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Ask Chicagoist: How Cold is Too Cold?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Nov 23, 2007 6:16PM

Dear Chicagoist, I started renting a new apartment this summer. Now winter comes, and my landlord is being stingy with the radiator heat. It seems to come on just about twice a day for 15 minutes each, and it's my only source of heat. What are my rights? What can I do?

It's fuckin' freezing in here!

2007_11_askcold.jpgHi Hypothermic Friend,

Get a thermometer.

Cold can be relative, and you really do have to be able to prove it's actually as cold as you think it is. There are all kinds of laws regulating your rights, outlined in Chicago's Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. The usual catch is that the regulations only apply to tenants who do not live in "an owner occupied building containing less than seven apartments." The reasoning being if the guy lives there, he's not going to make it a horrible place to live. We're not sure if that's sound reasoning, but OK.

When it comes to heat, however, it doesn't matter if you live in the same room as your landlord -- you're still covered. The regulation states that from September 15 to June 1 your apartment must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and 66 degrees otherwise. That can feel pretty cold, especially if you're just lounging around the house, which is why the thermometer is essential before you start crying foul.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization suggests recording the temperature three times a day for a week, and if your landlord is indeed violating the regulation write your landlord a letter showing your results and stating that the temperature must be raised as Municipal Code is being violated. We recommend calling them and telling them the results and discussing a solution (not many options here other than turn up the heat) before writing the letter in case they are oblivious to the temperature as opposed to sinister.

Then, if the call and letter don't work, call Chicago's Heat Hotline at 312-744-5000.

If it turns out your landlord is within regulation, you can still try having a conversation about it. He may be persuaded to turn up the heat a notch or two, especially if you're persuaded to pay him more money for the pleasure. Or some weather-proofing measures might be called for, which would wind up saving him money in the long run in terms of heating costs. Check for drafts by your windows, and perhaps consider getting some of that plastic that goes over the windows.

Still cold? Buy a space heater (please remember to turn it off when you leave the apartment though), a nice thick robe, plenty of sweaters and thick socks, and stock up on hot chocolate and tea. Or maybe it's time to heat up your apartment yourself.

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