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Landlord’s Beware: Five Common Violations

By: Dean J. Tatooles 
If you are a landlord in the City of Chicago, it is important to be aware of the requirements of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (or as it’s commonly referred to as the “RLTO”). With some limited exceptions, like rentals of dwelling units in owner occupied buildings consisting of six units or less or housing accommodations in hotels, motels, and cooperatives, the RLTO has many pitfalls for landlords, which may carry substantial fines if violated. Many landlords are becoming keener on the proper handling of tenant security deposits as required by the RLTO, but the RLTO contains other important provisions that landlords must comply with.
1. A Rental Agreement May Not Include a Jury Waiver or Attorneys’ Fee Provision
Landlords often take it upon themselves to draft their own rental agreements that favor their own rights, but doing so without consulting an attorney could expose a landlord to significant monetary damages under the RLTO. The RLTO specifically prohibits rental agreements from: (i) including provisions that waive a tenant’s right to a trial by jury; and (ii) including a provision that the tenant will pay the landlord’s attorneys’ fees in event of a lawsuit arising out of the tenancy, except as otherwise provided by a statute or ordinance. These provisions are not only unenforceable, but a tenant may recover its actual damages sustained because of the attempted enforcement of the prohibited provision and two months’ rent.
2.Interrupting a Tenant’s Occupancy before Possession is Turned Over by the Tenant or the Sheriff Evicts the Tenant Pursuant to an Eviction Order.
Landlord clients frequently ask us when they can change the locks or oust a tenant from their unit after the tenant defaults on his rent obligation. Unless the tenant has confirmed in writing that he has surrendered possession of the premise to the landlord, a landlord should not change the locks until after an order of possession is obtained from the Court, the Order of Possession is placed with the Sheriff’s office, and the Sheriff has evicted the tenant and turns over possession. If the locks are changed or a tenant is otherwise prematurely dispossessed by a landlord in violation of the RLTO, a landlord is subject to damages in an amount equal to two months’ rent or twice the actual damages sustained by the tenant, whichever is greater.
3. Failure to Attach a Summary of the RLTO to the Rental Agreement.
The Commissioner of the Department of Housing in the City of Chicago prepares a yearly RLTO summary, describing the respective rights, obligations, and remedies of landlords and tenants (“RLTO Summary”). The RLTO Summary is available to all Chicago landlords for copying and distribution to tenants or potential tenants with their rental agreements. Specifically, the RLTO Summary describes the respective rights, obligations and remedies of landlords and tenants with respect to security deposits, including the prevailing interest rate as well as the interest rate for each of the prior two years. Under the RLTO, a copy of the RLTO Summary is required to be attached to each written rental agreement at the time any such agreement is initially offered to a tenant or prospective tenant. The RLTO Summary must also be attached to any renewal rental agreements. Where there is an oral agreement to lease the premises, the landlord must still give the tenant a copy of the summary and should document that the summary was provided. If the landlord fails to provide a tenant with the RLTO Summary as required by the RLTO, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement by written notice. If a lawsuit is filed in connection with the tenancy, and it is established that the landlord failed to give the tenant the RLTO Summary, the tenant may recover $100.00 in damages.
4.Unlawful Entry or a Lawful Entry in an Unreasonable Manner.
Generally under the RLTO, a landlord has an obligation not to abuse its right of access or use its right to access to harass a tenant. Typically, a landlord may only enter a unit after giving the tenant two days’ notice of his intent to enter and may enter only at reasonable times, except in the case of emergency, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
If a landlord makes an unlawful entry, a lawful entry in an unreasonable manner, or repeated unreasonable demands for entry otherwise lawful but which have the effect of harassing the tenant, the tenant may obtain injunctive relief to prevent the recurrence of the landlord’s conduct, or terminate the rental agreement. In each case, the tenant may also recover the greater of one month’s rent or twice the actual damages sustained by the tenant.
5. Failure to Identify Owner and Agent Before the Commencement of the Tenancy.
A landlord or any person authorized to enter into an oral or written rental agreement on the landlord’s behalf, must disclose to the tenant in writing at or before the commencement of the tenancy the name, address, and telephone number of: (a) the owner or person authorized to manage the premises; and (b) a person authorized to act for and on behalf of the owner for the purpose of service of process and for the purpose of receiving and receipting for notices and demands. The information required to be furnished by the RLTO must be kept current and must be updated if there is a successor landlord, owner, or manager. If a landlord fails to provide this contact information, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement and may recover the greater of one month’s rent or the actual damages sustained by the tenant.
If you have any questions regarding a landlord’s obligations under the RLTO, please contact Dean J. Tatooles at (312) 368-0100 or