Our view: Renters have a right to suitable housing

It was a resident who alerted DeKalb city officials to the conditions at the Edgebrook Manor Apartments last week.

If there are other buildings out there in similar condition, it may be up to residents to speak up about them, too. We hope that they will.

In response to a tenant complaint, at 10 a.m. Friday, city inspectors met building owner Pat Bragg at the Edgebrook Manor Apartments and within hours they had decided to condemn the property, requiring everyone living there to leave their homes within 24 hours.

It was a drastic step, but seems to have been the right thing to do given what reporters have seen and been told about conditions in the building. However, more consideration could have been shown for the people who were ordered out of their homes on the weekend before classes were to begin at Northern Illinois University.

Daily Chronicle Photo Editor Danielle Guerra went inside the building with a resident Friday and smelled a foul odor in the stairwells, and heard the chirping of smoke detectors with dying batteries.

Residents and city officials both talked of toilets that did not flush or overflowed, and city officials said the smell in the hallways probably resulted from people relieving themselves. Also, the building lacked fire doors and had a roof leak causing water damage, and there were piles of debris both inside and outside the building, they said.

Given all that, it’s hard to see what choice inspectors had.

Somewhat troubling was that no one – neither the city, the property management company, nor Bragg – seemed to know just how many people were left homeless after the building was condemned.

The only number available Monday was that "more than 10" people had been forced to leave on the weekend before classes began at Northern Illinois University. Bragg had promised to return their security deposits and prorated rent.

In a building with 47 units, that suggests it was far from fully occupied, which in turn might explain why it was in such shape. The rent at Edgebrook Manor, which started at $425, was among the cheapest in the area.

Affordable housing is beneficial for an inclusive community. It is possible that some renters might reason with rent so affordable, they can’t expect much. Affordable housing doesn’t have to be fancy – just clean and safe.

Renters have a right to expect flushing toilets and working smoke detectors no matter what they’re paying. Tenants who think that their buildings might be unsafe should notify their landlords about their concerns. If they are not responsive, then officials at the city should be notified.

If there are other buildings out there in similar condition, then changes need to be made immediately.

Perhaps the city’s move to condemn this building will signal to landlords that the city is serious about forcing property owners to meet certain standards when it comes to the health and welfare of their tenants.