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Cook County Tenants Rights

Throughout my years as a Chicago tenants’ rights lawyer I have had many consultations with tenants from suburban and unincorporated Cook County. These phone calls would inevitably end in frustration and disbelief when I told tenants that although Chicago has excellent tenants rights protection, those rights did not apply outside of Chicago because Cook County had not taken action to protect tenants’ rights. In short, Cook County tenants outside of Chicago, Evanston, and Oak Park were out of luck. Thankfully, the time of medieval Cook County tenants’ rights is coming to an end. On January 28, 2021, Cook County unanimously passed the Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance (“CCRTLO”) granting substantial rights to most Cook County tenants. This post endeavors to be a comprehensive guide to Cook County renters’ rights under the ordinance.

How to use this article:

  1. Determine whether Cook County Tenants’ rights laws apply to your unit.
  2. Review the section applicable to your situation from the table of contents below.
  3. Resolve your issue using self-help or contact a lawyer for representation.

Estimated reading time: 42 minutes

Table of Contents

Purpose of the Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance

The CCRTLO states that its goal is to promote public health, safety, and citizen welfare. It also seeks to maintain and improve the quality of housing in Cook County and establish the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants (rather than making the rights and obligations solely dependent on leases drafted by a landlord’s lawyer).

Applicability of the CCRTLO

The CCRTLO broadly applies to “dwelling units” (as defined in the Ordinance) located within Cook County. Its applicability specifically extends to subsidized housing including units subsidized or operated by the Housing Authority of Cook County or the Illinois Housing Development Authority (to the extent that the CCRTLO does not conflict with other statutory or regulatory provisions).

Though broad in its applicability, The Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance has several exclusions (much like the Chicago RLTO).

Properties Excluded from the Cook County Tenants’ Rights Law

The following types of property are not covered by the CCRTLO. Even if your unit is not covered, you may still be protected by a local ordinance, state law (though Illinois state tenants’ rights laws are sparse), or the language in your lease. I will try to list the most common CCRTLO exclusions first. Exclusions include:

  • Any property not located in Cook County.
  • Any property located in a municipality that has its own regulations to establish the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords including:
  • Any property that is not a “dwelling unit” as defined in the CCRTLO;
    • Generally, a “dwelling unit” is a structure used as a home, residence, or sleeping place, including the common areas.
    • Most “normal apartments” are dwelling units;
    • Most commercial and industrial properties are not dwelling units.
  • Units in owner-occupied buildings of 6 units or less.
    • A small building where your landlord also resides (Other condominium owners do not count for the owner-occupied exclusion).
  • Certain single-family homes and condominium units.
    • A single-family home or single condominium unit is not covered by the CCRTLO if all of the following are true:
      • The unit is the only unit the owner leases (not a landlord of multiple properties);
      • The owner or their immediate family member resided at the property for at least one month in the 12 months prior to marketing the property;
      • The owner, and not a management company, personally manages the unit; and
      • The owner is not a corporation.
    • In short, if a tenant moves into a condominium or single-family home directly after the owner or the owner’s immediate family vacates, the unit will likely be excluded.
  • Hotels and motels, unless the tenant occupies for 32 or more continuous days and pays rent monthly.
  • Medical facilities, extended care facilities, geriatric facilities, convents, monasteries, religious institutions, temporary overnight shelters, transitional shelters, dorms, fraternity and sorority houses.
  • Employer-provided housing, so long as occupancy is conditional upon employment.
  • Co-op units occupied by a shareholder of the co-op (commonly thought of as the owner of the co-op unit).
  • Occupancy by a purchaser of real estate prior to the sale, so long as the occupancy is under a contract sale (buyer occupying before closing).

The Cook County tenants’ rights ordinance also provides that if a unit is excluded from the CCRTLO, the owner must make the exclusion known to prospective tenants in marketing materials and prominently state the exclusion on any application materials before the owner accepts any fees. Unfortunately, the remedy for a violation of the disclosure requirement is not clear at this time.

The landlord cannot create a rental agreement in the form of an excluded agreement to avoid the application of the CCRTLO.

Finally, the anti-lockout provision applies to all dwelling units except co-op owners and hotel occupancies of fewer than 32 days.

Requirements of a Cook County Rental Agreement

The CCRTLO sets forth numerous requirements for all rental agreements in non-excluded properties. These requirements include the following:

  • All written leases must contain the full names of all known occupants of the dwelling unit.
  • All written leases must state the time and place where rent is payable and when rent is due. If this information is not listed, then rent is payable at the unit itself and is due at the beginning of each month. Rent shall also be uniformly apportioned from day to day unless otherwise agreed.
  • Unless otherwise stated in the lase, a tenancy where the tenant pays monthly is considered month-to-month and a tenancy where a tenant pays weekly is week-to-week.

What Happens If a Written Lease Is Unsigned or Undelivered?

The Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance sets forth default rules for situations where a party does not sign or deliver a written lease. It is important that landlords and tenants are aware of these rules because the CCRTLO may stipulate outcomes other than what the parties expect if they do not sign the agreement but continue paying or accepting rent.

This provision should serve as a reminder to both landlords and tenants that it is important to comply with contract formalities and make sure everyone signs and delivers the lease to avoid default rules. Fortunately, the prevalence of electronic signature systems has reduced the number of situations involving unsigned and undelivered leases.

Landlord Fails to Sign or Deliver a Written Lease

If a landlord and tenant have agreed to a written rental agreement and the landlord accepts rent without reservation, the agreement will be treated as signed and delivered and shall have a term of one year.

This is a fairly common scenario. Landlords often send tenants an unsigned agreement that the tenants then sign and return. The tenants pay rent, but the landlord never gets around to signing and returning the agreement. In these cases, the lease is binding for one year.

Tenant Fails to Sign or Deliver a Written Lease

If a landlord and tenant have agreed to a written lease but the tenant fails to sign or deliver the lease to the landlord, the lease will be treated as binding if the tenant accepts possession of the unit and pays rent without reservation. In this case, the lease will be binding for a term of one year.

In contrast to the situation where a landlord fails to sign or deliver a lease, this is not the result tenants usually expect. In my experience, tenants believe that as long as they did not sign an agreement, they will be considered month-to-month tenants. This mistake can be a financial disaster if tenants decide to end what they think is a month-to-month agreement six months into the default yearly lease, especially in the middle of winter (when new tenants are hard to find).

This is a situation I dealt with twice in the past year when representing Chicago tenants attempting to recover their security deposit under Chicago security deposit law. Unfortunately, these situations do happen and can become a major problem.

When an initial written lease is expiring and the landlord sends the tenant a written renewal, the tenant needs to keep this default rule in mind when wishing to continue on a month-to-month basis. Unfortunately, this means the tenant must address the situation head-on. The tenant should keep the following in mind:

  1. The default rule applies when the parties have agreed to a written lease. Thus, if the landlord uses the default rule to show a tenant is a year-to-year tenant rather than month-to-month, the landlord will need to prove an agreement. Proving oral agreements is tough, and “he-said, she-said” cases are unpredictable. I have handled several cases with email evidence proving that the tenant agreed to renew the lease or even said they would sign a provided lease but did not follow through. The careful tenant will inform the landlord that they do not agree to a written renewal that has been provided by the landlord.
  2. The default rule applies where the tenant pays rent without reservation (in other words, without indicating that they disagree with the provisions of the written lease). To avoid the default rule, the tenant could notify the landlord that they do not agree to the proposed lease but are paying to continue the lease on a month-to-month basis. Alternatively, the tenant could write something to the effect of “month-to-month lease” on the rent payment. This is less ideal, but it may allow the tenant to avoid the default rule without direct confrontation.

The bottom line is that when a tenant receives a proposed written renewal, it is not safe to keep paying rent and expect that the lease is month-to-month since the tenant did not sign and return it. This is especially true if the landlord has signed the proposed lease tendered to the tenant.

I understand that most people reading this article are already having a dispute with their landlord. (That’s when people google things.) However, if you have just been presented with a written renewal and want to continue on a month-to-month basis, the safest route is to address your desires head-on, but understanding that many landlords will not accept a month-to-month tenancy.

Lease Provisions Prohibited in Cook County

The Cook County tenants’ rights law prohibits unfair lease provisions in a manner similar to the Chicago landlord tenant ordinance. These provisions are prohibited from new rental agreements that start on or after June 1, 2021.

Under the Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance, a lease shall not:

  • Provide that either party waives a right under the CCRTLO or other state or federal law.
  • Authorize confession of judgment.
    • Confession of judgment is an extremely unfair process where a party gives up their right to normal due process in court.
  • Waive a written notice of termination of tenancy or service thereof.
  • Waive summons, a copy of legal documents, or any other notice required under the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure.
  • Agree to non-disparagement against the landlord, its management or agents.
    • Some landlords have provisions in their leases that bar tenants from doing things like writing bad reviews online. The CCRTLO bars these provisions.
  • Agree to limit liability arising under law or agree to indemnify for any such liability.
  • Agree to waive the right to a jury trial.
  • Agree that the tenant will pay the landlord’s attorney fees except as otherwise provided by court rules, statute or ordinance.
  • Agree that one party may cancel the lease at a different time or within a shorter time period than the other unless the agreement is disclosed in a separate written notice.
    • Many leases have termination on sale clauses hidden in the small print. These one-sided terminations are no longer legal in Cook County unless disclosed in a separate notice.
  • Agree to a late fee in excess of $10 per month for the first $1,000.00 in rent plus 5% of the amount of rent in excess of $1,000.00.
    • The maximum late fee is calculated as follows for monthly rent greater than $1,000.00: ((Rent-$1,000.00)*.05)+$10. For example, if rent is $3,000.00 per month, the maximum monthly late fee would be $110.00.
  • Agree to a rent discount in excess of the maximum late fee so long as the tenant pays rent by a certain date.
    • Some landlords try to avoid the maximum late fee provision by stating it as a rent discount. This provision prevents that practice.
  • Agree that a landlord may apply rent payments to a charge other than rent such as fines, late fees, or utilities.
  • Agree that a landlord shall not (this double negative is a possible typo) impose a fee in excess of the reasonable cost of that expense. This includes credit-check fees and move-in fees. Additionally, a landlord shall not re-name a fee to avoid application of this rule.

Consequences of an Unlawful Lease Provision

Unlawful lease provisions are unenforceable. If a landlord deliberately uses a lease containing any provision known to the landlord to be prohibited, the tenant may recover the greater of actual damages or two months’ rent.

Tenants Rights in Cook County

The CCRTLO provides many tenants’ rights not previously protected. This section covers those rights.

Right to Disclosure of Costs

Utility Costs

Landlords must disclose to tenants whether the landlord or tenant is responsible for paying each utility.

If a tenant pays the cost of the utility directly to the utility company, the utility service must be individually metered. Moreover, the lease must list the annual cost of service for the utility from the previous 12 months if this cost is known.

If a tenant pays the cost of the utility to the landlord, the lease must disclose the cost of the utility for the previous 12 months. If the landlord did not own the unit during that time or did not pay the utility costs to the provider on behalf a tenant during that time, the landlord may substitute costs from a similar unit or disclose that utility costs are unknown.

Move-in Fees

Landlords who charge move-in fees must provide tenants with an itemized list that includes a reasonable estimate of the costs compromising the fee. Landlords shall not charge tenants for costs associated with the unit’s routine maintenance and upkeep.

Tenants Right to a Habitable Unit

Cook County tenants have the right to a habitable unit. This means that the unit must materially meet building codes and be safe.

Standards of Habitability

In Cook County, habitability standards include, but are not limited to:

  • Floors with structural integrity, in sound condition and in good repair;
  • Buildings with structural integrity that are maintained in good repair;
  • Appropriate exits, stairways, fire escapes and directional signs maintained in good repair;
  • Appropriate smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems and standpipe systems;
  • Elevators kept in sound condition and good repair;
  • Bathroom, shower, and kitchen facilities in sound condition and good repair;
  • Adequate heat and both cold and hot water;
  • Adequate hall and stairway lighting;
  • Foundation, exterior walls and roof maintained in good condition and repair with structural integrity and kept watertight and protected from rodents;
  • Windows and doors maintained in good repair and water-tight, with locks, deadbolts, and peepholes;
  • Screens maintained in good repair;
  • Stairways and porches maintained in good repair;
  • Basements that are safe, sanitary, and maintained in good repair;
  • Facilities, equipment and chimneys maintained in good repair;
  • Prevention against the accumulation of stagnant water;
  • Extermination of rodents, insects and other pests;
  • Adequate facilities for refuse disposal;
  • Prevention of the accumulation of garbage, trash, refuse, and debris;
  • Adequate light and ventilation;
  • Plumbing systems and appliances in good repair;
  • Electrical systems and devices in good repair;
  • All equipment the landlord is required to or agrees to supply in sound operating condition and in good repair;
  • Dwelling unit and common areas in fit and habitable condition and in compliance with applicable local, municipal, state and federal regulations and guidance.

Tenants Right to Adequate Heat

Cook County tenants rights law requires that landlords maintain adequate heat from September 15 through June 1.

Adequate heat standards are as follows:

  • 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. through 10:30 p.m.
  • 66 degrees from 10:30 p.m. through 8:30 a.m.

Tenants Right to Exclusive Possession and to Be Free From Unlawful Entry

Under Cook County tenants’ rights law, a tenant has the right to possession of the unit at the time and in the condition agreed upon in the lease. A tenant also has the right to be free from illegal entries by the landlord.

Right to Possession

If a landlord fails to deliver possession in compliance with the rental agreement the tenant does not owe rent for that time period and has a choice of remedies.

  • The tenant may terminate the lease by written notice to the landlord; in this situation, the landlord must return the security deposit within 48 hours.
  • The tenant may demand performance of the agreement and may file a lawsuit against the landlord or any person wrongfully in possession. The tenant may recover financial compensation for any harm suffered as a result of the failure to tender possession.

Regardless of the remedy chosen, the tenant may recover the greater of two months’ rent or actual harm suffered, plus reasonable attorney’s fees, from the person withholding possession.

Right to Be Free From Unlawful Entry

Cook County renters have the right to be free from unlawful entries into their rented units. The overarching rule is that entries must be reasonable, not harassing, and not abusive.

All entries must be for a legitimate purpose, at a reasonable time, and with proper notice. If the landlord has a legitimate purpose, gives sufficient notice, and desires to enter at a reasonable time and with reasonable frequency, the tenant cannot deny entry.

Legitimate Reasons for Entry

Under Cook County renters rights law, a landlord may enter the tenant’s unit to:

  • Inspect the unit;
  • Make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements;
  • Make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements to other units in the building;
  • Supply necessary or agreed upon services;
  • Exhibit the apartment to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, workmen or contractors;
  • Exhibit the unit to potential renters during the last 60 days of the rental agreement; or
  • Determine the tenant’s compliance with the lease.

As one can see, the legitimate reasons for entry are broad. Particularly, inspecting the unit and determining compliance with a lease allow for most entries so long as the other requirements for lawful entry are met.

Sufficient Notice for Entry

To enter a unit in a non-emergency situation, the landlord must give the tenant 48 hours’ notice of entry.

If entry is necessary due to an emergency, the landlord may enter at any time but must notify the tenant that the entry happened within two days following the entry.

The notice of entry may be via writing, mail, telephone, or any reasonable means used in good faith to provide the tenant notice. If entry was made due to an emergency, the notice after the entry must be written.

If an entry is to be made because of repair work to common areas or multiple units, it is permissible to provide a general notice that entry may be required.

Reasonableness in Time and Manner

Landlords may not enter in an unreasonable manner or at an unreasonable time. Additionally, they may not make repeated demands for entry, even if otherwise lawful, if the demands have the effect of harassing the tenant.

Entries between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., or at any time specifically requested by the tenant, are presumed reasonable.

Remedy for Unlawful Entry

If a landlord enters unlawfully or makes repeated unreasonable demands for entry that have the effect of harassing the tenant, the tenant may obtain a court order preventing further unlawful conduct. The tenant may also terminate the lease. In each case, the tenant may recover the greater of actual damages or two months’ rent along with reasonable attorney’s fees.

Cook County Renter Right to Pay-and-Stay

If a landlord has filed an eviction action against a tenant based on non-payment of rent, the tenant has a right to have the case dismissed by paying the landlord the following:

  1. All rent due;
  2. Filing fees and costs paid by the landlord; and
  3. Costs and fees paid by the landlord for service of process.

The pay-and-stay right does not require tenants to pay the landlord’s attorney’s fees. If the landlord refuses to provide the amount due, the tenant may stop the eviction by paying an amount the tenant believes is due (so long as the belief is in good faith).

This right may only be exercised one time, and it is unclear if it can be exercised after an order of possession has been entered by the court. Thus, a tenant seeking to exercise the pay-and-stay right should do so before the order of possession is granted.

Remedies for a Violation of Cook County Renter Rights

If a landlord violates a Cook County tenant’s rights, the tenant has a number of remedies to choose from.

Withhold Rent

If the landlord is not in material compliance with the lease or Cook County tenants rights, the tenant may withhold an amount of rent that reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises because of the non-compliance.

In order to withhold rent, the tenant must first deliver written notice to the landlord specifying the items of non-compliance. The notice must state that the tenant will withhold rent if the landlord has not remedied the material non-compliance within 14 days. If the landlord does not cure the non-compliance, the tenant may then withhold.

However, tenants may not withhold rent for a condition caused by their own deliberate or negligent acts. Additionally, they may not withhold rent for the acts of any person who s on the premises with the tenant’s consent.

For example, if a unit’s refrigerator stops working and the tenant determines that the broken refrigerator reduces the unit’s fair rental value by $200.00 a month, the tenant can send the landlord a 14-day notice. In this notice, the tenant would notify the landlord that the refrigerator is broken and $200.00 will be deducted from the following month’s rent if the landlord does not fix it within 14 days. The tenant could then follow through and deduct $200.00 if the refrigerator is not fixed within two months.

Though the tenant has the right to withhold rent, doing so is always risky. This is because many landlords will respond by filing an eviction. Once filed, the tenant has to defend the case (or pay a lawyer to do so) by arguing that they properly exercised their rights under the CCRTLO. This can be stressful and costly.

Terminate the Lease

If the landlord is not in material compliance with either the lease or Cook County tenants rights, the tenant may deliver a written 14-day notice to the landlord. The written notice must indicate the material non-compliance and state that the tenant will terminate the rental agreement and vacate the property if the non-compliance is not remedied within 14 days after receipt of the notice.

If the landlord does not remedy the material non-compliance within 14 days, the tenant may terminate the lease. The tenant then has one month after the expiration of the 14-day period or the end of the next rental period, whichever is greater, to vacate the property. If the tenant does not vacate within that time period, the written notice of material non-compliance will be deemed withdrawn and the lease will continue in full force and effect. If the lease is terminated, the landlord must return the security deposit immediately upon the tenant turning over possession of the unit to the landlord.

The tenant may not exercise this right to terminate if the material noncompliance was caused by a tenant’s deliberate or negligent act or omission. Similarly, tenants may not exercise this right if noncompliance was caused by someone who was in the unit with the tenant’s consent.

File a Lawsuit

If a landlord is not in material compliance with the lease or Cook County tenants’ rights, the tenant may file a lawsuit to either recover monetary damages from the landlord or request an injunction (a court order telling the landlord to do something or not do something).

The tenant may not exercise this right to file a lawsuit if the material noncompliance was caused by a tenant’s deliberate or negligent act or omission. Similarly, tenants may not exercise this right if noncompliance was caused by someone who was in the unit with the tenant’s consent.

Remedy for Denial of Essential Services

When it comes to denial of essential services, the Cook County renters rights law provides extensive remedies.

Under Cook County law, the following are deemed essential services:

  • Heat;
  • Water;
  • Hot water;
  • Electricity;
  • Gas;
  • Plumbing; and
  • Internet access.

If the lease requires the landlord to provide any of these essential services and the landlord fails to do so, the tenant must provide a written 24-hour notice to the landlord specifying the service that needs to be restored. If the landlord does not remedy the defect within 24 hours of written notice, the tenant may:

  1. Withhold rent in an amount that reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises due to the landlord’s failure to provide the service; or
  2. Procure reasonable amounts of water, heat, hot water, electricity, gas, or plumbing. Then the tenant may deduct the cost of procuring the services from rent so long as the tenant shows the landlord paid receipts; or
  3. Sue the landlord for monetary compensation (including attorney’s fees) based on the reduction of the unit’s fair rental value; or
  4. Obtain substitute housing. If the tenant chooses to obtain substitute housing, the tenant is excused from paying rent for that period and may recover the cost of the substitute housing up to the amount of monthly rent and reasonable fees.

Additionally, the tenant may terminate the lease by written notice if the essential service is not restored within 72 hours after the tenant has notified the landlord. If the tenant elects to terminate, he or she must vacate and return possession to the landlord within the greater of 30 days after the 72-hour notification period ends or after the end of the next rental period. The landlord shall return any security deposit immediately upon the tenant delivering possession of the unit. If the tenant does not vacate within the specified time period, the termination shall be deemed withdrawn.

A tenant may not exercise any remedy for failure to provide essential services if the failure is caused by the utility supplier’s inability to provide the service (unless such inability was caused by the landlord). Similarly, the tenant may not exercise any remedy if the tenant or the tenant’s guests caused the failure through a deliberate or negligent act or omission.

Remedy in the Event of Fire or Casualty

If the unit is damaged by fire or other casualty to the extent that it is not in compliance with the lease or the CCRTLO, the tenant has a number of potential remedies (so long as the damage was not caused by the deliberate or negligent act of the tenant or some other person who was on the premises with the tenant’s permission).

Terminate the Lease

The tenant may immediately vacate the unit and the lease will be terminated as of the date of the fire or casualty so long as the tenant gives written notice to the landlord within 14 days after the fire or casualty.

If the tenant decides to continue the tenancy and the landlord promised or begins work to repair the damage, but fails to carry out the work diligently and within a reasonable time, the tenant may terminate the lease by written notice within 14 days after the tenant becomes aware the work is not being carried out diligently or within a reasonable time. If such notice is provided, the lease will terminate as of the day of the fire or casualty.

If the lease is terminated, the landlord shall return all of the security deposit within 48 hours and the landlord shall not charge rent for any day after the fire or casualty.

Reduce Rent

If the tenant desires to stay and continued occupancy is lawful, the tenant may vacate any part of the unit that is rendered unusable and rent shall be reduced by the diminution of the unit’s fair rental value.

Right to Withhold Rent to Make Minor Repairs

The CCRTLO allows tenants to withhold rent to make minor repairs in situations where the landlord fails to make the repair. In order to repair and deduct, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The defect must be a material violation of the lease or the CCRTLO;
  2. The reasonable cost of repairing the defect cannot exceed the greater of $500.00 or one-half a month’s rent;
  3. The tenant must notify the landlord in writing of the defect and must state that if the landlord does not repair the defect within 14 days (or as promptly as conditions require in an emergency), the tenant will correct the defect and withhold the cost from the next month’s rent;
  4. The tenant must have the repair performed in a workmanlike manner; and
  5. The tenant must submit the paid bill from the appropriate tradesperson or supplier at the same time as deducting the amount from their rent.

Cook County Tenants Right to Be Subject to Only Reasonable Rules

The Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance limits the types of rules a landlord may impose, how these rules must be written, and when the rules can be amended.

Rules and regulations are only enforceable if they are in writing and if they are:

  1. Made to promote the convenience, safety, and welfare of tenants in the premises, preserve the landlord’s property from abusive use, or make a fair distribution of services and facilities among tenants;
  2. Reasonably related to the purpose for which they are adopted;
  3. Applied to all tenants in the premises in a fair manner;
  4. Sufficiently clear to inform a tenant of what they must do and what they must not do;
  5. Not for the purpose of evading the landlord’s obligations; and
  6. Not for the purpose of preventing tenants from assembling or otherwise communicating amongst each other about the premises.

Furthermore, if a rule or regulation is adopted after the tenant enters into the rental agreement and the new rule or regulation substantially modifies the rental agreement, it is not enforceable unless the tenant consents in writing.

Tenants Right to Claim Property

The CCRTLO sets forth rules that a landlord must follow if any of the tenant’s personal property is left at the unit after the tenancy is terminated.

The rules described below are default rules. If the landlord and tenant have a separate agreement, then that agreement supersedes these rules so long as it does not constitute a prohibited lease provision.

Disposal of Items of Little Value

Most personal property is of little value. Though the replacement cost may be high, consumer products depreciate rapidly. When considering the value of an item, consider what it would sell for at a garage sale or online marketplaces like eBay or Craigslist.

If the landlord reasonably believes the items left are of no value or are of such little value that the cost of storing the items and conducting a sale would probably exceed the value of the items, the landlord must retain the property either in the dwelling unit or store it elsewhere for seven days. The landlord does not need to notify the tenant of the abandoned personal property and may dispose of it after seven days if it is unclaimed.

Disposal of Items With Value

If the landlord makes a good faith determination that items left behind have value, the landlord must do the following:

  1. Notify the tenant in writing that the tenant must remove the items by a certain date. The date specified shall be no sooner than seven days after delivery of the notice.
    • The landlord may deliver the notice by any of the following ways:
      • Posting the notice in a prominent location inside the dwelling unit;
      • Posting the notice on the front door of the dwelling unit; or
      • By electronic means if the landlord and tenant have previously communicated electronically.
  2. If the tenant does not remove the property, the landlord shall sell the property at a public sale or at a commercially reasonable private sale;
  3. The landlord may deduct from sale proceeds the cost of storing the item, the cost of the sale, and any rent due.
  4. The landlord shall maintain the proceeds for one year.
  5. If the tenant does not claim the proceeds within one year, the proceeds shall become the landlord’s property.

The landlord must use reasonable care when storing the tenant’s property. However, the landlord is not responsible for any loss unless such loss is caused by the landlord’s deliberate or negligent act or omission.

If the landlord stores the property in or about the unit, the landlord is entitled to the cost of storage for the time the property remained. However, such rates shall not exceed commercially reasonable storage rates.

If the landlord stores the property in commercial storage, the storage cost includes both the rate charged by the storage company and the cost of moving the property to the storage unit.

If the tenant notifies the landlord of their intention to remove the property, but does not follow through within the time indicated in the notice or at the mutually agreed upon time, the property will be deemed abandoned.

Renters Right to Fair Treatment of Non-renewals

Renewing or not renewing a lease can be tricky. Some landlords attempt to force tenants to renew long in advance, while others wait until the last second to tell a tenant that their lease will not be renewed. The Cook County renter’s rights law addresses these situations.

Under the CCRTLO landlords may not require tenants to renew leases more than 60 days prior to the termination date. If a landlord violates this rule, the tenant can claim the greater of one month of rent or the monetary value of actual harm suffered.

If a landlord refuses to renew a rental agreement, the landlord must give the tenant at least 60 days’ written notice of the intent to terminate. This is true regardless of whether the lease is month-to-month or has a specific end date. If the landlord does not give sufficient written notice, the tenant may stay an additional 120 days from the date the notice is given. During the extended occupancy the terms and conditions of the tenancy shall remain the same.

Landlord Obligations

The Cook County tenants rights ordinance imposes numerous obligations on a landlord. This section discusses many of those obligations.

Duty to Maintain

Cook County landlords have a duty to maintain the premises in compliance with all relevant municipal codes and promptly make all repairs necessary to fulfill this obligation.

Landlord-Tenant Agreements to Repair, Maintain or Remodel

A landlord and tenant may only enter into an agreement where the tenant agrees to perform tasks such as repair, maintenance, or remodeling if the following conditions are met:

  • The agreement is entered into in good faith and not for the purpose of landlords evading their obligations;
  • The agreement is in a separate signed writing (not buried in the fine print of a lease);
  • The agreement is supported by adequate compensation; and
  • The agreement does not diminish or affect the landlord’s obligation to other tenants on the premises.

Duty to Provide Written Notice Concerning Habitability

Before entering into any lease or renewal, a landlord (or their authorized agent) must disclose the following, in writing, to the tenant or potential tenant:

  • Any code violations cited in the previous 12 months for the dwelling unit or common areas; and
  • Any pending code enforcement litigation or administrative hearing.

The written notice of code violations, code enforcement litigation and administrative hearings must also include the case number, identification number, and a listing of any code violations cited.

In addition to code violations, code enforcement litigation, and administrative hearings, a landlord must also provide written disclosure of the municipality or utility provider’s intent to terminate water, gas, electrical, or other utility service to the unit or common areas. This disclosure must state the type of service being terminated, intended termination date, and whether the termination will affect the unit, common areas, or both.

If the landlord does not make all required disclosures, the tenant may terminate the lease by written notice. The notice must specify the date of termination and such date must be no later than 30 days from the date of the written notice.

In addition to the right to terminate, the tenant shall recover the greater of one month of rent or actual harm suffered plus attorneys’ fees if a landlord violates the disclosure rules.

Landlord Duty to Manage Bed Bugs

Cook County is one of the national hotspots for bed bugs. Because of this, both Chicago and Cook County have very specific rules for treating an infestation.

Cook County landlords must provide all prospective and current lessees with a copy of the US EPA pamphlet on bed bug prevention, detection and control.

It is the tenant’s duty to notify a landlord in writing within 48 hours of noticing the presence of bed bugs.

In any unit in which an infestation is found or reasonably suspected, the landlord must:

  • Provide professional pest control services within 10 days after a bed bug is found or reasonably suspected, or after receiving written notification from a tenant of a known or reasonably suspected bed bug;
  • Continue pest control services until no evidence of bed bugs can be found;
  • Maintain a written record of pest control measures performed by the pest control professional including reports and receipts. The record must be maintained for three years and is open to inspection by authorized government personnel; and
  • If the unit is in a multiple rental building, the landlord must provide professional pest control services until no evidence can be found within the building.

The Landlord must also inspect adjacent dwelling units. If evidence of bed bugs is found in these adjacent units, the landlord must then treat them and inspect the units adjacent to them. This pattern of inspection and treatment must continue until no evidence of bed bugs is found.

Remedy for Landlord Failure to Manage Bed Bugs

If the tenant provides written notice of a suspected bedbug infestation and the landlord does not notify the tenant of intention to comply with the CCTRLTO’s bed bug provisions, the tenant may terminate the lease. However, before the tenant is able to terminate the lease, the tenant must provide written notice to the landlord of the landlord’s violation of the CCRTLO bed bug rules. The landlord shall then have two days from delivery of the notice to remedy the breach.

If the landlord does not remedy the breach, the tenant may provide written notice of termination. The notice must provide a date of termination no later than 30 days from the date of the written notice. The notices may be delivered electronically if the parties have previously communicated electronically.

In addition to the right to terminate, the tenant may recover the greater of one month’s rent or actual harm suffered, plus reasonable attorney’s fees if a landlord violates the CRTLO’s bed bug provisions.

It is important to note that a tenant may not exercise any remedy if they unreasonably refuse to cooperate or delay the extermination.

Landlord Duty to Disclose Lead Hazards

Landlords must follow all municipal, state and federal regulations related to lead poisoning. The landlord must provide all prospective and current tenants with a copy of the current US EPA pamphlet on lead-based paint and must disclose any known lead hazards.

If the landlord does not follow the CCRTLO rules regarding lead hazards and does not remedy the violation after receipt of written notice, the tenant shall recover the greater of one month’s rent or actual harm suffered, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

Landlord Duty to Disclose Ownership, Management, and Agent Information

No later than when tenancy commences, the landlord must disclose, in writing, the name, address and telephone number of:

  • The property owner or person authorized to manage the premises; and
  • A person authorized to act for or on behalf of the owner for purposes of service of process and for purposes of receiving notices and demands.

A person who fails to comply with this rule becomes an agent of each person who is a landlord for the purposes of service of process and receiving notices and demands as well as performing the obligations of the landlord under the CCRTLO and rental agreement.

This information must be kept current and extends to any successor landlord, owner or manager.

Remedy for Failure to Disclose Owner, Management and Agents

If a landlord fails to disclose the name, address, and phone number of the owner, management, and agents in accordance with the CCRTLO and does not remedy the violation within two business days of receiving written notice, the tenant may terminate the lease via written notice. The tenant’s termination notice shall specify a date no later than 30 days from the date of the notice for the termination to take effect.

In addition to the right to terminate, the tenant may recover the value of actual harm suffered plus $200.00 and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Obligation to Disclose a Foreclosure

Cook County tenants’ rights requires that landlords disclose foreclosure actions to their tenants and any third parties that have been regularly paying rent on the tenants behalf.

If a landlord is notified of a foreclosure action, the landlord has seven days to disclose the foreclosure complaint, in writing, to all tenants and those regularly paying rent on a tenant’s behalf.

If a unit is already in foreclosure before the tenant enters into a leas, the landlord must make a written disclosure that they are named in a foreclosure complaint before executing the lease.

The written disclosure must include:

  • The name of the court where the foreclosure action is pending;
  • The case name; and
  • The case number.

The disclosure must also include the following language:

This is not a notice to vacate the premises. This notice does not mean ownership of the building has changed. All tenants are still responsible for payment of rent and other obligations under the rental agreement. The owner or landlord is still responsible for their obligations under the rental agreement. You shall receive additional notice if there is change in owner

If the landlord fails to disclose a foreclosure action, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement by written notice. The tenant’s termination notice shall specify a termination date no later than 30 days from the date of the notice.

Additionally, if the landlord fails to disclose a foreclosure action, the tenant may recover the monetary value of the actual harm suffered, plus $200.00 and attorney’s fees.

Obligation to Attach Cook County Tenants Rights Summary

Landlords must provide a summary attachment of the Cook County Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance. If the landlord fails to provide the attachment, and does not remedy the noncompliance within two days of written notice the tenant may:

  • Terminate the lease by written notice. The written notice must specify an effective date of termination no later than 30 days following the notice; and
  • Recover the monetary value of actual harm suffered, plus $200.00 and attorney’s fees.

Cook County Tenants Rights Security Deposit Rules

Security deposit misconduct and theft are among the leading causes of landlord-tenant disputes. Prior to enacting the Cook County tenants’ rights law, most tenants in suburban Cook County had little to no realistic protection when a landlord stole their security deposit. The enactment of the CCRTLO (effective June 1, 2021) provides Cook County tenants with robust rights and remedies. In fact, security deposit disputes are such a huge problem in Cook County that I have created a page dedicated to Cook County security deposit law.

No Excessive Deposits

In Cook County a landlord may not demand or receive a security deposit greater than 150% monthly of rent. Moreover, the landlord is prohibited from imposing fees or other charges labeled as something other than a security deposit in order to evade this limit.

If the landlord wishes to charge a deposit greater than 100% of monthly rent the tenant may elect to pay the excess in no more than six equal installments over no more than the six months after the lease’s effective date. In no event may the landlord collect more than the 150% limit discussed above.

If the landlord demands more than 150% of monthly rent for a deposit or refuses to allow installment payments on the portion exceeding 100% of monthly rent, the tenant shall be awarded two times the deposit amount in damages plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

Deposit Transparency and Protection

Cook County landlords must hold all security deposits in a federally insured account within a financial institution located in the state of Illinois. The deposit must be kept separate from a landlord’s own funds (including rent money) and must not be subject to the claims of a landlord’s creditor, bankruptcy trustee, or foreclosing mortgagee.

On the written lease signed by the tenant, the landlord must also clearly disclose the name of the financial institution where the deposit is held. If the landlord transfers the deposit to a new bank, the landlord must notify the tenant of the transfer within 14 days, or a reasonable time, given the circumstances.

When landlords receive security deposits via non-electronic means, they must give tenants a receipt containing the following:

  1. The amount of the deposit;
  2. The name of the person receiving the deposit;
  3. The name of the landlord for whom the deposit is received (in the case where an agent receives the deposit);
  4. The date on which the deposit is received;
  5. A description of the dwelling unit; and
  6. The signature of the person receiving the deposit.

If the deposit is transferred electronically, the landlord may satisfy the receipt requirement by providing a receipt (electronic or paper) that is compliant with the non-electronic receipt requirements, or a receipt that satisfies the following requirements:

  1. Acknowledges receipt of the deposit;
  2. Provides a description of the dwelling unit; and
  3. Contains an electronic or digital signature of the person receiving it.

If a landlord who holds a deposit sells or otherwise transfers the property to another person, the successor landlord will be liable for the security deposit. However, transferring landlords will remain liable for the deposit unless they transfer the deposit to the new landlord and provide written notice to the tenant of the transfer as well as the name, address, and phone number of the successor landlord within 10 days of the transfer.

The purchasing or successor landlord must also provide written notice to the tenant, within 14 days of transfer, saying that the successor is holding the deposit. This notice must disclose the name, address, and phone number of the successor or the successor’s agent.

If a landlord does not provide a proper receipt for the deposit, the deposit must be immediately returned to the tenant.

Moreover, if a landlord violates any of the deposit rules described in this section, and does not remedy them within two business days of receiving written notice (electronic notice is sufficient if the parties have previously communicated electronically), the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the deposit, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

Failure to Return Deposit and Unfair Deductions

The Cook County renters’ rights law establishes a deadline for returning a deposit. It also provides standards and procedures for deducting money from the deposit.

Under the CCRTLO a landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit within 30 days of the tenant vacating the rental unit.

Landlords are only allowed to deduct two things from the deposit, unpaid rent and property damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

If a landlord deducts for unpaid rent, the deduction must not be for rent validly withheld in accordance with state, federal, or local law. For an unpaid rent deduction, the landlord is not required to provide any sort of list or accounting.

If a landlord deducts for property damage, there are several requirements that must be met:

  1. The landlord may only deduct for property damage beyond ordinary wear and tear;
  2. The amount deducted must be only a reasonable amount necessary to repair the damage;
  3. Money can be deducted for property damage only if the damage was caused by the tenant or a person who was on the premises with the tenant’s consent;
  4. The landlord must mail or deliver to the tenant’s last known address an itemized statement of damage allegedly caused by the tenant, and the statement must list actual or estimated repair/replacement costs for each item on that statement;
  5. If actual cost is listed, the landlord must attach paid receipts to the itemized statement;
  6. If estimated cost is listed, the landlord is allowed an additional 30 days to furnish the tenant with paid receipts or certification of actual repair costs if the work was performed by the landlord’s employees.

If a landlord withholds money and does not comply with the requirements of the Cook County Residential Tenant and Landlord Ordinance, the tenant is entitled to a penalty of two times the deposit, plus attorney’s fees and case costs.

Retaliatory Conduct Prohibited

The Cook County tenants’ rights ordinance prohibits landlords from taking certain retaliatory actions in response to a tenant engaging in protected activities. If a landlord retaliates within one year following the protected activity, it is presumed that the landlord’s alleged retaliation was a response to the tenant’s protected activity.

Types of Protected Activity

The following types of activity are protected by law in Cook County and a landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants who, in good faith, do any of the following:

  • Complain of code violations to a government agency, elected representative, or public official charged with enforcing the relevant code;
  • Complain of a code violation or illegal landlord practice to a community organization or news media;
  • Seek help from a community organization or news media to remedy a code violation or illegal landlord practice;
  • Request that the landlord make repairs to the unit as required by code, ordinance, other regulation, or the lease;
  • Organize or became members of a tenant union or similar organization;
  • Testify in court or an administrative proceeding concerning the condition of the premises; and
  • Exercise any right or remedy provided by law.

Prohibited Retaliatory Conduct

A landlord may not do the following to retaliate against a tenant for taking a protected action:

  • Increase rent;
  • Decrease services;
  • Refuse to renew a rental agreement; or
  • Bring or threaten to bring an eviction.

Remedies for Unlawful Retaliation

If a landlord unlawfully retaliates against a tenant, the tenant has the following remedies:

In the event that the landlord attempts to terminate the lease, the tenant may use the unlawful retaliation as a defense and, if successful, shall recover the greater of two months’ rent or twice the actual harm suffered, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

The tenant may terminate the rental agreement by giving the landlord written notice and either vacating within one month of the written notice or by the end of the next rental period, whichever is longer. If the tenant does not vacate within the allotted timeframe, then the written notice is deemed withdrawn. If the tenant vacates, the landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within three days of the tenant vacating.

The tenant may also file a claim against the landlord for retaliatory conduct and, if successful, shall recover the greater of two months’ rent or twice the actual harm suffered, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

When a court evaluates a case of alleged unlawful retaliatory conduct, there will be a rebuttable presumption that the alleged prohibited conduct was in retaliation for the tenant’s protected activity. This is presumed so long as the protected activity occurred in the year preceding the prohibited conduct and so long as the protected conduct was not performed after a written notice of proposed rent increase.

Finally, a landlord’s action will not be deemed retaliatory if the tenant or the tenant’s guests caused the code violation cat the source of the initial complaint.

Prohibition Against Lockouts

Throughout Illinois, landlords are prohibited from illegally dispossessing a tenant of their unit. Though this conduct takes many forms, it is commonly referred to as a “lockout.” In Illinois, the only way to remove a tenant from a unit without their consent is through the in-court eviction process following the issuance of an order of possession and removal by the sheriff. Landlords are not allowed to change locks, cut utilities, remove doors, or use any other creative means of forcing a tenant to leave a unit against their will.

Though lockouts are illegal in Illinois, the Cook County renters’ rights law goes much further. Importantly, the Cook County anti-lockout provision applies to all dwelling units in Cook County, even those otherwise excluded under the CCRTLO, and it is applicable immediately.

Under the CCRTLO, a landlord may not remove, dispossess or threaten to remove or dispossess any tenant from a dwelling unit by:

  • Plugging locks;
  • Changing locks;
  • Adding or removing locks;
  • Adding or removing a latching device;
  • Blocking the entrance to a dwelling unit;
  • Removing a door or window;
  • Interfering with utility services to the unit;
  • Removing the tenant’s property from the unit;
  • Removing or incapacitating appliances or fixtures;
  • Using or threatening force, violence or injury to the tenant or tenant’s property;
  • Any act that renders the unit or any part of the unit inaccessible or uninhabitable; or
  • Any act that renders any of the tenant’s personal property inaccessible or uninhabitable.

If a landlord conducts or threatens an unlawful lockout, the tenant is entitled to the greater of two months’ rent or twice actual harm suffered plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

Conclusion

Prior to the adoption of the Cook County tenants rights ordinance, Cook County tenants outside of Chicago and Evanston had very few realistic protections. With the adoption of this law, most tenants in Cook County are now protected from unfair and abusive landlord conduct.

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