Housing Guide 2011: Renters’ Rights

Finding your apartment pilfered, putrid, pest-infested, or otherwise out-of-order in even the pettiest of ways can be stressful to say the least. Residents often know little of their landlords’ obligations, and find themselves at the mercy of their circumstances. However, a bit of knowledge of your rights as a tenant can go a long way in avoiding disaster.

The Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) enables wide protections of both tenant and landlord, but devotes especially large swathes of legalese to the “Landlord’s Responsibility to Maintain,” which requires the landlord to keep your residence habitable. Simply put, if you happen to find your apartment in a negligible state, your landlord must fix the situation. If he or she fails to do so, you have the right to withhold rent until the conditions improve. If the landlord wishes to access the renter’s apartment in any way, he must deliver a notice at least two days prior to the set date. Knowledge of your basic rights under the RLTO will reduce your stress as a tenant while improving your quality of life against possibly intrusive landlords.

It’s worth noting that less intuitive requirements exist. For example, many Chicago renters are unaware that a landlord must formally sue a tenant in a court of law prior to eviction. Simply put, your landlord cannot attempt to flush you out in any way other than legal action. He or she will be fined for attempts to shut off utilities or change the locks in order to get you to move out.

If you have questions about the RLTO, or any issues regarding your Renter’s Rights, numerous organizations in the Chicago area make themselves available to answer questions. The Illinois Tenants Union has a personal consultation service for those with questions about what the law stipulates. The Metropolitan Tenants Organization also offers consultations on renters’ rights issues, as well as organizing a number of different programs aimed at improving the quality of housing across Chicago.

Specific questions regarding your rights as a renter can be directed to: Illinois Tenant Union (773) 478-1133, Metropolitan Tenants Organization (773) 292-4988, or read the RLTO for yourself at chicityclerk.com/tenantsVRSlandlords.php