Housing

Know Your Rights and Resources Part Two

An overview of renters’ rights in Chicago

Read Part One, resources available to Chicago homeowners, here.

In late January, the city of Chicago released a list of landlords found by the Department of Buildings to have repeatedly failed to provide for their tenants basic services such as heat, hot water, and functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to their tenants. The “Problem Landlord List,” as it has been dubbed, cites forty-five individual properties, concentrated on the South and West Sides, with three or more serious code violations—all owned by landlords caught up in two or more administrative hearing cases within a two-year period. One building on the list—a Woodlawn address at 64th and Eberhart—has ninety-three open violations. The list is meant to alert renters to some of the worst-case scenarios of renting in Chicago. The Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) outlines the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords alike. Below are some of the main issues covered in the RLTO.

Rent: If you are late on rent, the landlord can charge a late fee of up to ten dollars per month on rents up to $500, plus five percent per month on the part of the rent that exceeds $500. As a tenant, you have the right to withhold rent if your landlord fails to make necessary repairs to your unit—write your landlord a letter with details on all necessary repairs to your apartment and/or common areas, with pictures. This letter should state the amount you intend to withhold, should repairs not be completed within fourteen days. You can send this letter by certified mail or hand-deliver it with a witness. The Metropolitan Tenants Organization advises that, should you choose to withhold too much (half or more of the monthly rent), your landlord may be able to start the eviction process. If possible, it is best to consult with an attorney.

Essential Services: Landlords must provide essential services to tenants. These services include heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas, and plumbing. Who is responsible for payment of those services depends on the terms of your lease. However, your landlord must provide you with a written statement of the projected monthly costs of heating your unit. If you receive a shut-off notice in the event that your landlord neglected to pay a utility bill, you can pay the utility company and deduct the amount from your rent, after giving your landlord a written notice.

Temperature: The Chicago Municipal Code stipulates that, between September 15 and June 1, your apartment must be at least sixty-eight degrees from 8:30am to 10:30pm and at least sixty-six degrees at all other times, even if your tenancy is not governed by the RTLO. If you suspect that your apartment is not adequately heated, you can record the temperature in your apartment three times a day for one week. If these records show that your apartment is indeed too cold, send your landlord a letter with a notice that they are in violation of municipal code. If your landlord does not respond or comply, call the city’s Heat Hotline at (312)744-5000.

Pests and infestations: The Chicago Building Code says that every owner or operator must maintain clean, sanitary, and safe conditions for shared and public areas of the dwelling. Landlords must exterminate insects, rodents, or pests if the infestation is caused by that owner or operator’s failure to maintain reasonable pest-proof conditions. If the infestation exists in two or more of the family units in the dwelling (or in public spaces), the owner is responsible for extermination regardless of the cause of infestation.

For more information, advice, sample letters to landlords, and the full text of the RTLO, see the Metropolitan Tenants Organization at tenants-rights.org. For more information on the tenants’ rights listed in the Municipal Code of Chicago, visit chicityclerk.com/legislation-records/municipal-code. For legal help, visit the Center for Renters’ Rights, a Chicago-based nonprofit, at renters-rights.com.

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