TENANT ASSISTANCE PROJECT (TAP) INFORMATION FOR CITY OF CHICAGO TENANTS WITH PRE-EVICTION LEGAL ISSUES

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1 TENANT ASSISTANCE PROJECT (TAP) INFORMATION FOR CITY OF CHICAGO TENANTS WITH PRE-EVICTION LEGAL ISSUES 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

2 Table of Contents I. How Do I Use This Packet? 6 II. Is My Residence Covered by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO)? 7 A. Units Covered By the RLTO 7 B. Failure to Attach a Summary of the RLTO to Your Lease 7 C. What if My Landlord Never Gave Me His/Her Address? 8 D. What if I Do Not Live in a Unit Covered by the RLTO? 8 III. What if my utilities are shutoff? 9 A. Am I Responsible for the Utility Bills? 9 B. Essential Services Under the RLTO 9 C. Landlord Must Provide Notice if An Essential Service is Shutoff 9 D. What Should I Do if My Water is Shutoff? 9 i. OPTION 1: Pay the City of Chicago Water Authority and Deduct Payment From Rent 10 ii. OPTION 2: Move out of Dwelling Unit and Stay in Motel until the Water Is Restored 10 iii. OPTION 3: Terminate the Lease 10 E. What if I am Having Issues with my Heat? 10 i. What are my rights? 10 ii. What should I do if I have no heat? 11 a. Step 1: Call 311 and Move to Safety 11 b. Step 2: Call Landlord and Write a 72-Hour Demand Letter to Landlord 11 c. Step 3: Restoring Service and Rent Abatement 11 d. Step 4: Terminating Your Lease 12 iii. What if my unit has heat but is still too cold? 12 a. Step 1: Record the Temperature 12 b. Step 2: Write a Demand Letter 12 c. Step 3: Report Unit to the City 12 F. What if I Lose One of the Other Listed Essential Services? West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

3 IV. What if My Landlord Intentionally Shuts Off Essential Services or Locks Me Out Of My Dwelling Unit 14 A. What is a lockout? 14 i. Lockouts under the RLTO 14 ii. Lockouts under Illinois State Law 14 iii. Acts That Do NOT Constitute Illegal Lockouts 15 B. Traditional Lockouts under RLTO Actions Tenants Should Take 15 i. Step 1: Call the Police 15 ii. Step 2: Obtain A Copy of the Police Report 16 iii. Step 3: Send a Notice Letter to Your Landlord 16 iv. Step 4: Consider Legal Action 16 C. Utility Lockouts under the RLTO Actions Tenants Should Take 16 i. Step 1: Send a Notice Letter to Your Landlord 16 ii. Step 2: Call iii. Step 3: Call the Citizens Utility Board 17 iv. Step 4: Contact the Utility Company 17 v. Step 5: Keep a List of Damages 17 vi. Step 6: Consider Legal Action 17 V. What if Someone Is Tapping Into My Utilities? 18 A. What is a Utility Tap? 18 B. What Are My Rights? 18 C. What Should I Do To Protect and Enforce My Rights 18 i. Step 1: Contact Your Landlord 18 ii. Step 2: Contact the Utility Company 18 iii. Step 3: Contact the Illinois Commerce Commission 19 iv. Step 4: Send a 14-Day Notice Letter to Landlord 19 v. Step 5: Send a Notice Letter to the Utility Company 20 vi. Step 6: Consider Legal Action 20 VI. What if My Unit Needs Repairs? 21 A. Rights under the RLTO 21 i. Minor Defects 21 ii. Significant Material Non-compliance West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

4 a. Withholding Rent for Material Non-compliance 22 b. Terminating the Lease for Material Non-compliance 22 B. Rights under Illinois Law 23 i. Repair and Deduct under the Illinois Residential Tenants Right to Repair Act 23 ii. Terminating the Lease Constructive Eviction 23 a. Step 1: Send the Landlord a Notice Letter 23 b. Step 2: Contact City Building Inspectors 24 c. Step 3: Move Out of Your Unit 24 d. Step 4: Send Landlord a Notice Letter Notifying Him/Her That You Have Moved Out 24 VII. Glossary of Terms 25 VIII. Addresses and Phone Numbers of Offices in Cook County 26 Appendix 28 Instructions for Use of Letters in Appendix 28 Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Attach Summary of RLTO 30 Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Provide Notice of Essential Services Shutoff Hour Notice Letter Essential Service Shutoff 32 Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Restore Essential Service 33 Heat Demand Letter No Heat 34 Heat Demand Letter Inadequate Heat 35 Rent Abatement Letter Essential Services 36 State Law Claim for Conversion of Property Demand Letter 37 Traditional Lockout Letter 38 Utility Lockout Letter to Landlord 39 Suspected Utility Tap Letter to Landlord 40 Utility Tap 14-Day Notice Letter to Landlord 41 Utility Tap Letter to Utility Company 42 Minor Defects 14-Day Notice Letter Day Notice Letter Terminating Lease for Material Noncompliance Day Notice Letter of Intent to Withhold Rent Under RLTO West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

5 14-Day Notice Letter of Intent to Repair and Deduct Rent under the Illinois Residential Tenant s Right to Repair Act 46 Constructive Eviction Request to Repair Letter 47 Letter Notifying Landlord Tenant Moved Due to Constructive Eviction West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

6 I. How Do I Use This Packet? This packet is intended as a resource for tenants to use to resolve issues that arise prior to the filing of an eviction action by their landlord. This packet does NOT contain legal advice, though it does educate tenants as to certain legal rights. Before bringing any legal action, you should consult with an attorney. We have found that reasonable tenants and landlords often resolve their problems without court action. Unfortunately, not all situations are capable of being resolved without the involvement of a court of law. Once a tenant finds him/herself in court, rules of evidence and court room procedures will play a significant role in the court s resolution of the dispute. This packet sets forth the procedures and records a tenant will find helpful in attempting to enforce his/her rights in a court of law. Tenants will find it useful if they are able to obtain copies and preserve the following documents: A copy of their lease Receipts, including for rent paid, utility bills, or repairs Notices sent by the landlord, a utility company, or the city of Chicago Copies of any letters sent to the landlord, utility company, or the city of Chicago When sending notice letters to landlords, it will be useful to send these letters by certified mail, as this allows for you to prove that the landlord received the letter. You should save the receipts of any letters sent via certified mail. To assist the user of this packet, a variety of form letters may be found in the Appendix. Tenants may fill in their personal information and use these letters, or they may simply use them as a guide for what information should be contained in notice letters. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

7 II. Is My Residence Covered by the Chicago Residential Tenant Ordinance? These materials contain information to assist you, the tenant, by informing you of your rights. Many of these rights are provided by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). Not all dwelling units are covered by the RLTO. a. Units Covered by the RLTO If your dwelling unit is covered by the RLTO, a summary of the RLTO should be attached to the lease. The summary should be provided when the landlord offers to enter into or renew a rental agreement. Although legally obligated to do so, landlords do not always attach the summary of the RLTO. Consequently, even if you never received a summary of the RLTO, you will want to determine if your dwelling unit is covered. Generally, dwelling units covered by the RLTO include all dwelling units with written or oral leases, including all units subsidized by programs such as Chicago Housing Authority, Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8), etc., EXCEPT: Dwelling units in owner occupied buildings with six or few units. Units in hotels, motels, rooming houses, unless rent is paid on a monthly basis and unit is occupied more than 32 days. School dormitory rooms, shelters, employee s quarters, non-residential rental properties. Owner occupied co-ops and condominiums. See of the RLTO. b. Failure to Attach a Summary of the RLTO to Your Lease If the RLTO does in fact apply to your unit, but you did not receive a summary of the ordinance, you have the right to terminate your lease pursuant to of the RLTO. If you elect to terminate your lease for this reason, you must send written notice to your landlord informing him/her that you are terminating the lease. The final date of the lease as selected by you can be no later than thirty days from the date of the written notice. Please see the Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Attach Summary of RLTO in the appendix for an example. Please note that until the date of termination, you remain bound by the lease and must pay any rent due. On the date of termination, you must surrender your keys to the landlord or else the lease will not be considered terminated. The landlord will have 45 days from the date of termination to return your security deposit and any interest thereon, plus any prepaid rent. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

8 c. What if My Landlord Never Gave Me His/Her Address? If you do not have the address of your landlord, you should give any written notice letters to him/her in person or leave the letters at a place where he/she can receive it. If you unit is covered by the RLTO, you should inform your landlord in the notice letter that it is a violation of of the RLTO for a landlord to fail to provide his/her name, address, and telephone number and that a failure to comply with of the RLTO results in damages of one month s rent. d. What if I do not live in a dwelling unit covered by the RLTO? Units not covered by the RLTO still have rights under Illinois law. These materials focus primarily on rights granted under the RLTO, but also discuss, where appropriate, the rights granted under state law. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

9 III. What if My Utilities are Shutoff? a. Am I Responsible for the Utility Bills? The RLTO requires dwelling units to receive essential services. Your lease may require you to assume responsibility for paying for certain utility services. If that is the case, you are responsible for paying those bills and your landlord is under no obligation to pay those utilities. b. Essential Services Under the RLTO Essential services under the RLTO includes heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas and plumbing. Section (f) allows you, the tenant, to take certain actions if the landlord fails to provide essential services when the lease stipulates that the landlord is obligated to pay certain utilities and fails to do so. You should note that if the landlord intentionally shuts off any of these services, the conduct constitutes an illegal lockout. Please see Section IV on page 13 of this packet if you suspect the failure to provide essential services was intentional. c. Your Landlord Must Provide Notice If An Essential Service Is To Be Shutoff If an essential service is scheduled to be shut-off, your landlord is obligated to inform you by written notice what will be shut-off, the planned date of termination, and whether the shut-off will affect your unit. If your landlord fails to provide you with this notice, you may send a 14-day written notice informing the landlord that you will terminate the lease if he/she does not provide you with the required information. If you decide to terminate the lease, the landlord is obligated to return all prepaid rent, security deposit and any interest thereon. The landlord must allow you 30 days to move out. Please see the Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Provide Notice of Essential Services Shutoff in the appendix for an example. d. What Should I Do If My Water is Shutoff? Prior to shutting off your water, the city of Chicago will post a shutoff notice at your residence. You have several options if water is about to be shut-off due to your landlord s failure to fulfill his/her obligations under the lease. Prior to taking any of the actions below, YOU MUST GIVE YOUR LANDLORD NOTICE OF THE PROBLEM. This is extremely important. Please see the 72-Hour Notice Letter Essential Service Shutoff in the appendix for an example. The options listed below are not your sole remedies under the RLTO. You may also decide to stay and withhold from the monthly rent an amount that reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises due to the failure to provide services within 24 hours after being notified of a problem. Additionally, you may sue and recover damages based on a reduction in the fair rental value of the dwelling unit. It is often 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

10 difficult to prove the reduced value of the dwelling unit. Consequently, we recommend you take one of the three actions highlighted below. i. Option 1: Pay the City of Chicago Water Authority and Deduct Payment from Rent You may choose to restore the service by paying the City of Chicago Department of Water Management. Generally, the city only requires the payment of one-half the water bill in order for the service to be turned back on. You may deduct from your rent the amount paid to restore the service. You will need a receipt from the City of Chicago Department of Water Management to prove how much you paid. To abate your rent, send a letter with your monthly rent check explaining why you are paying less. Please see the Rent Abatement Letter Essential Services in the appendix for an example. You must include a copy of the receipt with the letter, but make sure you retain the original receipt in your records. In the event the landlord attempts to force you to pay the full rent, you will need the receipt to prove the amount paid to restore water service. ii. Option 2: Move out of Dwelling Unit and Stay in Motel until the Water is Restored You may choose to move into other housing, including a motel. If you send the landlord notice, you do not have to pay rent for the period you are in the motel or other housing. As long as your costs do not exceed your monthly rent, you may also deduct from future rent the cost of this temporary housing. Again, save all receipts and send the landlord the appropriate notice. iii. Option 3: Terminate the Lease If your landlord fails to restore water within 72 hours of receiving your written notice, you may terminate the lease by sending the landlord another written notice stating that you are terminating the lease agreement. Please see the Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Restore Essential Service in the appendix for an example. If you decide to terminate the lease, you will have 30 days to move. If the lease is terminated, the landlord is obligated to return all prepaid rent, security deposits, and interest thereon. If you do not send a written letter to your landlord informing the landlord that you are terminating the lease, the lease will remain in effect. In other words, the lack of water for 72 hours after receipt of the initial written notice does not automatically terminate the lease. e. What if I Am Having Trouble With My Heat? i. What are my rights? 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

11 Going without heat during a Chicago winter is extremely dangerous. You may be tempted to simply ignore the problem and try to secure other means for heating your home such as purchasing space heaters, burning fires, or turning on ovens at high temperatures and leaving the oven door open. You should avoid these measures. It is illegal for a landlord to cut off heat services. Additionally, the Chicago Heat Ordinance, which applies to all residential units in the City of Chicago, provides minimum temperatures that must be maintained during the Chicago winter. The ordinance requires that from September 15 to June 1, temperatures in Chicago residential dwelling units should be at least: 65 degrees from 7:30am to 8:30 am 68 degrees from 8:30am to 10:30pm 63 degrees from 10:30pm to 7:30am Consequently, you may have a situation where the dwelling unit has heat but is too cold. This packet addresses both situations. ii. What should I do if I have no heat? a. Step 1: CALL 311 AND MOVE TO SAFETY If you have no heat in your unit, you should call 311 to report the building to Chicago s Department of Buildings. If the weather is extremely cold, you should ask for 311 to direct you to a warming center. If you need transportation, you should ask the city to provide transportation to the center. If you suspect that your landlord intentionally turned off your heat in an effort to illegally evict you from the dwelling unit, you should call consult the Section IV on page 13 of this packet for further steps you can take. b. Step 2: CALL LANDLORD AND WRITE A 72 HOUR DEMAND LETTER TO THE LANDLORD You should make an attempt to call your landlord and notify him/her of the situation. Whether or not the landlord promises to correct the matter, you should prepare and send a 72 hour heat demand letter to the landlord. Please see the Heat Demand Letter No Heat in the appendix for an example. You may at this point take one of two actions. If, after 72 hours, heat is not restored, you may elect to terminate the lease. To do so, please see step 3. If, however, you do not wish to terminate the lease, go to step 4. c. Step 3: TERMINATING YOUR LEASE In the event heat is not restored within 72 hours of the notice letter, you may terminate the lease. To do so, send a written letter to your landlord terminating the lease. Please see the Letter Terminating Lease for Failure to Restore Essential Service in the appendix for an example. It is important to note that your lease does not automatically terminate due to your landlord s failure to provide heat within 72 hours. A second letter is necessary to terminate the lease. You should retain a copy of the 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

12 letter for your records. Upon terminating the lease, you will have 30 days to move. Make sure you surrender the keys to the dwelling unit or make a good faith effort to do so on the date you move out. The landlord is obligated to return to you all prepaid rent, security deposit and any interest thereon within 45 days of the termination of the lease. If you do not wish to terminate the lease and wish to restore service, go to Step 4. d. Step 4: RESTORING SERVICE AND RENT ABATEMENT After you have given the landlord the 72-hour notice, you may attempt to restore your heat by paying the utility company directly. If this option works for you, you should RETAIN COPIES OF YOUR RECEIPTS. You will be able to deduct the payment to the utility company from your rent. For whatever reason, you may be unable to restore heat by working with the utility company. If this occurs, you should know that you can also buy a space heater and deduct from your rent the cost of the space heater. Again, MAKE SURE YOU RETAIN YOUR RECEIPT from the purchase so you can prove how much you paid for it. To abate your rent, send a letter with your monthly rent check explaining why you are paying less. Please se the Rent Abatement Essential Services letter in the appendix for an example. Include with the letter a copy of any receipts, but make sure you retain the original receipts for your records. In the event the landlord attempts to force you to pay the full rent, you will need the receipts to prove the amount paid to restore heat service. iii. What if my Unit has heat but it is too cold? a. Step 1: RECORD THE TEMPATURE You should record the temperature in the dwelling unit 3 times a day for 3 days straight. If the temperature in your dwelling unit does not meet the heat requirements located on page 10, you should proceed to step 2. b. Step 2: WRITE A DEMAND LETTER If the temperature is below what is required by law in the city of Chicago, you should write a demand letter for the landlord to increase the temperature in the dwelling unit. Please see the Heat Demand Letter Inadequate Heat in appendix for an example. c. Step 3: REPORT UNIT TO THE CITY You should make a complaint to the city s 311 Call Center by dialing 311. You may also call (312) to file your complaint with city building inspectors. Explain that you have heat but that your landlord is not meeting the minimum heating standards. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

13 f. What If I Lose One of the Other Listed Essential Services? If you lose any other essential service other than water or heat due to your landlord s failure to fulfill his/her obligations under the lease, you may follow the steps outlines on page 9 of this packet under (d) water. You may either try to work out a payment plan with the utility provider, find substitute housing or terminate the lease. Again, please note that these three options are not your only options, as you may also withhold or try to sue and recover damages based on the reduction in the fair rental value of the unit. Please note that in order to take any action you must provide notice of the problem to your landlord. Please see the 72-Hour Notice Letter Essential Services Shutoff in the appendix for an example. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

14 IV. What if My Landlord Intentionally Shuts Off Essential Services or Locks Me Out Of My Dwelling Unit? a. What is a lockout? i. Lockouts Under the RLTO Under the RLTO, a lockout occurs when your landlord attempts to force you out of your dwelling unit. A lockout can include: The changing, plugging, adding, or removing of any lock or latching device. The intentional shutoff of your utilities to force you out. The removal of any doors or windows. The blocking of any entrance to the dwelling unit. The removal of your personal property. Threatening to harm you or your property. Any other act that renders the dwelling (including any part of it) or any personal property inaccessible or uninhabitable. Lockouts are against the law. Under the RLTO, your landlord can be fined up to $500 a day for locking you out of your dwelling unit. ii. Lockouts Under Illinois State Law Under Illinois law, threats of a lockout are not enough to trigger your rights. The landlord must use force to lock you out of your dwelling unit. The use of force is defined to include the changing of locks on the dwelling unit, removing tenant belongings, removing doors or windows to the dwelling unit or intentionally shutting off the utilities. State law bars landlords from using these self help remedies to evict tenants. The Forcible Entry and Detainer Act provides the sole remedy for determining who has the right to possession of your unit. If your landlord illegally evicts you, you may have a cause of action in trespass, for breach of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment and for illegal conversion of property. You may file a Complaint for Injunctive Relief and seek a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the landlord to prevent the continuation of the lockout. You may also pursue a suit for damages. Prior to taking any such action, you should consult with an attorney. You should try to document all damage to your property and possessions caused by your landlord s illegal actions. If you wish to recover damages from your landlord on the grounds that the landlord has illegally converted your property, you will have to prove that: (1) you have a right to the property; (2) you have an absolute and unconditional right to the immediate possession of the property; (3) you made a demand for possession; and (4) the landlord wrongfully and without authorization assumed control, dominion, or ownership over the property. To prove you made a 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

15 demand for possession, you should send the landlord a demand letter via certified mail and retain a copy of the receipt. Please see the State Law Claim for Conversion of Property Demand Letter in the appendix for an example. As mentioned earlier, the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act provides landlords with the sole remedy for determining who has the right to possession of your dwelling unit. Any provision in a lease claiming the right for the landlord to re-enter the premises upon a breach of the lease without complying with the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act is invalid. It is not a defense to any of the above acts for the landlord to claim that your lease was terminated due to a violation of the lease. Further, it is not a defense for your landlord to claim that the tenancy was terminated by virtue of the expiration of the lease because if you remain in the dwelling unit the landlord can elect to treat the tenancy as a month-to-month tenancy (a tenancy at sufferance ). iii. Acts That Do NOT Constitute an Illegal Lockout It is important to note that there are certain times when a landlord can perform any of the above acts and it will be legal. Lockouts are NOT: The Sheriff executing an Order of Possession. Any of the above acts if the interference is only for the purpose of making repairs. Situations where you have abandoned the dwelling. However, please note for you to have abandoned the unit one of the following must have occurred: 1) you gave actual notice to the landlord that you were abandoning the dwelling; 2) you are absent for 21 days, have not paid rent and have no possessions in the dwelling; or 3) you are absent for 32 days and the rent has not been paid for that period. b. Traditional Lockouts Under the RLTO Actions Tenants Should Take If you are experiencing a traditional lockout where the landlord is blocking entry to the dwelling unit, you should do the following. i. Step 1: CALL THE POLICE You should call 311 if it is not an emergency and 911 if the lockout is an emergency. You should inform the police of your situation. Most likely, at this point, the police will make an attempt to find your landlord and they will order him/her to let you back into your dwelling unit. If at all possible, you should show something to the police to prove you reside in the dwelling unit (such as a rent receipt, utility bill, etc.) If the police refuse to assist, remind them that the landlord s action are in violation of RLTO and that Special Order #93-12 states that the police must investigate lockouts. If the officer still refuses to help you, get his badge number and ask to speak with the watch commander. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

16 ii. Step 2: OBTAIN COPY OF REPORT After the police have addressed the lockout, you should obtain a copy of the incident report. The cost of obtaining an incident report is $0.50. You must pay by check or money order. You may obtain an incident report by going in person to the Records Division, 1 st Floor, 3510 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL. Alternatively, you may also mail an incident report request containing specific information about the parties involved, the date of the incident, location and RD number (if possible) to: Chicago Police Department Records Inquiry Section (Unit 163), 3510 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL iii. Step 3: SEND A NOTICE LETTER TO YOUR LANDLORD You should send a notice letter by regular and certified mail if possible. Please see the Traditional Lockout Letter in the appendix for an example. You should also keep a copy of this letter for your records. iv. Step 4: CONSIDER LEGAL ACTION Under the RLTO, you may sue your landlord for any lockout and if you win may recover the greater of either two months rent or twice the cost of damages caused by the landlord s action. You should consult with an attorney prior to taking any legal action. c. Utility Lockouts Under the RLTO Actions Tenants Should Take As mentioned earlier, the intentional shutting off of utilities constitutes a lockout. If you suspect that your landlord has intentionally shutoff your utilities, follow the steps below. i. Step 1: SEND A NOTICE LETTER TO YOUR LANDLORD Please see the Utility Lockout Letter to Landlord in the appendix for an example. ii. Step 2: CALL 311 You should contact the city and make a report. After the lockout is addressed by the police, you should obtain a copy of the incident report. The cost of obtaining an incident report is $0.50. You must pay by check or money order. You may obtain an incident report by going in person to the Records Division, 1 st Floor, 3510 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL. Alternatively, you may also mail an incident report request containing specific information about the parties involved, the date of the incident, location and RD number (if possible) to: Chicago Police Department Records Inquiry Section (Unit 163), 3510 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

17 iii. Step 3: CALL THE CITIZENS UTILITY BOARD You should contact the Citizens Utility Board at or You should inform the board about your situation and ask for assistance. iv. Step 4: CONTACT THE UTILITY COMPANY You should contact the utility company and ask for documentation that the utility company is not able to remedy the problem without the cooperation of the landlord. v. Step 5: WRITE UP A LIST OF DAMAGES Utility lockouts can cause damage to your unit and possessions. You should keep all receipts/bills for substitute housing. You should also estimate losses from spoiled food in the event of an electrical utility lockout. vi. Step 6: CONSIDER LEGAL ACTION Under the RLTO, you may sue your landlord for any lockout and if you win may recover the greater of either two months rent or twice the cost of damages caused by the landlord s action. You should consult with an attorney prior to taking any legal action. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

18 V. What if Someone Is Tapping Into My Utilities? a. What Is A Utility Tap? When you signed your lease, you may have agreed to be responsible for the direct payment to the utility company for certain services. You may find when you receive your utility bills that the charges are very high but you do not know why. It is possible your very large bill is due to a utility tap. A utility tap occurs when someone without permission taps into existing electrical, water, gas or other utility line/pipe/wire to get service. Utility taps may occur in a variety of ways. For example, a utility tap exists when your neighbor s dwelling unit is hooked into your meter; you are paying for lighting in a common area; or the hot water for the entire building is on your gas bill. b. What Are My Rights? Utility taps are illegal in Illinois. Utility taps are a common problem but tenants often do not realize when their utilities are being tapped. In fact, utility taps are often discovered by chance. For example, a tap may be discovered because your fuse blew and a neighbors power also went out. Under the Illinois Rental Property Utility Service Act (765 ILCS 735/1.2), landlords must inform a tenant if the tenant is responsible for direct payment to the utility company for any service to common areas or other units. Without such notice, the landlord will be responsible for compensating the tenant and eliminating the tap. Utility companies also owe responsibilities to their customers under Illinois law. The Public Utility Act requires the utility to inspect and determine (if possible) who is tapping the tenant s utilities. The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) enforces the act. c. What Should I Do To Protect and Enforce My Rights? i. Step 1: CONTACT YOUR LANDLORD If you receive a utility bill that is unusually high, you should contact your landlord. You may do so by phone, but if you do, you should send a follow-up letter to your landlord. Please see the Suspected Utility Tap Letter to Landlord in the appendix for an example. You should inform the landlord that you suspect a utility tap. This gives your landlord an opportunity to come clean if they knew of the utility tap and may make your life easier if the landlord takes corrective action immediately. If the landlord denies responsibility and refuses to take any corrective measures, you should proceed to Step 2. ii. Step 2: CONTACT THE UTILITY COMPANY You should contact your utility company, inform them you suspect a utility tap, and ask for a representative to be sent to inspect the property. If you are speaking to an 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

19 employee of the utility company who refuses to send out a representative, insist on speaking to his/her supervisor. You should make note of to whom you spoke with, the time, and the date you called. If the utility company refuses to inspect, go to Step 3. It is important to request that you be present at the time of the utility company inspection. If you are not present, the inspector may only check the meter to see if it is working without investigating whether a tap exists. After the utility company inspects the meter, they should issue a report confirming or denying the existence of the utility tap. The report should also indicate whether the landlord is the party benefitting from the usage of the utility service. Make sure you save this report. After you receive the report from the inspection, go to Step 4. iii. Step 3: CONTACT THE ILLINOIS COMMERCE COMMISSION (ICC) If the utility company refuses to inspect the property, you should do the following. First, you should report the matter by calling the Citizens Utility Board at or call toll-free at Second, you should contact the Illinois Commerce Commission at You should ask for the Consumer Services Division. You will speak to a counselor who will handle your problem, provide information about ICC rules and state laws, and, if necessary, will contact the utility and attempt to resolve your problem. You should ask for the counselor s name and contact information for your records. If this fails to resolve the problem, you should again contact the Consumer Services Division and tell them you need to speak to your counselor. They will ask your name and direct you to the person that you spoke with when you informally complained. Your counselor will talk to you and find out more information. Once your counselor is satisfied that you have done all you can do, they will give you authorization to request a formal complaint form from the Chief Clerk s office. After you submit the formal complaint form, a hearing will be set. If the utility company has yet to take the actions required by law, your rights will be enforced at this hearing. iv. Step 4: SEND A 14-DAY NOTICE TO LANDLORD Once the meters are inspected and the utility company determines a utility tap exists, you should send the landlord a written notice stating the utility company has determined you are paying for additional utilities and that when you agreed to pay utility costs you only agreed to pay for services you use. The letter should state that you want the defective wiring/piping corrected and compensation for over payment. You should inform the landlord that he/she has 14-days to correct the meter. You should state that if the landlord does not correct the situation, you will reduce the cost of the overbilling from the rent due. You should point out to the landlord that under the Rental Utilities Services Act, the landlord can be held liable for treble damages. Please see the Utility Tap 14-Day Notice Letter to Landlord in the appendix for an example. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

20 If the landlord is willing to work something out, you should proceed with negotiations. The Resources for Apartment Dispute Resolution may be able to help mediate this process. You can reach them at If the landlord does not respond to this letter, proceed to step 5. v. Step 5: SEND A LETTER TO THE UTILITY COMPANY Once the meters are inspected and the utility company has determined a utility tap exists, you should also send a letter to the utility company stating that you will not be liable for services used by others without permission. Please see the Utility Tap Letter to Utility Company in the appendix for an example. This may prompt the utility company to fix the problem. Utility companies have a duty to ensure that your utilities are not being stolen. If the utility company fails to take action, you should file a complaint with the ICC regarding the overbilling. Remember, the goal is to put an end to the utility tap. You should attempt to have the utility company and your landlord remedy the situation at the same time. Hopefully, one of the two parties will be responsive. If not, you should proceed to step 6. vi. Step 6: CONSIDER LEGAL ACTION If neither the landlord nor the utility company takes action, you will want to consult with an attorney about bringing a legal action to terminate the utility tap. An attorney will be able to advise you of your rights and the appropriate legal steps needed to resolve the problem. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

21 VI. What If My Unit Needs Repairs? Most landlords in the city of Chicago take pride in their buildings and repair their building when problems arise. In the vast majority of cases, landlords fix issues when notified of them by the tenant. Unfortunately, not all landlords are responsible. Some lack the means to properly maintain their buildings and others simply prefer to not spend their money on upkeep. You may pursue a number of different remedies if your landlord refuses to make repairs. The RLTO and Illinois law both require landlords to maintain dwelling units. Your rights under both are discussed below. a. Rights Under the RLTO If your building is covered by the RLTO, Section requires your landlord to maintain the premises in compliance with the municipal code and to promptly make any and all repairs necessary to fulfill this obligation. If the building is in material noncompliance, you may pursue one of five remedies. The RLTO specifically lists a number of different conditions that constitute material noncompliance. You should obtain a copy of the RLTO and read Section to determine whether your conditions are listed in the code as material. Please note that the list provided in the RLTO is not exhaustive. In general, material means meaningful, significant, or major. A number of different situations constitute material noncompliance. For example, failing to: provide adequate stairway lighting, prevent the accumulation of standing water, prevent the accumulation of garbage, maintain plumbing systems, and fix broken windows or locks all constitute material noncompliance. The remedies offered under the RLTO for material noncompliance differ depending on whether the defects are minor. This packet discusses both situations. i. Minor Defects Material noncompliance is only a minor defect when the reasonable cost of compliance does not exceed the greater of $ or one-half of the monthly rent. Section (a). If the material noncompliance falls within this definition, you may recover damages for the material noncompliance or you may notify the landlord in writing of your intention to correct the condition at the landlord s expense. You may not correct the condition at the landlord s expense, however, if the cost would exceed one month s rent. If you elect to correct the defect yourself, you must send the landlord a 14-day notice stating that if the landlord fails to correct the defect within 14 days after being notified or as promptly as conditions require in case of an emergency, you will have the work done in a workmanlike manner and in compliance with existing law and building regulations. Further, you must state in the letter that after the work is done, 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

22 you will submit to the landlord a paid bill from the appropriate tradesman or supplier and deduct from your rent due the amount paid. Please see the Minor Defects 14-Day Notice Letter in the appendix for an example. Finally, please note that you may not repair the defects at the landlord s expense if you, a member of your family, or your guest deliberately or negligently caused the damage. ii. Significant Material Noncompliance If you believe the landlord is in material noncompliance with the lease or the RLTO and it is not a minor defect, you have two options. You can either (1) terminate the lease or (2) withhold from the rent an amount which reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises. a. Withholding Rent for Material Noncompliance If your landlord is in material noncompliance, you may chose to withhold from the monthly rent an amount which reasonably reflects the reduced value of the unit due to the material noncompliance. To do so, you must deliver a written 14-day notice to the landlord identifying the specific nature of the material noncompliance and stating that you intend to withhold a specified amount of rent if the landlord does not cure the material noncompliance within 14 days. Please see the 14-Day Notice Letter of Intent to Withhold Rent Under RLTO in the appendix for the appropriate notice letter. You should send this letter by certified mail so you can prove when the landlord received it. When determining the amount to withhold from the monthly rent, you may only withhold an amount which reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises. Before making this determination, you may want to speak with a lawyer for advice on determining an amount which reasonably reflects the reduced value. In the event you make this determination entirely on your own, you should make a very conservative estimate of the decreased value of the property and the amount you may withhold. If you withhold too much, it may be grounds for the landlord to evict you. Finally, please note that you may not withhold rent if you, a member of your family, or your guest deliberately or negligently caused the damage. b. Terminating the Lease for Material Noncompliance If you wish to terminate the lease, you must deliver a written 14-day notice to the landlord identifying the acts and/or omissions constituting material noncompliance and state that the rental agreement will terminate 14 days after the receipt of the notice by the landlord if the landlord fails to come into compliance. Please see the 14-Day Notice Letter Terminating Lease for Material Noncompliance in the appendix for the appropriate notice letter. You should send this letter by certified mail so you can prove when the landlord received the notice. From the date of termination of the lease, you will have 30 days to move out of the unit and surrender possession. To surrender possession, you must surrender the keys. If the possession is not properly given back to the landlord within 30 days, the 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

23 lease shall remain in effect. The landlord will have 45 days from the date of termination to return all prepaid rent, security and interest to you. Finally, please note that you may not terminate the lease if you, a member of your family, or your guest deliberately or negligently caused the damage. b. Rights Under Illinois Law If your unit is not covered by the RLTO, state law may provide you with a remedy. You may be able to repair and deduct the cost from rent. If the problem is severe and you take the proper steps, you may be able to terminate the lease under state law. i. Repair and Deduct Under the Illinois Residential Tenants Right to Repair Act The Illinois Residential Tenants Right to Repair Act (765 ILCS 742) grants rights to tenants that are substantially similar to the rights granted by the RLTO. The law provides that if any repair is required under the lease or under law, administrative rule, or local ordinance or regulation (such as the building code), and the reasonable cost of repair does not exceed the lesser of $500 or one-half of the monthly rent, the tenant may make repairs at the landlord s expense. To exercise this right, you must notify the landlord in writing by registered or certified mail to the address of the landlord or an agent of the landlord as indicated in the lease (or to landlord s last known address if not listed in lease). In the letter, you must state your intent to make the specified repair(s) at the landlord s expense if he/she fails to make the repair(s). If the landlord fails to make the repairs within 14 days after being notified in writing, you may have the repair made in a workmanlike manner and in compliance with the appropriate law. Please not that if the situation is an emergency, you may make repairs as quickly as the conditions require. Finally, you must state in the letter that after the work is done, you will submit to the landlord a paid bill from the appropriate tradesman or supplier and deduct from your rent due the amount paid. Please see the 14-Day Notice Letter of Intent to Repair and Deduct under the Illinois Residential Tenant s Right to Repair Act in the appendix for the appropriate letter. Finally, please note that you may not repair the defects at the landlord s expense if you, a member of your family, or your guest deliberately or negligently caused the damage. ii. Terminating the Lease - Constructive Eviction If the conditions in your unit are so severe that you do not feel you can live there any more, you may be able to terminate the lease on the grounds that you have been constructively evicted from the unit. The conditions must be objectively severe and you may have to prove the severity of these conditions in a court of law. Cases where a court concluded a tenant was constructively evicted in Illinois typically involve 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

24 situations where the landlord has failed to provide essential services (such as water or heat) or where the landlord has failed to cure an infestation of rodents or insects. In order to terminate your lease on the state law grounds that you have been constructively evicted, you should do the following: a. Step 1: SEND THE LANDLORD A NOTICE LETTER Write your landlord a letter notifying him/her of the problem and requesting he/she fix the problem. You MUST give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem. Please see the Constructive Eviction Request to Repair Letter in appendix for the appropriate letter. b. Step 2: CONTACT CITY BUILDING INSPECTORS Contact city building inspectors regarding building code violations and request an inspection. If your landlord is cited for serious violations, it will make it easier to prove your case in court, should it be necessary. Make sure you obtain copies of the building inspector s report. You can do so by going to 11 th Floor of City Hall and making a Freedom of Information Act request. The report will be available in a few days at a cost to you of $0.25. c. Step 3: MOVE OUT OF YOUR UNIT If the landlord has failed to make timely repairs and you wish to assert constructive eviction, you MUST move out. d. Step 4: SEND LANDLORD NOTICE LETTER NOTIFYING HIM/HER THAT YOU HAVE MOVED OUT Within a reasonable period of time after moving out, you MUST notify the landlord that you were constructively evicted. You should state in this letter that the landlord s constructive eviction of you terminated the lease. We recommend you send this letter within one week from the date you moved out. Please see the Letter Notifying Landlord Tenant Moved Due to Constructive Eviction in appendix for an example. If the conditions in your unit are serve and the above steps are followed, a court will most likely find that you were constructively evicted from your dwelling unit and that the lease was terminated by the landlord. Please be advised that even when you do all the above, landlords may try to seek rent from you after you have moved out of the dwelling unit. You should consult with an attorney if this occurs. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

25 VII. Glossary 311 A three-digit telephone number residents, businesses and visitors can call to reach the City of Chicago to inquire about services, report problems, check the status of issues, or get information. Chicago Heat Ordinance Ordinance covering all residential units in the city of Chicago that sets minimum temperature requirements in Chicago dwelling units. Citizens Utility Board A non-profit, non-partisan organization established by the State of Illinois to protect and represent the interests of residential utility customers in Illinois. Dwelling Unit Refers to any rental unit including studio, loft, apartment, condo, house, cottage house, etc. Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Illinois state agency charged with administering and enforcing certain Illinois laws, including utility laws. Lockout Illegal act where the landlord intentionally deprives tenant of right to enter or otherwise use dwelling unit either by illegally evicting a tenant. Notice Letter Letters that notify the landlord about problems with the dwelling unit, state your rights and your intention to exercise those rights. Examples are found in the Appendix. Order of Possession An order entered by a court ending a tenant s right to possession of the dwelling unit. A Sheriff must present a valid order of possession when removing a tenant or his/her items from the dwelling unit. Rent Abatement Generally, refers to rent you do not have to pay due to conditions or lack of essential services. RLTO Chicago s Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance Utility Tap Unauthorized use of your utilities by another party. 100 West Monroe, Suite 1800 Chicago, Illinois

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