Tag Archives: tenants

What Happens If Your Landlord Dies?

NOTE: After 4 years and 90 questions in the comment section I have closed off this (and all) articles to any more comments. Needless to say this remains a very hot topic that affects more renters than you’d think. I’m not updating this blog anymore and cannot answer any further questions about dead landlords. If your landlord has passed away, you probably need legal assistance. After reading this article for the basics as they apply to Chicago, your next step should be a web search for landlord-tenant attorneys and/or legal aid services for your county or city.

In previous articles I’ve addressed what a landlord should do if a tenant dies in the middle of a lease. However, I’ve not discussed the topic from the other side. So what happens to a tenant if the landlord dies?

Regardless of how you feel about your landlord's death, you probably have some questions about what's going to happen to your lease.

Regardless of how you feel about your landlord’s death, you probably have some questions about what’s going to happen to your lease.

I’m not an attorney, and I certainly cannot cover every possible scenario. However, I can address some of the basic questions that may arise. As always, the discussions here pertain to apartments in the Chicago area.

Question 1: Do I have to move out?

No. Your lease is part of the property, just like the refrigerator, the garage and the roof. If the owner sells the building, he/she sells your lease along with it. If the owner dies, your lease continues. You do not have to move out automatically. Your landlord’s heirs cannot suddenly kick you out because they want to move in.

Question 2: Where do I send my rent?

You should continue to send your rent to the address listed on your lease. Once the landlord’s estate is settled, the probate attorney and/or the new owners who have inherited the property will send you written notice of any changes.

If your rent check comes back as undeliverable, hang onto it unopened in the envelope as proof that you tried.

If your rent check comes back as undeliverable, hang onto it unopened in the envelope as proof that you tried.

Question 3: Who’s the new owner?

This is probably the most complicated question. It may take some time for the new owner to be determined, depending on how the property title was held. In other cases, the new owner could be able to step in within a matter of days. In the interim, the executor of the estate will become your main point of contact. This could be someone named in the landlord’s will or a court-appointed probate attorney. Either way, until you are notified in writing of a change in ownership, make sure all dealings regarding your apartment are handled in writing to the landlord’s address as listed on your lease.

If They’re Incorporated

If your landlord was incorporated – either as a corporation or LLC – with other partners, then you have nothing to worry about. The company will survive the death of the landlord. However, if the landlord was the only partner in the company, the entire company’s assets (including your lease) will pass on to the landlord’s heirs.

If They Have Heirs and a Legal Will

Provided the will is legal, the property goes to whoever is specified in the will. For all you know, it might even be you!

Provided the will is legal, the property goes to whoever is specified in the will. For all you know, it might even be you! (Maybe you should be nice to your landlord after all…)

If the landlord had a legal will and designated heirs, the property and your lease will pass on to the heirs specified in the will. These heirs will become your new landlords automatically, although it may take them some time to figure out who will be handling your specific concerns.

If They Have Heirs and No Will

It’s highly unlikely that your landlord will die without a will (“intestate”) but if so, the ownership will be determined through Cook County probate court. Illinois has a very specific order of preference for distributing property among remaining family. Children and living spouses are the first option, followed by parents and siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents, and if all else fails, the property goes to the next closest surviving relative. However, the property may well be distributed evenly among many relatives, so your property could wind up the subject of dispute between squabbling relatives. The most important thing in this case is to remain in close contact with the probate attorney appointed to handle the estate, as any official changes in ownership will come to you from them.

If They Have No Heirs and No Will

escheat happens

Again, this scenario is highly unlikely, but in the case that your landlord had no will and no surviving family, your building will become property of Cook County. (In legal terms, the property “escheats” to the county.)

If The Landlord Owes Outstanding Debts

What if your landlord died while still owing money to somebody? Regardless of what the will says, the landlord’s creditors have to be paid first. This may mean that your apartment will transferred in order to settle a debt. Three common situations where this could occur would be if the landlord had a mortgage on the property, if they had not yet paid contractors for major renovation work at the building, or if they had unpaid back taxes. Either way, the creditor gets your building and you along with it.

Question 4: Can I use this as a reason to break my lease?

Not really. The new owners who inherit the estate probably wouldn’t fault you for wanting to head out early, but since your lease is still valid and your apartment is still intact, you’ll have to follow the same lease break routine that you’d have followed if your landlord was still alive. Please be gentle with the relatives of your landlord when you go to discuss leaving – it is always a delicate and difficult situation.

Question 5: What if the owner lived on site?

All of the above is pretty much consistent if the landlord lived in the same building with you or not. However, if the landlord died in the building (I know, ew!) then you may have grounds for breaking your lease. A death on the property requires special clean up and care. Your property may be sealed for investigation by the coroner. If you can’t get into the property or it’s a health hazard, and the problem continues for over 72 hours, you do have a right to break your lease. The only problem is that you have to provide written notice to your landlord asking them to correct the problem, and figuring out who your new landlord is within 72 hours can be difficult.

Regardless, the most important things in this situation are to find safe substitute housing immediately – a hotel if you have to – and to cooperate with the authorities and the heirs in order to find out when you can safely return. This sort of extreme scenario would merit a call to an attorney to ensure that your needs remain prominent in the minds of those dealing directly with the death.

Question 6: What if my lease expires before the estate is settled?

Complicated estates can take months or even years to parcel out between heirs.

If you’re on a one year lease, it may well be that your lease expires before everything is resolved. Your lease expiration date, like all other aspects of your lease, remains valid even if the owner dies. In Chicago, a landlord has to provide you with at least 30 days written notice if they don’t intend to renew your lease. Unless your landlord did so before death, you have the right to stay in your apartment on a month-to-month lease.

If you choose to move out at the end of your lease, your course of action should be to send a letter stating as much to the same address where you send your rent, at least a month before the last day of the lease.

Question 7: How do I get my security deposit back?

This is probably the most complicated of all of the questions. The first step should be to provide your forwarding address to the executor of the estate when you move out, along with a reminder that they must return a list of itemized deductions within 30 days, and the balance of your deposit, with interest, within 45 days.

If the estate does not return your deposit before the deadline, you do have a right to sue them to get the money back.

Overall the most important things to remember in this kind of situation are:

  • Make sure your voice is heard. It is very easy in the process of settling an estate for the heirs to forget about the deceased’s renters. As soon as an executor is appointed, you must remain a firm presence in the process so that your needs are not forgotten.
  • Be kind and patient. The person who inherits your building may not have any experience as a Chicago landlord. Our landlord-tenant laws are some of the most complex in the country. It takes a while to learn how we do things around here. You’ll have to take some time to read up on the rules yourself, and you may have to gently coach your new landlord on how to do things the right way. Remember that they just lost a family member – please don’t take their inexperience as a reason to take advantage of them.
  • Seek help if you need it. These sorts of complicated situations are why professionals exist. You may deal with grief yourself over the loss, even if the landlord was not a good friend. If the estate spends a long time in probate you may need to consult with an attorney. Like it or not, the death of your landlord means that changes are headed your way, and not all of them will be predictable.

Cook Eviction Stats Part 10: Series Conclusion

About a year ago I encountered several urban legends about the Chicago rental environment that circle around the idea that the system is biased against landlords. I don’t like to see assumptions go unchallenged, so I set out to find out the statistical truth behind each of the component parts. Here are the original assumptions, with their results.

  • The courts favor tenants over landlords in eviction cases. FALSE.
  • The suburban courts, especially in wealthy areas, are more favorable to landlords when it comes to eviction. FALSE.
  • The evolution of the CRLTO is making the landlord-tenant situation progressively worse. TRUE.
  • Eviction only happens to bad landlords in bad areas of town. FALSE.
  • Lawyers and Juries have a marked effect on the outcome of eviction cases. POSSIBLE.
  • The CRLTO is biased against landlords. POSSIBLE.

The courts do not favor landlords in eviction cases.

Across Cook County, the courts have not historically favored landlords over the past 8 years. Just over 62% of landlords won their cases. Therefore, we can say based on raw stats that the system does not empirically favor the tenant. However, the surrounding research shows that the entire justice system favors the plaintiff by default, and with good reason. If someone is going to bring a case to court, chances are they have very good reason for doing so.

When that 62% number is weighed against some of the stats for other types of trials, it comes up short. Compared with felony trials, traffic court, and even housing court in other areas of the country, landlords do have a harder time winning their cases than other types of plaintiffs. So no, officially there is no gross bias, but winning an eviction case isn’t a walk in the park either.

We do need to stop and consider what happens with the cases where the landlord doesn’t win, though. Many of them don’t make it to trial. Sometimes it’s due to successful pre-trial mediation, other times it’s due to clerical errors. Either way, a lot of the “losses” will come back with the errors corrected and “win,” or the tenant will wind up leaving the apartment before trial anyhow, which also counts as a “win.”

Overall, I’d say based on the research we’ve done here that there is no bias at the court level.

The suburban courts don’t make it easier for the landlord.

Some landlords seek to use loopholes in order to file their city cases in suburban courthouses, assuming that they’ll have an easier time winning in an area surrounded by people just like them. If they were going through a jury trial and had to assemble a jury of their peers, maybe this would be the case. But most eviction cases are bench trials, heard only by a judge.

Looking at the five outlying courts in Cook County, especially the ones in the wealthier northern sections of the county, it is actually harder for a landlord to win an eviction case. If you’re trying to win both parts of a joint action case (possession and a money judgment) it’s even tougher.

Additionally, the suburban courthouses are simply not equipped to handle the overflow of Chicago’s massive eviction caseload. The judges aren’t as well-versed in Chicago-specific rental laws. All told, it’s a far better idea to stay within the expected boundaries and file your case in the city where the apartment is located, like you’re supposed to.

The evolving CRLTO is making it tougher to avoid eviction court.

Over the past 8 years, the number of apartments in Chicago has decreased and the population has decreased while the number of evictions has remained consistent. This tells me that it’s getting tougher for landlords and tenants to handle their business on their own without involving the court system. I would suggest that this is related to the evolution of the Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance, and the associated awareness campaigns that have brought it to the attention of more tenants in recent years.

When it comes to interpersonal conflict, especially over money matters, it is a human tendency to seek an outside authority figure to make the final call. As laws and regulations become more complex, it’s easier for both sides to pass the buck to a higher power instead of trying to work things out between themselves. In the case of Chicago rentals, landlords are afraid (with due reason) of taking any action on their own, lest they be accused of retaliation or “self-help evictions,” both of which are illegal. In the case of tenants, many are all too willing to leverage their landlords’ fear of the city codes in order to get more time in their apartments without paying.

As the CRLTO gets more complicated, it will by default funnel more of these disputes into the court system.

Evictions happen to everyone and affect everyone.

With a 1 in 20 chance of eviction distributed across 550,000 Chicago apartments, it is entirely possible for the owner of a three-flat to dodge eviction court for a decade or so. However, it’s more realistic for a landlord to expect at least one eviction over the course of their investing career and enjoy the pleasant surprise if you manage to avoid it.

Tenants also need to be aware of the odds, especially if they’re rooming with strangers. If your roommate has been evicted before you will have a much harder time finding an apartment. You may wind up having to pay higher rents and more cash up front in order to be considered for any housing at all, let alone your ideal apartment.

Overall, the cost of evictions affects the entire population of Chicago, funneling huge amounts of cash and time away from productive use and into the justice system. That money could be used to purchase and rehab additional apartment buildings, allowing more residents to find housing. Even a 1/3 decrease in eviction filings in a year could potentially free up enough cash to purchase and renovate every bank-owned apartment building in Cook County.

Landlords use the “bias” as a reason to avoid investing in the Chicago market. A far better reason would be the cost of evictions. However, cost is something you can plan around and should not be used as an excuse to avoid an entire market.

Lawyers and Juries don’t win cases. They win Time.

The average eviction case lasts only 3 minutes in the courtroom. Most cases are eventually found in favor of the landlord. The presence of juries make only a 1-2% difference in the final rulings of most court cases. The role of supporting players at eviction court has to be discounted. However, this does not mean they are totally ineffective.

A lawyer representing a landlord does most of their job in the preparation. Many of the 38% of failed eviction cases are due to inadequate preparation or clerical errors, and a good lawyer who knows their stuff can make sure that the landlord gets it right the first time. A lawyer representing a tenant has a better chance of getting a continuance, which buys the tenant more time in the apartment before the axe falls.

If a tenant exercises their right to a jury trial, it will likewise not win the case for them. They will drive up the landlord’s costs and buy themselves even more time in the apartment, but chances are very high that they will still eventually get a visit from the sheriff.

Tenants can “win” eviction cases. There are a handful of reasons why they could get the case thrown out. There are ways they can get the landlord slapped with enough fees to negate any back rent they might owe. They can even appeal or file a countersuit in the event that an eviction goes through unfairly. However, for the most part if a tenant has not paid the rent and the landlord knows what they’re doing, the eviction case will probably be found in favor of the landlord regardless of what happens and who helps out in the middle.

The CRLTO is biased against landlords, and for good reason.

My investigation of the CRLTO was completed well before this series on the courts. However, I wanted to close by referring back to it, as I did find it to be biased in favor of the tenant. Line for line, more duties are loaded onto the landlord and the penalties for infractions are steeper on the landlord side as well. If there is a systemic bias against the landlord in Chicago, it lies within this document, not at the court level. The courts are merely enforcing and interpreting the laws as they stand.

I would argue, though, that there is a good reason for the CRLTO’s strictness. Of the four major things necessary for human survival – food, air, water and shelter – shelter is the only one that is largely handled via private enterprise. It’s also the least easily renewable resource of the four. If you’re a utility or agricultural enterprise dealing with any of the other three, you’d better believe that you will be dealing with government restrictions coming out your ears. Like the CRLTO, most of those laws are to keep the providers from causing harm to the general public. As much as the 1% might dislike it, most laws are written to protect the consumer majority, even if it’s to the detriment of the provider minority. However, for food, water and air quality the restrictions are implemented on a large-scale basis and mostly out of sight of the average layperson.

Housing is the only sector of basic human needs where strangers are regularly providing the raw materials via private commerce. It stands to reason that the government-mandated quality standards for housing are just as robust as they are for the other “big three.” However, because they have to be understood and followed by the common man, housing laws are more “in your face.”

Chicago is a massive city, encompassing all races, ages, income levels and nationalities. There unfortunately cannot be separate rental laws for cold water flats and high rise lofts. The rich and poor cannot be held to different codes. In my opinion, the CRLTO may be beastly and complicated, but so is the Chicago rental population. The two go together perfectly.

Conclusion: It’s not about bias, but about knowing your role.

The greater issue here is tiny private landlords being held to the same standard as massive public utilities companies by the public at large. It isn’t political, nor is it class warfare. Rental housing is a bizarre hybrid of bare necessity and finite resources, slammed into a commercial framework. When you decide to invest in rental property, you are positioning yourself among utility companies and government agencies that provide necessary things for Chicagoans to keep existing safely. Like many of those agencies, the public who uses your services will view your line of work with a culturally acceptable amount of disdain. They will forget that you are running a business, until such time as they’re unhappy with your service.

Is Chicago biased against landlords? Commerce may be biased against housing. Courts may be biased towards the plaintiff. Laws are generally tilted in favor of the consumer. But is Chicago anti-Landlord? Let’s say no. Let’s say, once and for all, no.

Thanks so much for reading this series. Thanks also to the support folks who have made this possible: The Hon. Timothy Evans of Cook County Circuit Court, Rob Boyke at the Cook County Clerk of Court’s IT department, Rich Magnone of Reda, Ciprian, Magnone LLC, and Taylor Southworth.

I’ll be taking Friday off. See you Monday.

This is part of a series on Chicago evictions. You should probably start at the beginning. Here are the rest of the articles:

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Yes, Virginia, there is a bias
Part 3: Are other trials also biased?
Part 4: Comparing districts
Part 5: Are evictions filings increasing?
Part 6: Forcible Entry vs Joint Action
Part 7: What does it mean for tenants?
Part 8: Lawyers and Juries
Part 9: The Cost of Doing Business
Part 10: Series conclusion

Cook Eviction Stats Part 8: Lawyers and Juries

We’re talking about lawyers and juries and how they affect the eviction numbers today, along with some interesting data that I picked up along the way. This article is deviating a bit from the its predecessors in the series, in that I’m not going to be relying too heavily on the numbers I got from the Cook County Clerk. I’ve had to reach beyond to do some additional research. Instead of footnoting everything like I usually do, I will instead provided a bibliography of sources down at the bottom so you can read all of the reports at your leisure, if that’s your thing.

You can fit a couple of eviction hearings in the time it takes to cook Ramen.

You can fit a couple of eviction hearings in the time it takes to cook Ramen.

I want you to imagine a scenario with me for a moment. You are a landlord. A tenant moved into your apartment in October. It is now February and you have not seen a rent check since the first month. The tenant has moved in a whole crew of additional occupants, and a pit bull. They have also apparently spent their rent money on a big screen TV, because you can see it on the floor of their apartment, leaning against the wall underneath the big hole that it left when it fell down.

You filed to evict in after the 2nd missed rent payment, in early December, like any good landlord. Due to the wait and the holiday season, your court date was scheduled for early February. You arrive in court. You’re ready to tell your whole story.

Talk fast. You’ve got 90 seconds in front of the judge. You have to split that with the tenant if they decide to mount a defense. Better know your stuff. (more…)

Cook Eviction Stats Part 7: What does this mean for tenants?

I’ve spent the past 6 sections of this study focusing mostly on what the Cook County/Chicago eviction statistics mean for landlords. It’s time to focus a little on what they mean for renters. I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not going to tell you how to win your eviction case. There are far better resources than me out there for saving your bacon. This article is focusing on the numbers.

A lot of you have been involved in eviction cases.

7 out of every 100 apartments in Chicago will be the subjects of eviction cases each year. Given that apartments often house more than one person, this means if you’re a renter in Chicago, you’ve got quite a bit more than a 7% chance of winding up involved in an eviction suit.

This is what we're talking about here. It's undignified, it's obvious, and it's humiliating. And a lot of you have been through it before.

This is what we’re talking about here. It’s undignified, it’s obvious, and it’s humiliating. And a lot of you have been through it before.

By comparison, 8% of married Illinois residents wind up in divorce each year, according to the census bureau.[1] You probably know several people who have gotten divorced last year. This means that you may well know even more people who’ve been involved in an eviction case, although they’re probably not going to admit it to your face.

It costs a landlord quite a bit of time and money to file an eviction case. They’re not usually going to do it if a tenant hasn’t given them good reason to do so, and they’ve exhausted every other possible means of solving the problem. Eviction means they wind up with a vacancy on their hands, and usually one in worse condition than one where a tenant moves out of their own free will. However, if they’re gaining no income from a deadbeat tenant, it eventually becomes more cost effective for them to incur a short term vacancy.

There are a few basic things that a human being needs to survive. Food, water, air and shelter are the big ones. If you’re not earning enough money to remain in your apartment, there are plenty of steps you can take to get out of your lease before the court has to mandate that you do so. If a renter has allowed their shelter-related problems to spiral downward to the point of eviction, what does that say about their ability to prioritize?

This exists. It was mentioned in the New York Times. I don't even.

This exists. It was mentioned in the New York Times. What is this I don’t even….

Chances are good that you will get involved in partnerships with strangers at some point in the near future. It may be a business relationship, a roommate situation, or a dating scenario. Cook County makes it relatively easy for you to check if a person has been evicted before. Perhaps you should take a few minutes to for fact checking before you saddle yourself with a scrub.

You have slightly less than 40% chance of not getting evicted.

62.7% of filed eviction cases in Cook County wind up with the landlord getting the tenant thrown out of the apartment, with many of those cases tacking on an order to pay the back rent. It’s easy when looking at that percentage to envision the other 37.3% of cases involving renters proudly facing their landlords in court, delivering the smackdown of righteousness, and maybe getting their landlords slapped with fines for daring to drag everybody down to the 1st District courthouse.

This is not a picture of you in eviction court. Sorry.

This is not a picture of you in eviction court. Sorry.

I’m not saying that doesn’t happen sometimes.

However, those other cases could have had any of the following, less exciting conclusions:

  • The landlord and tenant settled out of court.
  • The tenant’s lease expired and/or they moved out before the court date.
  • The landlord accepted a partial payment of the balance due, and had their case thrown out.
  • The landlord forgot to show up for court.

Half of those causes are clerical errors, and will probably wind up in a re-filing of the same case at a later date. As for the other half? Well, the point of filing an eviction case is to get a tenant out of an apartment before the lease ends, and sometimes to force them to pay back rent. If those goals are accomplished in any other way, then the case doesn’t need to go all the way to its conclusion. I’d say less than 10% of the tenants who are taken to eviction court wind up “winning” their case at the point that they’re standing in front of the judge.

Even if you win your case, there are repercussions.

There’s been a recent trend with the weak economy where people just stop paying their rent or mortgage and wait for the axe to fall. Renters who are reading this series may be doing so with an eye towards this kind of strategic delinquency, hoping that the eviction proceedings will take long enough that things will turn around for them before the sheriff comes to call. Here’s the thing: your credit will recover in time from everything else you can do to it, but an eviction filing will follow you forever regardless of the verdict.

In all of this analysis, I’ve not really addressed one glaring issue: the fact that I could pull eviction statistics going back to 2004. In fact, if you visit the website of the Cook County Clerk of Court, you’ll find that you can search through online case records going back to at least 1991. In other words, some of those records are old enough to drink.

In order to find out about a low credit score, someone would need your permission and a lot of your personal data to pull your credit report. By contrast, if the state of public records access remains consistent, anyone and their brother can dig up that information without you knowing. That includes future potential roommates, landlords, business partners and employers. Yes, it’s possible for a researcher to see that your case was dismissed. But that’s because it’s possible for them to casually breeze through all of the details of your case.

Now, some of you will react to this with outrage at the courts for making the data public. However, the public records are available because the courts are paid for by the taxpayers, and we have a right to know how our money is being spent. If you want to avoid having the details of your eviction lawsuit made public, don’t get involved with one in the first place.

(more…)

  1. [1]US Census Bureau: Marital Events of Americans: 2009

Are You Ready To Start Apartment Hunting? (A Quiz)

Are you ready to start apartment hunting?

Renters, the apartment market in Chicago has gotten very competitive over the past few years. While developers are finishing up new apartments that will help ease some of the frantic pace, most of the new buildings are very close to downtown. If you're going to be looking for an apartment this year you cannot afford to go into the market unprepared. This quiz will hopefully help you to avoid some of the major pitfalls so that you can get the apartment you want on the first try.
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Congratulations - you have completed Are you ready to start apartment hunting?.

You got %%PERCENTAGE%% correct out of %%TOTAL%% questions.

%%RATING%%


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Slaying Dragons, Discarding Rings, Confronting Landlords

“I requested service six hours ago! Why don’t I have hot water yet?” – Text message from tenant, 10pm, Feb 2 2011 – Snowpocalypse Chicago.

 

“Why should I have to pay for it? My lease says you will maintain the fixtures!” – 375 lb Tenant after breaking his toilet seat for the fourth time.

 

“I’ve got my lawyer on speakerphone and we will sue you if you don’t fix the mailbox!” – First verbal report of a problem.

Customer service and long term contracts do not go hand in hand. From cell phones and cable providers to apartments and employers, once you’re locked in to a long term contract you may cease to be a customer at all in the eyes of the company. In the case of a landlord, the desire for retention becomes even less important. The experienced landlord learns that your decision to stay or leave is more dependent on other factors in your life, like your income and your family status.

(more…)

Lingua Franca: Thinking About the Language of Apartment Leases

Do you remember the first time you read Shakespeare in school? For me it was in seventh grade. I’d heard a lot of hype about him up until that point, but nobody had warned me about the strange, antique form of English he used and how difficult it was to understand. I hacked through it, but for a kid who was used to whipping through a couple of novels a day it was a pretty chastening experience. To paraphrase “Star Trek,” it was English, but not as I knew it.

So here’s an interesting bit of trivia. If you threaten to sue someone in the process of working on a Wikipedia article, you’ll lose your editing privileges. The reasoning behind it stems from the “chilling effect” that legal threats have on other writers. Most folks are pretty scared of getting dragged into a courtroom, even if it’s just as a witness. It’s time consuming and the threat of going to jail or racking up massive fines is always present. TV shows like “Law and Order” have contributed to this idea that court is definitely a place to avoid.

(more…)

A Way to Remember the Essential Services

If you’re a Chicago landlord or tenant in an apartment covered by the CRLTO, you’ve got two levels of problems that can possibly arise. One type is your standard, run of the mill maintenance issue. For most of these, the landlord has 14 days from the time they are notified in writing of the problem to fix the issue before the tenant can invoke the law. Other problems are considered “essential services” and must be repaired within a much tighter timeframe: 72 hours.

True facts: “Aardvark” is the Afrikaans word for “Earth Pig.” This here is a baby aardvark. This will make sense momentarily.

(more…)

Holiday Gifts for the Chicago Renter

So last week I did a holiday shopping list for Chicago landlords. It’s only fair that I spend some time speaking to the other side, too. There’s plenty of sites out there oriented towards small-space decor, so I’m not going to dwell on items to frou-frou up an apartment. Instead, as is our way here, I’ll be focusing on practical items for Chicago renters that address apartment annoyances and serve multiple purposes. As before, I’ll offer a selection of price points from high end luxuries to tiny stocking stuffers.

Top Shelf

Portable Appliances. While many Chicagoans have moved on up to deluxe rentals with all the trimmings, your standard issue renter is dealing with a basic kitchen consisting of a stove, a refrigerator and a smattering of cabinets which may or may not date from 1972.

Standard issue Chicago apartment kitchen. (Actually, there’s far too much storage for a Chicago apartment, but you know what they say. The camera always adds 10 cabinets.)

So there’s some dispute over whether or not portable appliances are a violation of the Chicago lease. When you’re shopping for them look for ones that use as little water & power as possible, and make sure that they will run on standard electricity.

That being said, I was terribly fond of my Countertop Dishwasher ($250-350) while I was still renting, and sold it to my next door neighbors when I moved into my condo. I’ve never personally tried one of the Portable Washing Machines ($50-100 for manual, $150-400 for automatic) but they’re also quite popular, especially for delicates and uniforms that need to be washed daily. These items can be a little tricky to find at smaller vendors but I know Chicago-based Abt carries several different models of each.

Mid-Range

A lot of these “gift ideas for renters” lists will talk about closet organizers and this is a great idea. However, a lot of those organizers require permanent installation, which is a bit much for a lot of renters (and may violate your lease). Storage space is definitely at a premium in many Chicago apartments, from the pre-industrial vintage units to condensed scions of the open-design high rise movement. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to find gifts that help to maximize the available closets. Look for closet extender bars, which hang from existing closet hardware, or cascading hangers, which collapse vertically when not in use to save on space.

Your stove can hold a turkey or it can hold warm air, but not both at the same time.

Tiny ovens are a plague for many Chicago renters. Many are no more than 20″ wide on the outside (about foot and a half on the inside), which means a lot of bakeware purchased for larger cooking spaces simply will not fit. A gift of narrow bakeware will be much appreciated and used consistently. Meanwhile, counter space is at a premium in many places too. An over-the-sink or over-the-stove cutting board ($25-50) can almost double your prep space in some cases.

Of course the other problem with cooking in a Chicago apartment is the presence of ionization-style smoke detectors. These react to particles in the air, meaning that they’re very susceptible to false alarms from cooking and baking, or even a steamy shower. Three states have outlawed them but they’re still allowed in Chicago and, being cheaper than the alternative, they’re pretty prevalent in rentals. Rather than risking death by removing the smoke detector batteries, swap out the ionization-style detector for a photoelectric smoke detector ($15-20). They respond to heat instead of particles in the air and are equally responsive if not more responsive than the ionization detectors.

Does this look like your smoke detector? If it does, we are never ever ever hanging out together.

Dining rooms are a vanishing species around here, so if you’re like me, you wind up stuck for places to eat if you have guests. A pack of four folding TV tables ($40-50) will be a welcome alternative to crouching over coffee tables or snacking at your computer. Also likely to be missing are coat closets. An over the door coat hanger ($15-30) or a more stylish coat stand ($60-150) will spare your renter friends from having to drape coats over chairs.

Stocking Stuffers

If Aunt Hilda is giving fruitcakes again this year this may not be necessary. But. Doorstops. ($5) Seriously. Almost every vintage Chicago apartment has at least one door that will not stay closed, be it due to frame warping or floor warping or simple changes in humidity that change the size of the door. The old-school, wedge-shaped doorstops in this case are used not to keep the door open, but to keep it shut. Sometimes you just need a little privacy, you know?

Like the portable appliances mentioned above, some amount of caution is required for this next one as it may violate your lease. However, broken buzzers are a common annoyance in Chicago multi-unit buildings, and many folks also come and go through the back door where there’s no doorbell at all. A temporary, battery-powered wireless doorbell ($15-40) is not something that a renter would likely pick up for themselves but they’ll probably find a way to use it.

When I first moved into an apartment my mother searched high and low to find a clothes drying rack. Not the big ones that rest on the floor, but the type made for motor homes that hang on a shower curtain rod. The collapsible, hanging drying rack ($7) pictured below is my favorite style, but other types are available.

Great for drying delicate items and darkroom photos. Or both at once if you’re into that kind of thing.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about the idea of getting a replacement showerhead for your renter friends. Some people are very picky about how they like their water pressure. However, if you know your friend’s showering preferences, a swank new showerhead is pretty easy to install and can make their daily ablutions far more enjoyable. Extra bonus for those of you with tall friends – a shower extension arm may be enough. Some folks have never enjoyed the wonder washing their hair without ducking. You can fix this today. Please. Think of the tall people.

Not Recommended

My personal vendetta against space heaters has popped up here and there over the past 10 months of writing this blog. Even if the newer models reduce some of the fire hazards of the old ones, you still need to bear in mind the impact on a tenant’s electric bill. Electric heating & cooling devices have the biggest impact on electric usage of anything a person could own. Better to get them a selection of blankets & throws than a gift that keeps giving back to ComEd.

Space is at a premium in most apartments, so single-purpose appliances should be avoided. Versatile devices like stick blenders, rice steamers and toaster ovens are fine, but the yogurt-maker and the waffle iron may need to wait.


So what’s on your list this year? Let me know if I missed a major item, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.

Could Your Property Pass a Section 8 Inspection?

If you’re involved in the rental business it won’t be long before you hear about Section 8. Chances are good that you’ve heard of it even if you aren’t involved with renting. It’s bandied about by NIMBY residents who don’t want poor people living in their neighborhood. You see, “Section 8” refers to a portion of the US Housing Act of 1937, which authorized the government to pay rent on behalf of residents who would not otherwise be able to afford it. While it generally is used by low income residents, it’s also used in some occasions to assist people who have lost their homes to natural disasters, as was the case after Hurricane Katrina.

In Chicago it’s administered by the Chicago Housing Authority and utilizes two main types of homes: those owned and managed by CHA, and privately owned apartment buildings throughout the city.

… Not that Section 8

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Breaking a Lease in Chicago

When You’ve Gotta Go…

Lease breaks happen. Landlords hate them and often get really grumpy when their tenants don’t honor the full term of their lease agreements. They’re totally justified in being dour about it, especially if the tenant takes off in the middle of the winter. It’s an inconvenience, a hit to the wallet, a bad time for a vacancy, not to mention a broken promise. However, it’s important to remember that tenants, especially with home prices as low as they are here in late 2012, are renting for a reason. They know they can’t commit to a long-term home ownership situation. They know they may have to cut out early. They are renting because they are trying to be responsible about their large-scale purchases. The whole point of renting is that it allows for a much easier “out.”

I’d say that about 30-40% of the 1200+ leases that I have worked on since 2005 have wound up with the tenant leaving in the middle of a contract term. They may stay for a year, renew the lease, and then leave halfway through the second year, they may bolt in the middle of their first month, or they may even stay for 10 years and then suddenly have to depart. No matter what, it’s still means a broken lease and the potential for some very bad blood between the landlord and their departing tenant.

In Chicago, there’s two standard routes that a responsible tenant can take to break a lease. One is subleasing and the other is rerenting. They are often confused and somewhat murky. So, in the interest of making everything very clear, I’ve gone ahead and made a twee pink infographic for you, available after the jump.

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