BERNSTEIN, ESQ., ON CHICAGO TENANTS' RIGHTS
By: Paul Bernstein, Attorney At Law
© Paul Bernstein, Esq. 1998, All Rights Reserved
Chapter 20: TAKING CARE OF MINOR DEFECTS
Section 5-12-070 of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance ("RLTO") states that a landlord shall maintain the premises in compliance with all applicable provisions of the Chicago municipal code and shall promptly make any and all repairs necessary to fulfill this obligation.
Section 5-12-110 of the RLTO then lists 27 circumstances as examples of "material noncompliance with Section 5-12-070". Examples include: failure to provide smoke detectors and fire extinguishers where required by the municipal code; failure to provide and maintain in good working order the toilet, lavatory basin, bathtub, shower or kitchen sink; failure to provide locks or security devices as required by the municipal code; failure to exterminate insects, rodents or other pests; failure to maintain plumbing facilities in good operating condition and repair; failure to provide or maintain electrical circuits, receptacles and devices as required by the municipal code; failure to maintain and repair any equipment which the landlord supplies or is required to supply, and; failure to maintain the dwelling unit and common areas in a fit and habitable condition.
In prior chapters, I've discussed some of the remedies available under Section 5-12-110 of the RLTO, particularly the remedy, under subsection (d) of withholding from the monthly rent an amount which reasonably reflects the reduced value of your apartment due to material noncompliance by the landlord. However, determining the amount of such reduction is often more of a task for tenants then they care to undertake. And, in many cases, the landlord's failure to repair or maintain relates to important but not crucial matters. Is there an alternative for the tenant?
Subsection (c) of Section 5-12-110, headed "Minor Defects" provides, in part, that if there is "material noncompliance by the landlord with....Section 5-12-070, and the reasonable cost of compliance does not exceed the greater of $500.00 or one-half of the monthly rent", that the tenant may notify the landlord, in writing, of the tenant's intention to correct the condition at the landlord's expense if the landlord fails to do so. The landlord then has 14 days after being so notified by the tenant in writing (or as promptly as conditions require in case of emergency), to make the corrections or repairs.
If the landlord fails to take proper action, the tenant may have the work done in a workmanlike manner (and in compliance with existing law and building regulations). The tenant is then to submit to the landlord a paid bill from an appropriate tradesman or supplier. Having taken these steps, the tenant can then deduct from the tenant's rent the amount thereof, not to exceed the limits specified by the subsection as noted above and not to exceed the reasonable price then customarily charged for such work.
Of course, it is important to document, by letters to the landlord, copies of which you should have for your records, each step of this process, including how you calculated the net rental payment, being careful to provide details as to what the deductions are for.
The ability of a tenant to "repair and deduct" the costs of repairs is a very important remedy for tenants in Chicago whose apartment is covered by the RLTO. As in all cases involving remedies under the law, it is very important for you to read the complete sections of the RLTO and in most cases it is also advisable to consult with a local community-based organization having experience in such matters or an attorney.
Unfortunately, there are many landlords who are either unaware of the RLTO or who are aware of it but refuse to comply with the Chicago Ordinance. Many tenants will find the "repair and deduct" remedy under subsection (c) of Section 110 a more comfortable remedy then the "rent reduction" option available under subsection (d).
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