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How to fix anything in your neighborhood

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New Year’s resolution: Get things done

Carmen Troesser

Winter is here and that can mean cracked pavement, unplowed bike lanes, and now, apparently, flooding. If you’ve made a commitment this year to be more active in your neighborhood, you don’t have to do it alone.

Big changes start with small actions. Start by using 311 to report potholes or icy streets. Go further by learning about your alderman or attending your ward’s community meeting. Being proactive about fixing up your neighborhood and using city services can make it feel more like home.

If you didn’t know, Chicago was one of the first cities to implement a comprehensive system called 311 that offered residents easy access to city services and non-emergency services. Initially it was only a hotline (you dialed 311 to report your problem) but the city relaunched the website and created a mobile app last year. Below, we’ve answered most commonly searched questions on CHI311.

How do I make a noise complaint?

Equipment noise, like trucks or buzzing air conditioning units, is taken care of by the Department of Public Health and you can file that complaint through CHI311. Other noises that involve neighbors blasting music late at night or bar noise are resolved by the police. If you call 311, they can give you the number of your local police station where you can lodge your complaint. Going one step further, you could report the business to your alderman, who can keep tabs on disruptive bars or restaurants.

Airport or airplane noise can be reported online, and is crucial for O’Hare and Midway’s noise management system. More than 5 million data points are recorded each day to help authorities analyze and reduce the noise impact on nearby residents.

What if my apartment doesn’t have heat?

In Chicago, there’s an ordinance that requires home be heated to at least 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees at night from September to June. This legislation also ensures that landlords take care of any busted radiators or broken furnaces in a timely manner.

The first thing to do if you suspect your heat isn’t working, is to call your landlord and ask them to look into the issue. Tenants can also call 311 to report a landlord who hasn’t fixed the problem in 24 hours—and unresponsive landlords could then face a $500 per day fine for delays.

For low-income homeowners, the city also offers a program to help with emergency heating repairs (also, roof and porch repairs). To apply for funds, residents can call the Department of Planning and Development and submit the application packet.

How do I get repairs made in my apartment?

For minor or inexpensive repairs, renters can deduct the amount from their monthly rent. This arrangement is ideal for hiring a plumber to clean out clogged drains or purchasing new light bulbs. All of the requests and an itemized list need to be documented for the landlord.

For more substantial repairs, like leaking pipes or broken windows tenants should first communicate the issue to their landlord. For these requests, tenants can also file complaints through 311. Residents can report building violations about interior unit issues as well as anything else about the property (falling terracotta, peeling paint, crumbling bricks).

How do I report a pothole (and get the city to pay for damage)?

Potholes are an inevitable problem—Chicago’s harsh winters make the pavement freeze and crack. There are inspectors and construction crews that work on repairing potholes, who are on call all winter and spring (also known as pothole season).

Report the pothole using CHI311, and be sure to include a photo. The city needs to see the extent of the pothole and where it’s located in order to send people from the right departments to fix it.

If your car or bike was damaged by a pothole, you might be able to get reimbursed for the repair. To file a claim, you’ll need a police report, two cost estimates for the repair (or a paid receipt), and a vehicle or property damage form.

How do I find out where my car was towed?

Call 311, and an operator can tell you what pound your car was taken. Or you can search online by license plate, vehicle make, or location. If you have questions about what happened, reach out to the Bureau of Traffic Services.

The city can tow or relocate cars for a number of reasons. Maybe you parked in a filming location or an illegal zone. But most people get tripped up by the winter overnight parking ban. A number of arterial streets don’t allow parking between 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. between December 1 and April 1, regardless of snowfall. Outside of those dates, if there’s snowfall that’s 2 or more inches, the same ban goes into effect.

How can I get the city to plant a tree on my block?

Across the city, there are over 500,000 trees of 140 species planted in parkways (that little grassy patch between the sidewalk and road). And, you can ask the city to plant more on your block. When you submit a request, forestry staff will assess the stop and determine what kind of tree should be planted. It might take a while for this to happen, since there are just two planting seasons: spring and fall.

You can also request a free tree trim, when a tree is damage or just has too many low- hanging branches. Emergency situations take priority, but otherwise requests are fulfilled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

How do I report graffiti?

A graffiti tag doesn’t have to be on a public building to be removed by the city. If your garage or fence gets painted, crews will take care of it for free. The city is quick to respond to graffiti removal requests, promptness that can be unfortunate if the graffiti is actually street art. To verify what the paint in your neighborhood is, there is now a mural database. Artists, organizations, and building owners can register murals so that they don’t get accidentally erased.

How can I keep my street clean?

Street sweeping gets rid of all the debris that’s been hidden under months of snow, and you can track when workers will clear your block. The same goes for snow and ice removal, which is tracked on a live map. But if your street (or bike lane) needs more attention, perhaps after a summer festival or bad snowstorm, residents can request another clearing. The city can also remove abandoned bikes from racks, if needed.