The Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) protects Chicago residential tenants. This ordinance includes many of the rights that tenants have in the city. Landlords must obey the laws in this, which are highly regulated.
The Purpose of the RLTO
Chicago is a city where many people live in apartments. The city wants to ensure that tenants are protected fully, so they never have to suffer with subpar living conditions. In the past, landlords would have tenants living without basic needs such as heat during the winter. The RLTO seeks to keep tenants safe from landlords seeking to make money off people’s suffering.
What Doesn’t Abide By the RLTO
The RLTO applies to mostly all rentals, except:
- If the building has fewer than six units, and the owner lives in it.
- It’s a hotel, motel, or a rooming house in which there is no monthly rent.
- Dorms, shelters and employees’ quarters do not apply.
- Nursing homes and asylums are not considered rentals.
- Commercial properties and any co-ops and condominiums in which the owner occupies.
What the RLTO Includes
The RLTO includes these stipulations:
- Tenants should be free from unreasonable access by the landlord. Landlords can access the unit, but only if notice has been given two days before going inside. The notice should be through mail, telephone or a written note posted to the door of the residence. Time must also be reasonable within 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, unless there is an emergency.
- The property should be reasonably maintained. This includes repairs when something breaks, such as an air conditioner, refrigerator, or heater. The list in the RLTO is long, but it includes all items that have to do with providing a safe, healthy, and comfortable living space.
- The environment should be safe and include essential services. All rentals should have basic living services such as heat, running water, electricity, gas or plumbing.
- People should be able to vacate an apartment if there is a fire or casualty. The tenant can terminate a lease with no repercussions if the residence is damaged due to fire or other casualty. The tenant should provide written notice for the termination of the lease within 14 days.
- Security deposits should be used as they are intended. All security deposits should be held at a FDIC insured financial institution. It cannot be mixed with the landlord’s own funds, and cannot be subjected to claims by a creditor. The landlord must disclose where the security deposits will be held, and there should be a receipt given to the tenant for payment of the security deposit. Interest earned on the security deposit should be paid to the tenant yearly. Finally, the security deposit should be returned after the tenant leaves the rental within seven days. The landlord can deduct from the security deposit for any damages the unit incurred while the tenant lived there. If the security deposit is the not returned in full, the landlord must delivery an itemized statement of damages with the estimated cost of repair or replacement. Receipts should be attached if the repairs or replacements were made. If the landlord sought quotes, they should be attached. For situations in which there is a new landlord, the security deposit should be transferred to that person.
- Landlords must disclose identity. This includes giving the tenant the name, address, and telephone number. If there is an agent, the same information must be provided.
- If there is a foreclosure, the landlord should notify the tenant in writing. The tenant continues to pay rent until the landlord notifies the tenant that there has been a change in owner.
- The landlord must tell tenants if there is anything that causes the living space to be unsafe/unhealthy. This is a continuous obligation, so not just when a lease is signed. If the City of Chicago finds any code violations, the tenants need to know in writing and have the right to terminate their lease with no repercussions.
- Tenants should be able to sublease. The landlord can require the tenant to notify him or her about the sublease, but not prevent subleasing. No additional fees or charges are allowed.
- The rental agreement terms should be fair. The agreement should not state that the tenant waives rights, remedies and obligations. It should NOT limit the liability of the landlord or tenant, waive written notice of termination, waive a trial by jury for any reason, state the tenant has to pay for the landlord’s attorney fees and court costs if legal action is taken, or include late fees in excess of the statutory maximum.
- Landlords are not able to retaliate against a tenant. The only exception is if the tenant violates the lease, law, or ordinance.
- Eviction can only be by a sheriff. A landlord must file a lawsuit for possession of the property. This means going to court to obtain a judgement.
- A copy of the ordinance should be provided to the tenants.
When Landlords Violate the RLTO
When a landlord violates the RLTO, the tenant has a right to seek statutory damages by having the security deposit or rent returned. The tenant also has the right to terminate the lease with no repercussions. Seeking legal action for the actual damages that occurred because of the landlord’s neglect is possible as well. Tenants can proceed with repairs and withhold rent if they find that the living space is unhabitual.
Many tenants who believe their landlord is in violation of the RLTO contact a lawyer to discuss the situation. Usually, the lawyer will review the RLTO to decide if there is a case to pursue. While there is a lease, keep in mind that the lease agreement cannot undo what the RLTO has put into effect. This means that the lease cannot go against the RLTO, so if the landlord’s actions go against the RLTO, the lease agreement cannot save him/her.
For more information about the RLTO, contact the Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development for a copy.