Paul Bernstein, Attorney at Law
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On Chicago Tenants' Rights - Chapters

By: Paul Bernstein, Attorney At Law

Paul Bernstein, Esq. 1998, All Rights Reserved


You followed the advice given to you in prior chapters about taking pictures and documenting needed repairs and problems to your apartment. You moved out on time, returned the keys, provided your new address, got a receipt from your landlord acknowledging return of the keys and your new address, and 45-days has come and gone and no security deposit refund, or interest. What now?

If you rented an apartment in the City of Chicago, then most likely you are covered by the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (Sometimes referred to as the "RLTO" or "Ordinance"). The main exception to the Ordinance is that buildings of six units or less where the building is "owner occupied" are not covered.

Section 5-12-080 – Security Deposits

Section 5-12-080 of the Ordinance has a number of provisions to protect tenants as to their security deposits. For example:

subsection (a) requires the landlord to put your security deposit in a separate account in a federally insured, interest-bearing account in a bank, savings and loan or other financial institution located in Illinois.

Subsection (b) requires the landlord to give you a signed receipt indicating the amount, the name of the person receiving the deposit and if the person giving the receipt is an agent, the name of the landlord for whom the deposit is received.

Subsection (c) requires landlords who hold a security deposit for more than six months to pay you interest.

What is important for this chapter is:

subsection (d) which requires the landlord to return a tenant's deposit, plus interest, within 45 days after the tenant vacates their apartment.

The landlord may deduct from your security deposit, if done in a timely fashion, unpaid rent and a reasonable amount necessary to repair any damage caused to the premises by the tenant or any person under the tenant's control or on the premises with the tenant's consent, "reasonable wear and tear excluded." If the landlord alleges that repairs were required, then provisions under section (d) (2) require the landlord to provide the tenant with details about the repairs within the time limits noted in said sub-section.

Here, I strongly suggest that you read this section of the RLTO for the full text of the Ordinance.

What are your rights if the landlord fails to properly return your security deposit?

But, suppose the landlord has not refunded your security deposit, or made deductions for damages that you are not responsible for or has failed to properly document those deductions or has not complied with the requirements of the RLTO in a timely fashion. Is it worth while for you to go to court for such a sum?

Well, here's where the City of Chicago really went to bat for the citizens of Chicago. Sub-section (f) of this section states that if the landlord or the landlord's agent fails to comply with any provision of Section 5-12-080, then in addition to getting that portion of the security deposit to which you are entitled, the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the amount of the security deposit, plus interest at five percent. Thus, if your landlord failed to return your $500.00 security deposit, you have a claim for the security deposit plus the damages of an additional $1,000.00, plus interest.

If a tenant wins their lawsuit, the landlord pays your legal fees!

Well, skeptics may say that even this is not enough to allow you to hire a good attorney. Again, the City of Chicago anticipated this type of problem and went on to provide in Section 5-12-180 of the Ordinance, that if you hire an attorney to represent you to get your money back, and if you win your case, then you are entitled to all court costs and reasonable attorney's fees.

As this chapter is being written the question of how those legal fees are to be actually computed is still an issue pending in the appellate court. I am personally involved in various court matters where the computation of the award of attorney’s fees is an issue in the case and intend to file an appeal in one of my cases, assuming a Court might not give me what I sincerely think is an adequate fee.

These are very important tenants' rights and even if your security deposit is a very low amount, given the remedies provided by the City of Chicago Ordinance, no tenant ever need lose their security deposit to a landlord who has failed to follow the law or the interest due the tenant on such a deposit.

Paul Bernstein
Attorney At Law
333 E. Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 951-8451
Fax: (312) 280-8180


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