BERNSTEIN, ESQ., ON CHICAGO TENANTS' RIGHTS
By: Paul Bernstein, Attorney At Law
© Paul Bernstein, Esq. 1998, All Rights Reserved
Chapter 5: COURT DECISIONS AND CERTAIN TENANTS RIGHTS
At this point in our efforts to better understand the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance ("RLTO"), it is appropriate to discuss three recent cases of the Illinois Appellate Court that interpret the RLTO.
Notices of Termination of Tenancy
The first case deals with how a notice of termination of tenancy is to be served. Illinois State law provides three methods of serving a notice of termination of tenancy (a five-day notice, for example): by delivering a copy to the tenant, or by leaving the notice with a person of the age of 13 years or more who resides or is in possession of the apartment or by sending a copy of the notice by certified or registered mail with a return receipt requested.
Until the following case was decided the by First District Illinois Appellate Court, it was the view of most of us that the failure to serve the notice in anyone of the three methods set forth in the State statute would render an eviction proceedings defective from the "get-go" and that if the tenant asked the court to dismiss the eviction proceedings because of such a defect, that the "motion" of the tenant should have been "sustained" or, allowed, and the eviction action dismissed.
However, in Prairie Management Corporation v. Anna Bell the Court held that slipping a copy of a "Notice of Termination of Tenancy" under the tenant's door and sending another copy by first-class mail, where the tenant admitted at trial that she had received the notice, that the tenant had thereby "admitted to actual receipt of the notice." The Court stated that "the methods of service suggested in the relevant statute are not meant to be exhaustive."
As previously, tenants' attorneys had been successful in getting eviction actions dismissed where the landlord's method of service did not conform with the requirements of the Illinois statute. As matters stand now, the "slipped-under-the-door" notice can no longer be ignored.
Apparently no multiple damages for repeated violations
The second case relates to the payment of interest on a tenant's security deposit.
Section 5-12-080 of the RLTO requires landlords to pay interest on security deposits annually if the building in which the apartment is a part is covered by the Ordinance. Sub-section (f) of that section seemed clear that if the landlord failed to pay the required interest annual when due then the "tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the security deposit...."
A prior 1996 decision, Szpila v. Burke, had found for the first time that in order for a Chicago landlord to be subject to these penalty provisions, the violation "must have been willful." That finding effectively required that tenants serve a written demand on their landlord for the payment of interest. It would only be after that demand was not complied with that a tenant would be able to show willfulness. Many of us questioned whether that decision would be binding in future cases, as the RLTO makes no reference to "willfulness" as does the state law on this topic.
However, in Diamond vs. Trombetta, decided on July 25, 1997, citing Szpila, the Appellate Court reaffirmed the willfulness concept.
It is this writers views that willfulness may be present if the landlord owns many units or has professional management and particularly if the landlord does comply with the RLTO and attaches a copy of a summary of the RLTO to your written lease; however at this time it is important that tenant's make written demands on their landlord's for the payment of interest in order to sue for the penalty damages if the landlord continues in not paying interest.
Actions for retaliatory conduct
In the third case, Jacob George vs. Mohammed Siddiqui, decided July 29, 1997, the Court made two significant rulings. The court found that a pleading signed by a person who is not licensed to practice law in Illinois is a nullity, that such a complaint should be dismissed "and if the suit has proceeded to judgment, the judgment is void and will be reversed."
Further, and of great importance to tenants in the City of Chicago, the court noted that if a tenant has taken action protected under the Ordinance, that "the mere threat of a lawsuit is sufficient for a tenant to bring a retaliatory conduct claim" against a landlord.
As one can see from these three new cases, the Chicago law of landlord and tenant is complicated and is evolving, so, in my view, the advice of an attorney is always very important.
In future chapters I go into more detail on the issues raised in the above three cases and in the Appendix you will find copies of each of those cases.
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