Landlords Can’t Retaliate Against Tenants
By Ken Hare
Chicago Defender Writer
On October 28, 2015, the Chicago Defender published a story on tenants rights and landlord retaliation. The story was about Tenant X, who lived at 6550 South University Avenue in Woodlawn and rented from the 6550 SUA LLC, which was managed by Ebko Inc.. Tenant X, states they paid their rent on time and had noticed a rodent problem that began to grow over time.
They reached out to the management company on several occasions to correct the problem, with the last notice to management occurring weeks before it was time to renew their lease in mid-summer 2015. A representative from management had agreed to renew the lease, according to Tenant X, and to exterminate the unit, according to documents provided to the Chicago Defender.
However, when it came time to sign the new agreement, Tenant X was caught off-guard when management decided not to renew their lease. Without a renewed lease, Tenant X was forced to move in less than 35 days. Feeling as though they had been retaliated against, Tenant X hired an attorney who filed suit against the former landlord under the CRLTO, Section 5-12-150.
This section of the Landlord Tenant Ordinance prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants who request that the landlord performs due diligence and make repairs or address issues according to the terms of their lease or the CRTLO.
Tenant X’s attorney, Aaron Rifkind, of Rifkind Patrick LLC, initially filed suit on August 24, 2015. The case has been going through pre-trial motions, but on Friday, April 8, Judge Murphy-Gorman ruled against the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss one of the Defendants and ordered both sides to come to a settlement before going to trial.
What was significant about Judge Murphy-Gorman’s ruling was the inclusion of an adjacent parking lot to the property as part of Tenant X’s dwelling. Under the ordinance definition of “dwelling unit,” the parking lot next door is considered as part of the “dwelling”.
According to Atty. Rifkind, “..the Court ruled correctly, that as defined by the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, every piece of property defined as the “dwelling unit” is subject to potential liability for claims brought pursuant to the ordinance. Whereas here, the building, and the land used as a common area and parking facility are owned by two separate entities, both are indispensable parties with respect to claims as defined by CRLTO.”
Tenant X, who happens to be an attorney and judge, said “We accomplished a huge victory for all tenants governed by the CRLTO on the rarely, if ever, argued issue on the definition of a “dwelling unit”.
Indeed, the CRLTO can be a powerful tool to both landlords and tenants, but only if they each know about the ordinance and agree to abide by its rules.
This was not the case for Gayinga Washington, who rented an apartment at 312 North Central, on the Westside, in Austin. On April 1, 2016, as she was preparing to retire for the evening, Washington heard a smoke detector going off and chalked it up to someone cooking in their kitchen.
Minutes later, Washington says “A neighbor – I call her my angel – knocked on the door, risking her life, alerting all the neighbors that there was an actual fire. We’ve had a lot of false alarms from people pulling it.”
Clad in just her pajamas, Ms. Washington fled the smoke filled building with other stunned neighbors and watched from the streets, in the cold, as the flames shot out the windows and climbed up the walls. “They called for a bus for us to sit in and stay warm and we sat on the bus for a while. Eventually, Red Cross came and they took our name and number,” Washington said. Those who had no place to stay were taken to a shelter at 10 South Kedzie.
Aisha Truss-Miller, of the Metropolitan Tenant Organization (MTO) – a not-for-profit tenants’ rights organization – said via email, “With all the names and acronyms associated with the management company, I have been able to track a dozen complaints within the past year.” The company appears to have several different names associated with its properties, according to MTO.
“The complaints in our database have been in regards to repair issues,” Truss-Miller said. “This could include extermination and addressing normal wear and tear.” Washington said she came into contact with MTO by accident. She and a neighbor happened to go to the library and saw a sign that the MTO was having a meeting that very same day.
She says she was shocked to hear about the CRLTO, and the landlord’s responsibility to give a summary of the ordinance to every leaseholder. “I don’t think a landlord has ever done that before, ever in my life,” Washington stated.
So far, post-fire, neither the owner(s) of the property or the manager has contacted any residents to assist them in any form. Ms. Washington, along with the 15 other displaced families will be meeting this week with MTO to discuss organizing a tenants’ council and retaining an attorney.
When asked about what she want people to know, “I want awareness to go out about these people – the managers – who are basically slumlords and taking advantage of people and not treating tenants well,” she said.
For information about the Chicago Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance, visit: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/rents_right.html. Or call 312/744-6770 to request a copy be mailed to you.
If you or someone you know has a problem with your landlord, contact the MTO Tenants’ Rights Hotline at 773/292-4988, Monday through Friday, from 1-5 p.m. You can also visit their website at http://www.tenants-rights.org.
For an app to download to resolve an apartment problem or to get information, go to: Squared Away Chicago.
This story has been updated with corrections to the 6550 SUA LLC.