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Landlord Ignores Rat Complaints, Tenant Ends Up With 'Five Years Of Hell'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They are nasty pests that no one wants to live with. Last year, more than 500 people complained to the Chicago Department of Buildings about rats, and so far this year there have been 43 complaints.

Elizabeth Branem lived in a garden apartment in the trendy Lakeview neighborhood, and complained numerous times to management about rats, especially when they repaired a pipe and left a hole in the ceiling, promising to fix it in a few days.

"We could hear the rats for four years in our ceiling," Branem told CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker. "They'd make noise, scratch."

"I said, 'The rats live there. You can't leave [the ceiling] open. Close it. The rats live there,'" She said. "He says, 'No, no. It's fine."

Ceiling Hole
A repairman left this hole in Elizabeth Branem's ceiling after repairing a pipe, despite her complaints about rats in the ceiling. (Photo supplied to CBS)

It wasn't fine.

On New Year's Day 2014, Branem was walking from the bedroom to the bathroom when a rat jumped out from under the bed and bit her on her toe.

"My whole foot was ballooned up to at least twice its size," she said.

Branem developed a bacterial infection from the rat bite, which led to nerve damage and years of medical treatment. She still walks with a cane.

"One rat caused all of the five years of hell," she said.

Elizabeth Branem developed a bacterial infection and nerve damage after a rat bit her toe, leading to years of medical treatment. (Photo supplied to CBS)

Since hell began in her apartment, Branem sued the building owners, Beal Properties, in 2015.

The complaint noted numerous building code violations, including a 2012 and 2014 citation for rats. CBS 2 found another rat complaint in 2016.

When CBS 2 tried to speak to Beal management at their offices, a receptionist ignored us.

"It's shocking and horrific, but not surprising," said Philip DeVon, with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization.

Last year, the agency received 70 complaints about Beal Properties.

"About half of those were repair calls particularly related to rats," he said.

As for Branem's apartment, she moved out years ago, and today the unit is vacant and being remodeled.

Last month, Beal Properties reached a settlement with Branem, agreeing to pay her $100,000.

She had a message for other landlords.

"Don't let something like this happen. Fix things when they're supposed to fix things," she said.

Branem said she plans to use the settlement money to pay her medical bills.

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