Now that July is almost over, we’re officially in the middle of moving season. In Chicago that means moving trucks blocking streets and clogging up the expressways. You also can’t miss the alleys full of old mattresses and beat up furniture. It also means thousands and thousands of dollars in security deposits being deposited and returned by and to renters. Renters can get caught up in the chaos of packing, moving out, and moving in that they don’t take the time to carefully review documents given to them by their former and future landlords.
In Chicago, the Municipal Code has an extremely important section that applies to many apartments. The Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”) is a City ordinance that applies to apartments within the City of Chicago except those that are in buildings that are owner occupied and contain less than six units.
The RLTO lays out the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords. There is no question that the RLTO gives tenants more rights and imposes more obligations on landlords. Some of the most important sections deal with security deposits.
Upon initiating a lease, landlords who ask for security deposits are required to give tenants a receipt of the security deposit. The RLTO also requires landlords to deposit the security deposit into an interest bearing account separate from rent checks or other funds. Landlords must provide the name and address of the financial institution where they deposit the security deposits, and must pay renters the interest earned on the security deposits.
When a lease ends, and the tenants are moving out, landlords may only withhold money from the security deposit for reasonable charges for necessary repairs. Landlords cannot charge tenants for normal wear and tear on apartments such as light cleaning, painting, and even replacement of old carpet. When landlords do withhold money from security deposits for damage, they must give tenants an itemized explanation of the deductions accompanied by receipts for the repairs. If the landlord has not done the work yet, he must provide tenants with estimates of the work to be done and must provide receipts for the work done within thirty days of sending the estimate.
Any failure to follow these procedures with the security deposit is a violation of the RLTO and the tenant may be entitled to double the amount of the security deposit plus court costs and attorney’s fees if the case goes to court. Tenants also need to look out for clauses in leases that appear to sidestep obligations imposed by the RLTO. For example, clauses that require tenants to waive their rights to contest security deposit charges are violations of the RLTO.
This is just a small sample of what the RLTO covers; several other sections describe almost all the steps of renting, including proper procedures for collecting rent, withholding rent, and what happens if a tenant stops paying rent. As always, before signing a contract, it is best to have a legal professional review it to evaluate its legality and to suggest any possible changes. If you are unsure whether the RLTO covers your apartment, or if you think your landlord might have violated the RLTO, call Villalobos & Associates to discuss your rights.