Retaliation by landlords is illegal. Know your rights, stay the course, and win

Last updated: May 24, 2016 – 12:14 PM
After Carl (not his real name) repeatedly contacted his landlord about needed repairs in his apartment, without success, he didn’t know what to do.  He had rented the apartment in a Pilsen three-flat when he moved to town to accept a job as an associate professor at a local community college.  As someone who always paid his rent, he never expected to have an issue with his landlord.  

Attorney Joan Fenstermaker
Attorney Joan Fenstermaker

Carl was sure he had a right to demand that repairs be made, but he didn’t know how to make that happen.  Eventually, he heard about Metropolitan Tenants Organization’s Hotline (773-292-4988) and called seeking help – that was in September 2012.  After discussing his situation with a Hotline Counselor, he was counseled that for his next step he might want to consult a lawyer. 

MTO referred him to Joan Fenstermaker, an attorney who often represents clients referred by MTO. She drafted a “demand letter” for Carl and sent it to his landlord, asking for the needed repairs to be made and informing the landlord that he would be reducing his rent check until the repairs were complete (following the guidelines that are part of the city’s Residential Landlord Tenants Ordinance). 

Twice the landlord refused to accept the demand letter, sent via certified mail.  And, instead of sending workers to repair the building problems, the landlord sent an Eviction Notice. Fenstermaker immediately contested the eviction case, claiming it was retaliatory, and demanded a jury trial. The jury agreed, and the Judge threw the eviction case out. 

Fenstermaker then filed a lawsuit of her own seeking compensation on Carl’s behalf.  The lawsuit outlined all of the previously cited issues and added the new charges of illegal late fees (charged when he lowered his rent payments), an illegal lockout from his garage space, and the retaliatory eviction.  
When the case went to trial in February, the judge ordered the landlord to pay Carl $10,642.73, along with legal fees – proof that tenants do have rights, even if they sometimes have to fight for them.


All 12 Comments

  1. Joan Fenstermaker represented me in a case with a very stubborn landlord that dragged on for years. She did not give up and ultimately, I collected damages from my landlord. Joan Fenstermaker works for tenants rights!

  2. The end result was wonderful and the attorney was persistent and did an excellent job. However, the process seems so tedious. For a tenant with disabilities this would be a daunting task.

  3. Joan did a great job as an attorney and got excellent results.

    However, the questions being posted here require the responses of Lawyers. AND, THERE IS a desperate need for a group of lawyers, very carefully selected, to pursue all avenues of need and resources to get true progress and responses that become apparent by action.

    Paul Bernstein

  4. Landlord charged me a nonrefundable move-in fee of $300. Is this aginst the RLTO. Also I have a written lease and landlord insists I needed to gve him a 30 day notice to move out. My ease expires Sept. 30, 2016 and I am moving on Sept. 30. Landlord is trying to charge me for October rent. Many probesm with bed bugs, rodets and failure of landlord to take care of pest robems until I repeatedly called the alderman’s office and my mother who is a retired housing activist, but worked with the group that wrote the orignal RLTO.

    1. There are no rules regarding move in fees so the landlord can charge a $300 nonrefundable move-in fee.

      As for the end of your current lease, what does the lease state n regards to giving notice. If the lease us silent on the matter then there is no law that requires a tenant to give notice at the end of a lease, only at the end of a month to month lease.

      It is a little late to deal with the repair issues. Though if you can document that the landlord knew about the problems you could potentially sue the landlord.

  5. I lived in the same place for three yrs.. I have been late on my rent by a week but I have always made sure it was payed.. My bathroom ceiling is leaking water from the owners unit above me and I said something more then a few times to him . It’s growing small spots of mold now and I would like to know how do I get help getting this issues fix before it caves in on someone or we get sick from mold.

    1. It sounds like you are living in an owner occupied building and if there are less than 7 units in the building then many of Chicago’s landlord and tenant laws do not apply to you.

      A first place to start is to document the problem. MTO’s app could assist you. You can take pictures of the problems and document the growing mold problem and see how the owner responds. If you are not covered you have limited options and one of those would be to ask the City of Chicago to inspect your unit by calling 311.

  6. Initially I was asked to pay 300 admin fee 50 guaranteer fee 25 key deposit. Nowhere it is mentioned that the admin fee is non refundable which in fact he told he will give it back once we vacate. I had kept a hot pan on the carpet and small part of it got discolored and became hard. The rest of the carpet is in very good condition. He is asking me to bear the whole cost of the carpet which is 500$ and no mention of returning the key deposit or admin fee.

    1. Did the landlord provide you with any type of receipt when they took the $300 fee? Often times the receipt will have the terms and conditions for use of the money and if it will be refundable. If there is nothing in writing and you believe the landlord told you that the fee was refundable then you have an argument that the fee should be refundable because the landlord as writer of the lease should have written that into the agreement.

      I would start by writing the landlord a letter stating that when you moved in and you inquired about the $300, the landlord said that it was refundable at the end of the lease and therefore is a security deposit and needs to be treated as such. Violations of the security deposit portion of the Evanston’s law mean that the landlord could be held liable for penalties of double teh damages plus attorney fees.

      You are responsible for the carpet damage, so you might want to get an estimate as to what that cost is. Landlords are required to mitigate your damages and thus should not be able to charge a tenant for total cost of replacing the carpet if there is a more economical means of doing it. Also how old was the carpet? It would also be unjust for the landlord to try and replace a 10 year old carpet and charge the entire cost to the tenant.

  7. I have given such letters to my landlord and he made an attempt to repair a couple of items. When I pressed to have the other items fixed, he said that he would “happily let me out of my lease”.

    My apartment is in the Gold Coast and our wrought iron railings are deteriorating and falling down. The concrete steps going to the front door have rotted half away due to rotting gutters on the building that leak, making the steps a safety hazard. In the winter the leaking gutters freeze the walks and make them even more dangerous. If I complain I hear “we will let you out of your lease”

    Our “fire doors” on each floor have a four inch gap at the bottom which would definitely allow a fire to sweep underneath. Each unit has wood burning fireplaces that have NEVER been cleaned. It’s downright scary!

    1. I am guessing that the landlord does not live on the premises. If the landlord does then that would change this answer. I am not sure exactly what you want to do but I will guess that you want the landlord to fix the place and to be able to stay there. I would suggest that you use the app to document your problem and to communicate with your landlord. The app starts out with a friendly letter asking the landlord to fix the problem and shows how to escalate the response if the landlord does not respond. You can 311 and request an inspection. Even politically connect can get fined and sanctioned for not make repairs.

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