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City of DeKalb, NIU law school clinic to consider partnership in helping local tenants

DeKALB – DeKalb city officials and Northern Illinois University Law School staff are set to begin talks about creating a legal clinic that could help residential rental property tenants within the city.

Norden Gilbert, member of the City of DeKalb’s Human Relations Commission, said that the NIU law program may be interested in working to create a tenant legal services clinic with the city. He said commission members put together a list of things that they hoped the possible clinic could provide, should the law school be interested in the partnership.

“They would basically give legal advice about what action is appropriate – maybe consulting on that, assisting tenants in pursuing legal actions, helping organize or incorporate the tenants rights association, working with us to draft a common lease, provide workshops and other help they might be able to give us and tenants in the tenants rights association,” Gilbert said during the commission’s meeting Tuesday.

Gilbert said city officials haven’t set up a meeting with NIU law school officials yet, but they appear to be open to the idea so far.

“So over the next month or so, we would hopefully be able to do that,” Gilbert said.

Commission chairman Larry Apperson said he was aware that there’s currently legal services available for NIU students who might look for that kind of guidance.

“What we’re talking about is a little more, I guess, involved in being able to deal individually with certain tenants and problems and perhaps get the tenants association incorporated and things like that,” Apperson said.

The update comes after the city issued a housing declaration in August 2019 in an effort to put more pressure on property owners who fail to maintain rental units to city code standards. The declaration came as tenants were voicing their frustrations about experiences like a landlord leasing a unit while it was still occupied and significant maintenance requests being ignored.

Commissioner Joe Gastiger said the city’s attorneys have limited time and resources as well. If the city could get that institutional commitment from NIU, he said, that would be great.

“That’s really what we need,” Gastiger said.

Apperson said the next step is to try to meet with NIU law school staff and to go over the proposal and work through those logistics.

Commissioners also continued discussions about recommended adjustments to the city’s landlord and tenant regulations and model common lease. Those potential adjustments would include addressing issues like landlords not signing leases between tenants and landlords towing cars of tenants not paying rent on time.

“That’s a separate issue from taking away the already paid for parking rights,” Apperson said.

Commissioner Lisa King agreed with Apperson’s comments, saying that a landlord towing a car of tenants delinquent on rent would mean those tenants potentially couldn’t go to work without their car.

“That’s criminal,” King said.

Representatives from the DeKalb Tenants Association were not immediately available for comment following the meeting.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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