Heat & Other Essential Services – FAQ

thermostat

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

What are essential services?
Heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas,and plumbing.

Who is responsible for paying for these services?
That depends upon the terms of your lease agreement.

What if I’m responsible for the cost of heating my apartment?
Your landlord must give you a written statement setting forth the projected average monthly cost of heating your unit. (Your landlord must do this even if your tenancy is not governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance).

What if I get a shut-off notice because my landlord didn’t pay a utility bill?
After giving your landlord written notice of this problem, you can

  • pay the utility company to keep the service on, and
  • deduct from your rent the amount you pay the utility company.

What is the first thing I should do if an essential service that my landlord is supposed to supply is shut off?
You must first give your landlord written notice of this problem. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. After providing such notice, you have several options. These options are set forth in the answers to the next five written questions.

Can I pay the utility company to restore the service?
Yes, and you can deduct this payment from your rent. Make sure you get a receipt from the utility company so you can prove how much you paid.

Can I buy something (such as a space heater) that can supply the essential service?
Yes, and you can deduct from your rent the cost of what you’ve bought. Make sure you get a receipt for your purchase so you can prove how much you paid for it. Do not use a gas stove to heat the apartment!

Can I sue my landlord?
Yes, but contact an attorney first. He/she can help you sue your landlord for an amount that reflects the reduced value of your apartment plus attorney’s fees.

Can I move out of my apartment and stay in a motel until the essential service is restored?
Yes, and you do not have to pay rent for the period you’re in the motel or other temporary housing. Furthermore, you may deduct from your future rent payments the cost of this temporary housing (as long as it does not exceed your monthly rent).

If my landlord doesn’t restore the essential service, can I terminate my lease?
Yes, but only if your landlord doesn’t restore the service within 72 hours of receiving your written notice. If that happens, you can send your landlord another written notice stating that you are terminating the lease agreement.
NOTE: You may not terminate your lease agreement for lack of an essential service if the utility company is unable to provide the service). If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, your lease will remain in effect.

What if a member of my family, a guest, or myself are responsible for the lack of service?
In that case, you may not use any of the remedies set forth above.

Am I entitled to notice if the building’s utilities are going to be disconnected?
Yes. Your landlord must provide you with written notice of any proposed shut-off. This notice must:

  • Identify the service that will be terminated;
  • State the intended date of termination; and
  • State whether the proposed termination will affect your apartment.

What if my landlord fails to provide me with this notice?
You can notify him/her, in writing, that you will terminate the lease agreement in no less than 14 days if he/she does not provide you with the required information. If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, your lease will remain in effect.

How warm should my apartment be?
The Chicago Municipal Code states that, from September 15 of each year to June 1 of the following year, the temperature in your apartment must be at least:

  • 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • 66 degrees for all other times.

*This is true even if your tenancy is not governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.*

What if my apartment is too cold?
Record the temperature in your apartment three times a day for a week. If these recordings show that your apartment is too cold, send your landlord a letter stating that he/she is violating the Chicago Municipal Code and must increase the temperature in your apartment. If he/she doesn’t comply with this demand, call the City’s Heat Hotline at 312/744-5000.

What if my landlord shuts off my utility service in an attempt to force me out of the apartment?
Call the police and an attorney. (For more information, see “Lock-outs and Retaliation“).

Please Note: This information, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicago’s Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

Security Deposits – FAQ

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

Do I have to tell my landlord I am moving if I have a written lease?
No. Your lease sets forth the date on which it ends, and you are supposed to move on that date unless you and your landlord agree to renew your lease agreement.

What if I do not have a written lease?
If you pay rent on a monthly basis, you must give your landlord 30 days written notice that you are moving out. Otherwise, you can be held liable for another month’s rent. If you pay rent on a weekly basis, you give your landlord 7 days written notice that you are moving. Otherwise, you can be held liable for another week’s rent.

Can I use my security deposit to pay the last month’s rent?
Not unless your landlord agrees to let you do this. If you reach such an agreement with your landlord, make sure you get this agreement in writing. A security deposit is not rent. You may get evicted if you treat it like rent, without your landlord’s written permission.

Is there anything I can do before I move to make sure I get back my security deposit?
Yes. Clean the apartment, repair any damage you caused, and take pictures of the apartment to verify its condition. You should ask the landlord to:

  • Walk through the apartment with you just before you move out; and
  • Sign a statement verifying the condition of the apartment.

What if I move out after the day I am supposed to move?
You may become responsible for an additional month’s rent. For instance, if you are supposed to move on the last day of January, but you don’t actually move until February 2, your landlord may be able to hold you responsible for the February rent.

What if I leave my property behind when I move out?
Your landlord must leave the property in the apartment or store it somewhere safe for 7 days. If the property is not worth the cost of storage, however, he/she can throw it away immediately.

Can I break my lease before it ends?
Only if your landlord agrees to let you out of the lease or violates your rights under the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If You want to break the lease because your landlord has violated your rights, contact an attorney.

What if my landlord doesn’t let me break the lease, but I still move out before the lease ends?
Your landlord must make a good faith effort to re-rent the apartment. If he/she’s unsuccessful, you remain responsible for the rent. If he/she rents it for less than what you were paying, you remain responsible for the difference.

Can I sublet my apartment?
Yes, and your landlord cannot charge you any subletting fees. Furthermore, if your landlord does not let you sublet to a suitable person, you don’t have to pay rent for the period that begins when the subtenant was willing to move in.

What if my subtenant does not pay the rent?
You become responsible for it.

What happens to my security deposit when I Sublet?
The landlord is entitled to hold your security deposit until the end of the lease, so you should either:

  • Ask your landlord to return your deposit and collect a new one from the subtenant; or,
  • Collect a security deposit from the subtenant yourself.

The landlord cannot keep a deposit from both you and the subtenant if the total amount of the deposit exceeds the amount listed on the lease.

What happens if my landlord refuses to return my security deposit?

The Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance states that when a tenant moves out, the landlord has 30 days to give the tenant an itemized list of any repairs or deductions they intend on withholding from the security deposit, including receipts/estimates. The landlord has a total of 45 days to return the remaining amount of the deposit, plus interest. If the landlord does not provide the tenant with a list of deductions within 30 days of vacating the unit, they must return the full deposit amount with 45 days of move-out. If they fail to comply, you can sue the landlord for twice the amount of the deposit, plus courts costs and attorney fees. To request your deposit, use Squared Away Chicago to send your landlord a legal notice. If your landlord still does not return the deposit, contact MTO for an attorney referral.

Please Note:This pamphlet, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicago’s Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

Evictions – FAQ

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

What must my landlord do if he/she wants to have me evicted?
She must file a lawsuit against you. This lawsuit is called an “eviction action” or a “forcible action.” Your landlord cannot have you evicted unless he/she wins this lawsuit.

Does my landlord have to provide me with a written notice before filing an eviction action against me?
Yes. The kind of notice required depends on the landlord’s reason for terminating or refusing to renew your tenancy.

What if my landlord wants me to move when my written lease ends?
At least 30 days before your lease ends, your landlord must provide you with a written notice stating that he/she will not renew your tenancy. Then, if you don’t move he/she can file an eviction action against you.

If I have a written lease agreement, can my landlord have me evicted before it ends?
Only if you violate one of the lease provisions.

What if I’m behind in my rent?
Your landlord can give you a written demand for the rent. This demand is called a “5-day notice” because it states that your tenancy will end unless you pay all the rent owed within no less than 5 days. If you fail to comply with this demand, your landlord can file a lawsuit against you. (If you live in a CHA building, the notice must give you 14 days within which to pay the rent).

What should I do if I receive a 5-day notice?
Give your landlord all the rent you owe within the next 5 days. Bring a witness with you when you make your rent payment. That witness can then testify on your behalf, if your landlord later denies that you paid or tried to pay the amount owed. Always pay with a check or money order. You can then use the canceled check or money order receipt to prove you paid rent on a certain date.

What if the 5-day notice demands more rent than I owe?
Give your landlord just the amount you owe.

What if my landlord refuses to accept my rent within the 5-day period?
He/she gives up his/her right to file an eviction action against you. If he/she still files this action, call an attorney immediately.

If I don’t have all the money I owe, should I give my landlord a partial payment?
Only if he/she agrees, in writing, to (1) allow you to pay the rest of what you owe later, and (2) not evict you for failing to pay everything you owed within 5 days of receiving the termination notice.

What if I offer my landlord the rent after the 5-day period ends?
He/she does not have to accept it. But if he/she does accept it, and if your tenancy is governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, he/she cannot evict you. (See the front cover of this pamphlet to find out whether the Ordinance governs your tenancy.)

What if I violate some other provision of my lease?
Your landlord can serve you with a notice describing the violation and stating that your tenancy will end in no less than 10 days. The notice must also advise you of your right to “cure” within this 10-day period, and thereby preserve your tenancy. If you fail to “cure” the violation in a timely manner, your landlord can file an eviction action against you.

How can I “secure” a lease violation?
By taking whatever action is necessary to correct the violation you committed. Assume, for example, that your lease prohibits you from keeping any pets. If your landlord serves you with a 10-day termination notice because you have a cat, you can cure your violation by getting rid of the cat within 10 days of receiving the notice.

What steps should I take to prove I cured the lease violation?
Within 10 days of receiving the termination notice, send your landlord a letter explaining what action you have taken to cure the violation. Send the letter by certified mail and keep a copy. If your landlord files an eviction action against you, bring the letter to court.

Does the termination notice always have to state a reason for the termination of my tenancy?
That depends on whether you have a written lease or an oral (unwritten) lease. If you have an oral lease, the notice does not have to state a reason for the termination of your tenancy. Instead, it may simply state that your tenancy will end in no less than 7 days (if you pay rent every week), or no less than 30 days (if you pay rent every month). Your landlord must give you this notice at least one day before your rent is due. If you don’t move at the end or this 7 or 30 day period, your landlord can file an eviction action against you.

How will I know whether my landlord has filed an eviction action against me?
You will receive a court document called a “summons,” which states where and when you must appear for trial.

Should I go to court?
Yes. Even if you lose your case, the judge will give you more time to move if you appear in court.

Can I have an attorney represent me in court?
Yes. In fact, you should contact an attorney as soon as you receive a termination notice.

What if I want an attorney but have not been able to contact one before I appear in court for the first time?
When your case is called, just approach the judge and say, “Your Honor, I would like a short continuance so I can get an attorney. I would also like to preserve my right to a jury trial.” If you do not want an attorney, the judge may conduct the trial immediately.

What should I bring with me when I go to court?
Bring the summons you received, as well as any evidence that supports your case (such as your lease agreement, rent receipts, pictures of your apartment, letters you wrote to or received from your landlord, etc.) . You should also bring any witnesses who are willing to testify on your behalf.

What happens at the trial?
Your landlord will present his/her case first. When he/she finishes, you will be allowed to tell your side of the story. Keep it brief. Write out what you are going to say beforehand so you do not forget anything.

What defenses can I assert at the trial?
There are many possible defenses, so you should discuss your case with an attorney before you go to court.

What happens if I lose my case?
The judge will order you to move. he/she may also order you to pay your landlord any rent you owe.

If I lose my case, how much time will I have to move?
In most cases, the judge will postpone your eviction for a period of 7 to 21 days. You cannot be evicted before this period ends.

What if I need more time to move?
You can file a motion for an extension of time. The day before you are scheduled to be evicted, go to the Advice Desk in the back of Room 602 of the Daley Center and ask the person sitting there to help you file this motion.

What if I was not in court when the judge ordered me to move?
You can file a motion to “vacate” the judges order. As soon as you learn that the judge ordered you to move, go to the Advice Desk in the back of Room 602 of the Daley Center and ask the person sitting there to help you file this motion.

If my landlord wins the eviction action, who can actually force me out of my apartment?
If you live in a CHA building, the CHA police can evict you. Otherwise, only the Sheriff of Cook County can evict you. Your landlord cannot evict you.

What should I do if my landlord tries to force me out of my apartment without following the proper legal procedure for having me evicted?
Call the police. (For more information, read the pamphlet entitled Lock-outs and Retaliation).

Please Note:This information, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicago’s Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

Lead – FAQ

What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a poison that impacts everyone, especially children ages 6 years and younger. Lead can harm the brain, nerves, kidneys, digestive system, hearing and cause muscle and joint problems. Even at low levels, lead can affect cognitive abilities causing a lower IQ and learning disabilities. The effects of lead on the body and brain are irreversible.

How is lead related to your home? flaking-paint-window
Lead was used in paint prior to 1978. Most homes built prior to 1978 have some lead in them. Over 70% of homes in Chicago were built before 1978. Paint made prior to 1950 was especially high in lead. The older the home, is the greater the potential for lead hazards. Invisible lead dust, not paint chips, are the main source of lead poisoning. Windows and porches are the most likely sources of lead hazards in your home.

Are there other sources of lead around my home?
Yes. Soil in and around your home may contain lead. In older homes, some water pipes may contain lead.

What if I have lead paint in my apartment?
Most apartments built prior to 1978 have lead paint. Lead paint becomes hazardous when it is disturbed by friction, impact and moisture which causes the paint to break down into dust. If you suspect your apartment has a lead hazard (ie. chipping paint) call the Renter’s Hotline for more information. If there is a child aged 6 or under residing in the home, you may enroll in the free Safe and Healthy Homes program for personalized information on how to prevent lead poisoning in your home.

What should I do if there is a lead hazard in my unit?
Inform the landlord. Call the Renter’s Hotline [link]. Call the city of Chicago’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program at 312.747.LEAD[5323]. You may request an inspection. The Department of Health has several programs that may provide financial assistance to landlords or homeowners seeking to replace old windows.
If the landlord refuses to make repairs and old paint is pulling away from the wall, cracking, chipping or peeling and it is a code violation, you can give the landlord a 14-day written notice to reduce your rent. See “Apartment Repairs and Conditions

Does my landlord have to inform me if there is lead in my apartment?
Under federal law, at the start of a tenancy, the landlord must provide tenants with a lead disclosure form that details any known lead hazard in your unit or the common areas and a copy of the EPA booklet “Protect Your Family from Lead in your Home“. Under 2004 Childhood Lead Prevention Act, the landlord must also post a notice if a lead hazard has been found in another unit. That notice must remain posted until all documented hazards are properly repaired.

If there are renovations or repairs being done in my building, does that expose my family or me to lead?
Maybe. If your home was built before 1978 [find out here: www.newschicago.org], your landlord or the contractors (s)he has hired must follow the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule, which came into effect on April 22nd, 2010.

Watch this video to know what precautions contractors are now required to take if working in a building built before 1978. Contractors must be certified and must follow specific procedures to prevent possible lead contamination.

Homeowners and Landlords – There is money available to make repairs to lead hazards, including for window replacement. Income qualification can be based on tenants’ income. Learn more here.

Learn more about MTO’s free lead poisoning prevention program here.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

To speak with a Healthy Homes Organizer – call Meg Borneman 773.292.4980 ext. 231 or email meg@tenants-rights.org

 

Leases – FAQ

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

This FAQ describes the different types of leases, how and when you can terminate a lease and identifies different lease provisions that are prohibited by law.

Does every tenant have a lease agreement?
Yes. It may be a written lease or an oral (unwritten) lease.

What is the advantage of a written lease agreement?
It sets out the terms of your agreement with the landlord. Furthermore, it states how long your tenancy will last, and your landlord cannot terminate this tenancy early unless you violate one of the lease provisions.

If I do not have a written lease, when can my tenancy be terminated?
Either you or your landlord can terminate it with at least one month advance written notice (if you pay rent every month), or at least 7 days advance written notice (if you pay rent every week). Neither of you has to give reason for terminating the tenancy.

If I have a written lease, can my landlord raise my rent before the lease ends?
Only if the lease states that the landlord can do this. Otherwise, your rent must remain the same until the lease ends.

If I do not have a written lease, when can my landlord raise the rent?
Your landlord can raise the rent only after giving you advance written notice. If you pay rent on a monthly basis, you must receive at least one month written notice. If you pay rent on a weekly basis, you must receive at least 7 days written notice.

What if I have a written lease that has provisions that I don’t like?
Don’t sign it. Once you sign the lease you are bound by all its provisions unless these provisions are against the law. (Illegal provisions are listed below). If you don’t like a provision, ask your landlord to cross it out. If he/she agrees to do this, both of you should put your initials next to the provision that has been crossed out.

What lease provisions are against the law?
Any provision stating that you agree to:

  • Give up any of your rights under Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance;
  • Limit your landlord’s liability for breaking the law;
  • Let your landlord win an eviction action against you without first serving you with a termination notice and a summons to appear in court;
  • Give up your right to a jury trial if your landlord files an eviction action against you;
  • Pay for your landlord’s attorney’s fees if he/she files an eviction against you;
  • Pay a late fee in excess of the amount allowed by the Ordinance (see below); or
  • Receive a discount that is equal to more than the monthly fee allowed by the Ordinance if you pay your rent before a certain day of the month.

How much can my landlord charge as a late fee?
If your monthly rent is $500 or less your landlord can charge you no more than $10 per month. If your monthly rent is more than $500, your landlord can charge you an additional fee equal to 5% of the amount that exceeds $500. Therefore if your rent is $700, your landlord can charge you $10 pus 5% of 200, for a total late fee of $20.

Is my lease still in effect if it has an illegal provision?
Yes. Your lease is still in effect, but your landlord cannot enforce the illegal provision. If he/she tries to enforce an illegal provision, you can sue him/her.

Do I have to move if my landlord sells the property before my lease ends?
No. Your lease remains in effect and the new owner has to comply with the terms of this agreement.

If I have a written lease, what happens when it ends?
If you want to leave the apartment when your lease ends, you can just move. You do not have to give your landlord any advance notice.

What if my landlord wants me to move when my written lease ends?
At least 30 days before the lease ends your landlord must provide you with a written notice stating that your tenancy will not be renewed. If you do not receive this notice in a timely manner, you may stay in the unit for up to 60 days after the date on which you do receive the notice. (remember, however, that your obligation to pay rent continues during this 60 day period).

Can I break my lease before it ends?
Only if your landlord agrees to let you out of the lease or violates your rights under Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If you want to break the lease because your landlord has violated your rights, contact an attorney.

What if my landlord doesn’t let me break the lease, but I still move out before the lease ends?
Your landlord must make a good faith effort to re-rent the apartment. If she’s unsuccessful, you remain responsible for the rent. If he/she rents it for less than what you were paying you remain responsible for the difference.

Can I sublet my apartment?
Yes, and your landlord cannot charge you any subletting fees. Furthermore, if your landlord does not let you sublet to a suitable person, you don’t have to pay the rent for that period that begins when the subtenant was willing to move in.

What if my subtenant does not pay the rent?
You remain responsible for it.

Please Note:This information, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicagoís Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

Mold – FAQ

You may not see mold, but you may smell something like this in the basement.

How do I know if I have mold in my apartment?
The basic rule is “if you can see mold or smell mold, you have mold.” There are no fancy tests needed to tell you what kind of mold you have. Any mold in your home or apartment is bad mold.

Can I withhold rent or use my rent to fix a mold problem?
Yes. See “Apartment Repairs and Conditions.” Mold grows on wet or damp surfaces. If mold exists in your apartment, it is important to fix any moisture problem first. Painting over mold does not get rid of the problem. Only after the moisture problem is fixed, should you paint.

Those black spots on the window sill are mold, most likely caused by condensation and old, drafty windows. The moisture problem on the windows at this home also loosened up so much paint that the child living here became lead poisoned.

Is my landlord responsible if my property is damaged by mold?
If you believe your property was damaged as a result of the negligence of the landlord, make a detailed list of all the property damaged and send the list to the landlord asking for compensation. If the landlord refuses to pay you will need to contact an attorney.