BERNSTEIN, ESQ., ON CHICAGO TENANTS' RIGHTS
By: Paul Bernstein, Attorney At Law
© Paul Bernstein, Esq. 1998, All Rights Reserved
Chapter 16: TIPS FOR LANDLORDS
These chapters have focused on the right of tenants under the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). This chapter focuses on how landlords can easily comply with the RLTO and save themselves a lot of headaches, damage awards and attorney's fees.
Landlords should remember that there are good reasons for the rules provided for in the RLTO. For example, it is important that all security deposits for apartments covered by the RLTO be kept in a separate interest-bearing bank account in a financial institution in Illinois and that the landlord never commingle any of the landlord's money with the tenants' security deposit money. That's because the security deposits in residential apartment rentals in Chicago is and remains the property of the tenants. Should the landlord go bankrupt or should the IRS levy on assets of the landlord for unpaid taxes, the funds of the tenants should be fully protected from those claims against the landlord.
The RLTO also requires that interest be paid annual on those security deposits and also provides for procedures for the return of the security deposit at the end of the lease. Those procedures too are explicitly provided for in the RLTO.
The RLTO requires that at the beginning and every renewal of every lease, written or oral, that a copy of a Summary of the RLTO be provided to every tenant. This is also a very easy procedure to follow and while landlords are at it, they should also thoroughly review the RLTO, from beginning to end. If there are any provisions of the RLTO that a landlord does not understand, then the landlord should inquire of City of Chicago agencies, community based organizations, their alderman, books on the subject matter or hire their own attorney to be certain that the requirements of the RLTO are totally understood and so that the proper procedures are put in place and followed over the years so that the landlord does not violate the ordinance.
The most difficult problems seem to come up when tenants demand that repairs be done to their apartment or the building of which it is a part. If the complaint is obvious and serious (no fire extinguishers or smoke detectors where they ought to be or roaches and mice not being properly exterminated, or safety mechanisms not in place or heat not present in proper amounts) then the landlord should take immediate action to correct the problem(s).
But, let's suppose the landlord thinks the complaint is unimportant and that the tenant is trying to take unfair advantage. Even if this is possibly the case, in my experience if the landlord ignores what the tenant believes are reasonable complaints, then it becomes personal...the tenant is being ignored, and no one likes that kind of treatment. So, landlords of Chicago, even if you think your tenant is off base, sleep on the problem overnight and then wake up with a smile, call the tenant, make an appointment and go visit with your tenant in a happy, friendly and non-adversarial manner. You might find that your tenants are really good people and that, in all fairness there are items that need attending to. The tenant might also agree that little "Johnny", their three-year old son, may have cause a bit of the damage now requiring repairs and that, yes, the tenant will take care of and pay for that item.
By amicably resolving these disputes, even if you think your tenant is wrong, and by confirming the substance of the meeting and the agreements arrived at in a written letter to the tenant, you may put an end to the problem. If you don't act in this fashion the tenant might then feel compelled to take advantage of the remedies provided under Section 5-12-110 of the RLTO. If you then wrongfully file an eviction action in the face of proper action taken by the tenant, you face counterclaims for damages and substantial attorney's fees for both your attorney (if you hire one, which you should do) and the tenants attorney as well.
So, take the time and make the effort to obtain, read and comply with the requirements of the RLTO. It won't be expensive to do so and won't take too much of your time. And, then, remember that we are all human beings and be open and receptive and honest to what your tenants are asking of you or telling you. Such human interaction will benefit both landlords and tenants.
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