The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Chicago Renters Denied Heat

Apr 8, 2024

Rental apartments in Chicago’s South Side working-class communities are consistently denied proper heating during Chicago winters, even during the most severe cold spells.

During a record cold snap in January, the city received nearly 1,300 no-heat complaints, the highest number of monthly complaints in five years. On some days temperatures dropped to 30 degrees below zero on consecutive days—cold enough to produce frostbite in ten minutes.

Working-class renters were especially hard hit in the South Side neighborhoods of Woodlawn, South Shore, Burnside, and Chatham. A recent study revealed that for many years, renters in these neighborhoods have always made the most no-heat complaints—at least 100 and often more than 300 per month. While these neighborhoods have only 8% of the city’s rental units, their renters make up over 20% of the complaints.

Although a city ordinance requires inside heating of at least 68 degrees, it has never been seriously enforced, and South Side renters commonly experience temperatures well below that. Most often, investigations are closed without any action being taken against the property owner. Without explanation, some complaints are never investigated. Sometimes, landlords turn on heat just before inspectors arrive to avoid a citation. Inspectors may come days or weeks after cold snaps have passed or arrive unannounced when tenants aren’t at home to let them in. Thirty percent of investigations are never performed due to an inability to gain access to the building. Other investigations are delayed months due to a shortage of city inspectors.

Renters are left to fend for themselves. They rely on plastic wrap to cover their windows. Many uses multiple space heaters connected throughout the apartment with extension cords, often creating a fire hazard.

For years, the city’s capitalist politicians, already beholden to building owners and powerful real estate interests, have been fully aware of the deplorable conditions facing renters in these neighborhoods. Despite the city ordinance and radical political rhetoric, they have consistently failed to take meaningful action.