SSN lays down landlord law

Tenants have rights against landlords who withhold relevant information and overcharge for fees, among other violations.

By Lina Li

The Southside Solidarity Network (SSN) and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) provided a comprehensive overview of legal protections for renters and actions they can take against negligent landlords at a renters’ rights workshop last night.

The workshop, which was led by MTO community organizers Noah Moskowitz (A.B. ’12) and Regina Rizzo, consisted of an outline of tenant rights followed by a discussion on move-in protocol, apartment conditions and repair, building security, leases, evictions, security deposits, and lockouts and retaliation.

Third-year Aija Nemer-Aanerud, an SSN member who helped organize the event, said that the workshop was an effort to “bridge the gap between students and the community,” since housing issues affect both groups.

Rizzo emphasized that renters should familiarize themselves with rights afforded under the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO), or the “Tenant Bill of Rights.” Under the CRLTO, all renters are entitled to substantial legal protection if they live in buildings with over six units and if the landlord lives separately.

According to Rizzo, since 2009, MTO has developed a relationship with MAC properties, which is one of the biggest landlords of students in Hyde Park. Rizzo emphasized that collaboration with MAC allowed for smooth facilitation of housing disputes and avoidance of last-resort measures like picketing.

“They have shown an interest in addressing tenant issues, specifically systematic tenant issues,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo and Moskowitz then launched into a summary of renters’ rights. They said that when landlords do not deal with issues like pests or mold after a 14-day notice, emergencies regarding heat after filing a 24-hour notice, and water, plumbing, and electricity after a 72-hour notice, tenants can withhold up to 50 percent of their rent or terminate their lease. However, Rizzo and Moskowitz advised tenants to be aware before they make their decision that withholding rent could risk eviction after being taken to court.

Even before tenants move in, there are multiple types of information the landlord has to release, such as their full contact information, a summary of the tenant’s rights, and building code violations for the past 12 months, among other disclosures. Tenants also can protect against future mishaps by noting any malfunctions or damages on the lease before they move in.

Landlords also cannot raise the rent within a lease term, reject a reasonable sub-letter, charge sublease fees and late fees over a certain amount depending on the rent. Even if a building is foreclosed, the bank or landlord who assumes possession must allow tenants to live out the lease in place. If a landlord wishes to terminate a residence at the end of a lease cycle, that landlord must give prior notice.

Evictions can proceed after a five, 10, or 30 day notice, depending on the extremity of tenants’ actions, such as evading rent payments.

Renters are entitled to a returned security deposit, and the interest accumulated on the deposit, at the end of their lease. Renters cannot be charged for “normal wear and tear.”

Law-abiding renters also cannot legally be locked out of the apartment, and can seek restitution through securing a police report and suing if it happens wrongfully to them.

According to Nemer-Aanerud, SSN is still “researching the feasibility of addressing certain housing concerns and repairs issues,” but SSN is focusing their activities on rent hikes, as such hikes “force out students and community members, and really perpetuate community gentrification.”