Last month, the Chicago Tribune published a story discussing a new cell phone application, titled, “Squared Away Chicago” aiming to improve the relationships between the City’s landlords and tenants. The app, developed by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, a Chicago tenants’ rights nonprofit, will assist tenants and landlords to communicate with each other, document problems with rental properties, and create a digital paper trail for complaints.
The app was developed with funding acquired by a grant through the MacArthur Foundation, and, although created by a tenants’ rights organization, provides services beneficial to both tenants and landlords. The app permits a tenant to snap a photo of a defect with in their rental property and message it with a letter explaining the issue to their landlord. The app time-stamps the photo so a timeline of the interaction between the tenant and landlords can be established. The app also lets the tenant rate the severity of the problem and indicate when the landlord can enter the property to perform necessary repairs.
The system can also be helpful to landlords by allowing them to track tenants’ complaints and document any efforts taken to fix the problems. The app also allows landlords to key tenant information into the system so they can send mass notices to tenants of future building inspections.
According to John Bartlett, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, one of the goals for the app is to “create a better relationship between landlords and tenants, or at least make that a possibility.” Bartlett opined that this goal would be served by making communication between landlords and tenants easy and documented, stating, “when you’re on the phone, it’s so easy to forget. There are a lot of ‘he said, she said.’ (This) is a little more formal.”
The app was specifically developed in response to the proliferation of smartphones as the preferred method of internet access among many low income households. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, among households with an annual income of less than $30,000, 43% own a smartphone.
Mark Swartz, legal director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, praised the app’s ability to document disputes between landlords and tenants, commenting that “The problem we usually see is that tenants only document problems when things get really awful. To be able to document complaints early will protect tenants if there’s an attempt to terminate their lease or otherwise retaliate against them.”
As this blog has mentioned before, both the Illinois and Chicago laws governing landlord-tenant relationships can be very complex. Accordingly, it is almost always in the best interest of a tenant that has become embroiled in a dispute with his or her landlord to consult with an experienced Chicago tenants’ rights attorney.
If you have questions regarding the rights and obligations you have as a tenant or believe you have been the victim of the unfair practices of a landlord, contact the experienced real estate attorneys at The Slater Firm, Ltd. today.