing the "take a deep breath and see how you feel in a week/month" suggestion. And I would also add one other thing:

When we asked the leasing agent if I would feel safe living here, she said yes, I should, lots of police in the area, she's lived here for 12 years, etc.

Of course she would say that. She's trying to lease you a place to live. If you rented an apartment that faced the el, most leasing agents would say you'd barely notice the noise, even as the train roared by and shook the windows and they had to resort to hand signals to do so. Leasing agents are not there to be your advocate, they're there to fill space.

that's not to say that your neighborhood is inherently unsafe (I'm not from Chicago, I don't know the area) but to say that the last person you should ask about the living conditions in a neighborhood is a person who is trying to rent out space in that 'hood.
posted by pdb at 8:12 AM on November 21, 2007

Not true. The chances on this happening on the north side are much much lower. I think living on the south side is inviting trouble.

Right, because Chicago only has two neighborhoods, the north side and the south side. Better stay off the south side! Oooh! Scary!

Now I need to take a deep breath... anyway...

Nthing the advice not to make a rash decision. The truth is, muggings can happen anywhere, even on that paradise of the north side. (Granted this is anecdotal, but of all the people I know who have been mugged here, almost all of them have been mugged in River North.)

Feeling unsafe sucks, and its easy to want to to do something, anything to make it stop. But your fiancee was violated, and whether that happened in South Shore, Lincoln Park, or Naperville, you'd have a flight instinct. But this is a disruptive and expensive way to engage that instinct, and it's worth taking the time to decide if that's worth it. (And maybe it is; there's no wrong choice here.)
posted by j-dawg at 8:19 AM on November 21, 2007

Not true. The chances on this happening on the north side are much much lower. I think living on the south side is inviting trouble.

This has been alluded to already, but I'll spell it out. "The North Side" and "the South Side" aren't really meaningful geographic entities. The various bits of the South Side don't share any common characteristics, and neither do the various bits of the North Side. There are rich and poor, safe and unsafe neighborhoods in both halves of the city. There's plenty of street crime in the chi-chi Northside neighborhoods where the hip post-collegaite crowd tends to live. What the "North Side" and "South Side" are, in the Chicago lexicon, is racial code. When people say "how can you live on the South Side?!," what they generally mean is "oooh! Scary black people!"

Anyhoo, I agree about calling the tenants rights folks. A big part of what they do is help people break their leases. I don't think that neighborhood safety would be considered a valid reason to break a lease, but you should be on the lookout for other violations that you could use as leverage. In the end, you could pay a penalty, but you should be able to get out of your lease.

Also, and I don't know if this is relevent, but don't let anyone make you feel bad about being shaken up by what happened to your fiance. There's a fair amount of false bravado about crime among big-city dwellers, but the truth of the matter is that almost everyone gets freaked out after they're mugged. It's a freaky experience.
posted by craichead at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take some personal safety/self-defense classes. If you and your sweetie are new to urban life, you may not have the best mindset about how to walk, what kind of eye contact to (not) make, etc. Taking self-defense class really helps, and will also help your confidence and help you both recover.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on November 21, 2007

Wow. I'm amazed that anyone would be mugged and immediately think they need to MOVE OUT OF THE AREA NOW! That's rather extreme.

You are ALWAYS unsafe. That's a fact of life. If you didn't realize it before, you do now. But that's not a reason to tuck tail and run off to another place in the world, where...wait for will still be unsafe.

I'm very sorry that happened. But you have no "rights" to get out of your lease because this happened. This could happen to anyone, and your leasing person is not in the wrong in any way whatsoever. So you would try to get out of your lease in any normal way - you're not entitled to it because your fiance has been a victim of crime.

Good luck to you, but please try to calm your mind before making any rash decisions about moving because of one incident. It could happen anywhere, and frequently does.
posted by agregoli at 9:09 AM on November 21, 2007

I live just north of there, and my boyfriend was recently mugged while walking home from campus with a friend at about 11:30pm. It's not the safest area of Chicago, perhaps, but there are worse places to be.

You should take a look at the University of Chicago's Police's safety tips. They have a lot vested in trying to keep folks on the South Side safe, and put lots of good advice in it. My personal tips are to not listen to music or talk on the phone while walking about, and perhaps not on buses too much either. Music devices are distracting and reasonably valuable; being on the phone is no protection from folks who are around you and is also distracting. I also bike places, particularly after dark, because you're less of an easy target. Try to stay alert, but not paranoid.

It's a funny place to live, and getting mugged is no joke. I'm sorry it had to happen to you. It's kind of a flukey thing, though, and so you should try and pick up and get on with your lives. If you need to be in the area, you could consider moving next year to somewhere north of 58th street, and maybe stay east of Woodlawn or University. But really, you can never be sure. Just try to be aware of things around you, and it hopefully won't happen again.
posted by matematichica at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2007

I'm a little perplexed why you decided to move to a part of Chicago that deep on the South side, unless you are affiliated with the University of Chicago, in which case it is completely understandable. I would advise you move somewhere north of 59th Street.

Not to derail, but I just want to defend the South Side. Chicago is more than just whatever's north of 59th street, and there are people that live there that don't have anything to do with U of C. It's okay to live on the South Side, there's nothing wrong with that decision. You are not crazy to live there. Yes, people get mugged there, but it happens all over the city. Normal, sane non-loony people also live on the South Side.

Anyways, if you want to move, look over the terms of your lease. You could just notify the company that you are leaving, but you might lose your security deposit and also hurt your credit report. It also makes you look like unreliable tenants, if you don't give a reasonable amount of notice. If you feel that unsafe, you should think it and see if it's worth it to you.

This has happened to me, but in Brooklyn. My boyfriend was mugged right at my doorstep in a "good" part of Brooklyn. Guy pulled a weapon, took his money. He wasn't hurt, but I freaked out for a bit. I never thought about moving out, because I was happy with everything else in the neighborhood. I was just more aware of my surroundings as I went home. I put away my DS, never wore headphones, had my keys ready at the door, etc. My advice is to wait a few days. Calm down a bit. You're freaking out, which is understandable, but really evaluate your whole situation. If you're unhappy about other aspects in your neighborhood, then give a notice and move.

On preview, damn dirty ape is pointing to a street that includes your neighborhood, but also stretches way west of your area. 72nd and South Shore is here. Most of the crime reported in that area happens west of the area that you live in now.
posted by hooray at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2007

A big +1 on staying off the phone and mp3 player when out after dark. I love walking with my iPod, but I never do it at night.

Personal defense classes/equipment are a fine idea, but in addition to that, there are other things you can do.

I like to carry a Surefire flashlight, though you can get similar lights from companies like Pelican. The Executive Defender is an inch thick, bright enough to disorient a person with night-adjusted eyes, and can double as a kubotan when clenched in your fist.

But I would use this in service of your best weapon: Situational awareness. When you walk around at night, keep your eyes up ahead, your head moving, and at least glance at everyone around you. Extended eye-contact can be perceived as a threat, but a good "I see you" glance can let someone know you're aware and won't be taken by surprise. Don't stop to engage when someone asks you a question. Give your answer while maintaining a brisk pace or politely excuse yourself.

As for the light, if someone's taking too great an interest in you, shine it right in their eyes. If they mistake you for a cop and run, great. If they come at you, turn the light off and boogie on outta there. They'll be totally unable to see. (i've tested this on myself. It takes a good ten seconds before I can see what's in front of me again.)

Not a comprehensive solution, but it can help.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:28 AM on November 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Mod note: comment removed, if you can't answer the quesiton without calling other people racists and lunatics, send mefimail answers instead.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:53 AM on November 21, 2007

I don't know if this will make you feel better or not, but Hyde Park/Kenwood is experiencing a sort of mini crime wave at the moment. A UofC grad student, Amadou Cisse was just shot dead the other night while crossing the Midway. Terrible, as he had just completed his PhD in chemistry. The University administration is, justifiably, freaking the hell out and you can look forward to all kinds of pro-active safety measures in your neighborhood in the next couple of days.

I think it's just assholes trying to get their last kick in before the snow comes. Be smart, stay alert. These sorts of things happen fairly randomly. It's entirely likely that you could live in your neighborhood for another decade and not get hit again. Don't let it get in the way of enjoying life on the South Side.
posted by felix betachat at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2007

I have a number of friends/acquaintances in that part of the city who have not had any problems. So I'm nthing the "nothing wrong with South Shore" cadre here. You can get mugged in front of your house anywhere. My husband ended up in the middle of a guns-drawn police action in my "safe" northside neighborhood about 10 years ago.

South Shore is a beautiful area. So don't feel like you *have* to move. Plus, the whole lease thing is gonna be a deal-breaker, unless you come up with a sublet tenant that is acceptable to your landlord (no easy task).

The other thing is, if you stick it out, you can use the duration of your lease to get to know the city and find a neighborhood where you want to live, rather than jumping into another unknown.
posted by nax at 11:23 AM on November 21, 2007

[i]Terrible, as he had just completed his PhD in chemistry. The University administration is, justifiably, freaking the hell out and you can look forward to all kinds of pro-active safety measures in your neighborhood in the next couple of days.[/i]

I don't think they extend their patrols down that far, do they? If they do it's new since I left the U in 2004.

A labmate and I lived down that way for a number of years without incident--although I didn't feel so safe a block or two away from the lake, and it didn't seem as safe as the campus area. We got what we paid for, in other words. That said, at no point was I particularly worried, more so than appropriate city living vigilance anyway.
posted by stevis23 at 11:34 AM on November 21, 2007

I think the UofC patrols have been going down to 71st or thereabouts for the past few years. There's a lot of development down there and plenty of med & law students trying to take advantage of cheap rent on new rehabs.
posted by felix betachat at 11:40 AM on November 21, 2007

IANAL, and I don't live in IL, but I'm almost certain that they don't have to let you out of your lease.
There are provisions in a lease saying what the landlords are responsible for, usually things like window locks, deadbolt, lights on the exterior of the building, or whatever it is in your lease. They aren't responsible for any more than that and probably don't have to let you out of your lease because of crime.
If they are willing to let you out of your lease, great, if not, either consider sticking it out, eat your deposit and leave, or find a sublettor.
Thing is, crime happens. Even in areas where it isn't commonplace. I live in a safe city, but there are still robberies. They don't happen daily, but they happen. It sounds like they caught the kids who did it, and you can least feel good knowing that.
posted by fructose at 12:57 PM on November 21, 2007

Information on the Amadou Cisse murder and campus response.

I don't know what your reasons for locating where you are may be. I do know that there are people who love the South Side, especially the area near the U of C. But 72nd is kinda getting out of that "metropolitan" section. Still, lakeshore living is lakeshore living and there are apartment buildings practically all the way down. It is a narrow slice of a neighborhood, though, and it's very depressing to look at the blight that remains untouched.

As above, "North Side" and "South Side" are really really coarse divisions for Chicago. Yes, the South has a lot more blacks. It's something I used to note standing at a platform in the Loop -- how trains going one way were 80% white and trains going the other were 80% black. And of course the Latino population lives primarily on the West Side.

But there are pockets of safety or crime everywhere, and sometimes the difference is as little as a block. If you really don't know Chicago, without being sure where you're moving, you don't really know what you're getting into.

Personally, I would check around with your neighbors. Chat up people in elevators, people at store counters, even the cashiers (maybe especially the cashiers). Learn a little bit more about what's going on in the area, heighten your spidey sense.

I don't blame you for being freaked out. We had a problem property across the street for a few months this summer (in Wisconsin!) and they're all gone but I still feel a bit paranoid. If you have no ties to the area, of course, there's no reason not to move someplace else. But if you like your apartment and what it gives you access to in terms of the city you should consider sticking it out. Muggings happen, and they are only preventable to a certain extent. One thing you may want to learn is how to handle it if it should happen again (i.e. simple things like throwing money and running to an extra wallet with a sawbuck to psychological techniques like talking to them).

Good luck. Chicago can be a great place, don't let this first experience sour you.
posted by dhartung at 3:06 PM on November 21, 2007

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