Unlike the Colorado city, where code violations in rental housing are quickly identified and fixed, Chicago lacks a robust system of inspection and enforcement.

2 minute read

November 13, 2023, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


View of Chicago Old Town neighborhood with low-rise brick buildings in foreground and tall residential high-rises in background.

James / Adobe Stock

A landlord registration system in Boulder, Colorado could serve as a model for tenant protections in other cities, writes Alex Nitkin in Next City. “The college town began registering landlords in the 1970s in an effort to regulate the quality of homes being rented to students. Five decades later, the system has been credited with preventing unsafe conditions and acting quickly to address problems.”

Nitkin contrasts Boulder with Chicago, where “the buildings department moves more slowly” to identify and cite code violations and poor conditions, putting tenants in danger. “Under the existing system, building inspectors are assigned stacks of complaints every day and told to follow up on as many properties as time permits. Several dozen inspectors were tasked with responding to more than 56,000 building-related complaints to 311 across the city in 2022, according to city records.”

According to Nitkin, while the city defends its complaint-based inspection system, “a 2021 investigation by the Better Government Association — the publisher of the Illinois Answers Project — and the Chicago Tribune found dozens of examples in which Chicagoans died in fires inside buildings that city officials knew were unsafe but never addressed.”

Chicago’s proposed Healthy Homes Ordinance would create a tracking system for rental properties, mandate inspections, and set deadlines for remediation of violations, among other items. “The three-year pilot program would be implemented in three wards — the 20th on the South Side, the 22nd on the Southwest Side and the 49th on the Far North Side — and then potentially expanded throughout the city.”

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