Tag Archives: utilities

Talking Trash

Chicago garbage pickup (or “scavenger service” as we Realtor wonks like to call it) is a bigger deal than you’d think for landlords. It tends to get overlooked by newer landlords, and even the experienced ones don’t like to spend too much time dwelling on the topic of handling other people’s junk. However, there are some laws to keep in mind and best practices to follow when it comes to dealing with your tenants’ trash. Today I’ll be reviewing the basics for you.

Trash pickup is also called "scavenger service." This little guy is also a scavenger, but of a different kind.

Trash pickup is also called “scavenger service.” This little guy is also a scavenger, but of a different kind.

First off, the city sanitation ordinance can be found here. Additionally, the recycling regulations can be found here.  Regardless of the size of your building I’d recommend that you give it a glance. Violations are penalized with tickets from the police.

Who Pays for Trash Pickups in Chicago?

If your building has four units or fewer, the city will pick up your trash as if it was a single family home. You pay for this service through your property taxes and sales tax. This also goes for individually rented condos in buildings with up to four units.

If the building has more than four units, you will have to hire a private hauler to collect your tenants’ trash. There are several private haulers that work the Chicago grid – most are Teamsters. Larger condo developments will also have to hire private haulers – this is paid for out of the owners’ assessments.

The most common private haulers that I see around here are Waste Management, Lakeshore Recycling, Groot, Allied/Republic, Flood Brothers and Veolia.

Either way, tenants in Chicago expect landlords to pay for scavenger service.

How Much Trash Is There?

The trash carts supplied by the city for small buildings hold 96 gallons of waste, or a little less than half a cubic yard. Based on my observations, a family of three will fill approximately one of those carts per week with regular trash, and another one every two weeks with recyclable trash. (If you have a bunch of dirty hippies living in your building it may be the other way around.) The last week of the month in moving season will see far more trash, as will the holiday season.

If you’re buying an apartment building, the prior owner will probably have trash containers out back that you can use to gauge how many you’ll need once you take over the reins. It’s possible that the trash contract may be passed over to you at closing. It’s a good idea to check out how the trash looks on the last day of a month to gauge if more containers are needed. Overflowing dumpsters lead to tickets – it’s always better to err on the side of too much space and downsize later if it isn’t needed.

It’s important to communicate with your tenants regarding how they handle trash if you want to keep the ticket brigade at bay. Make sure that tenants know to bag their trash and secure the bags firmly. Make sure they know that trash needs to be removed from the building regularly, not left to pile up inside their apartments. Take time to inform them about which materials are considered to be hazardous – this includes batteries, toner cartridges, paint and lighter fluid. If you allow cats in your building, make sure your tenants dispose of the cat litter with the trash instead of flushing it.

Also make sure that they notify you if the dumpster is too full. It’s better to head over and pack down the trash or schedule an additional pickup than to incur a $200 fine because a nosy neighbor got annoyed and called 311 on you.

What About Recycling?

According to city ordinance, renters must have recycling options made available to them, even if you’re in a small building in an area without blue cart service. The recycling method you provide must allow for separation of recyclables at your building. You also need to make an effort to educate your renters on what items to separate. Unfortunately for the planet, the recycling ordinance is pretty toothless and rarely enforced. However, it’s important to remember that the tenant pool tends to consist of younger residents with very eco-conscious leanings. A visible recycling program is not only good for staying on the good side of the law, but it’s also a great marketing tool.

Blue recycling carts in their natural habitat. (Photo by Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader)

Blue recycling carts in their natural habitat. (Photo by Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader)

Most private haulers will offer specifically marked recycling-only dumpsters. If you’re hiring regular dumpsters make sure you also provide a separate container for recyclable items.

How about Big Stuff?

Sometimes your tenants will need to discard larger items. Without proper preparation, this can lead to a big mess in your alley. Furniture left outside of dumpsters can lead to broken glass littered across the alley, thieves picking over the items, and the general enmity of your neighbors. Mattresses left lying out are a sign of a bedbug infestation, which can cause panic among your other tenants even if no problem actually exists.

Therefore it’s important to communicate to your tenants in the lease and explicitly in conversation that large items need to be placed in the dumpster. If they have something that’s too big to fit, they need to warn you immediately so that you can schedule an extra pickup with the city or with your private hauler.

Similarly, if you’re planning on doing any renovation work or clearing out an apartment formerly occupied by a hoarder, you may need to hire an extra dumpster on your own even if the city provides pickup. These types of projects create far more trash than your standard equipment will be able to contain.

By the way, if you do schedule a last minute extra pickup with a private hauler, be prepared to pay them in cash with a nice tip for going out of their way for you. Even if you have a contract for regular service, these kind of trips are above and beyond a trash hauler’s normal duties.

What About Shops and Restaurants?

If you’ve got a mixed use building, you’ll probably wind up with a few retail shops or restaurants renting from you in the commercial spaces. Unlike residential renters, most commercial tenants in Chicago are expected to pay for their own scavenger service (along with all the other utilities). Sometimes a very small office can piggyback onto your dumpsters, but any business that requires a sanitation license will probably be required to demonstrate that they’re in charge of their own trash collection.

This is about as close as you ever want to get to a grease dumpster. (Photo by TrashMonkey29 on Flickr.)

This is about as close as you ever want to get to a grease dumpster. (Photo by TrashMonkey29 on Flickr.)

If you’ve got restaurants, doctor’s offices, hair salons, catering businesses, childcare facilities or anything that generates a lot of icky trash, you’ll want to ensure that you leave enough space in the rear of your building for each business to provide their own dumpsters. Restaurants in particular may need space not only for a regular dumpster and a recycling container but also a grease dumpster.

Grease dumpsters require their own special precautions – while they’re designed to contain liquid waste, it’s easy to spill when you’re pouring hot grease in the dark. Hosing down the ground around a grease dumpster is actually illegal. You’ll need to make sure the ground nearby is fully cleaned with detergent to keep rats away and make sure the alley doesn’t become a skid hazard for passing cars.

What if There’s No Alley Access?

In order for trash to be collected, it needs to be accessible. For most buildings in Chicago this is an easy task. Dumpsters live in the alley, trucks pick them up there. No fuss, no muss. However, there are a few locations in the city where alleys do not exist, or if they do, there is no way to get to them from the house without a very long walk.

Before you purchase a rental property you need to consider how trash pickup is handled. If there is no way for you to leave trash containers in a place where both tenants and trucks can access them, you will need to make plans to haul the trash out to the street for pickup on a regular basis. Unless you’ve got a good crew of workmen on hand or plan to live on site, I guarantee that this will get old really fast. In theory you could offer a barter deal to a reliable tenant to haul the dumpsters out on trash day, but you’ll still want to follow up regularly to make sure they’re actually holding up their end of the bargain. This is probably not a situation that you will be able to resolve on your own, either. You can’t just go adding alleys on your block.

Should I Chain My Dumpsters?

Yes. Illegal dumping – that’s when other people put their trash in your containers – is a “three strikes and you’re out” offense in Chicago. The first two times you get a ticket, the third time is a felony with jail time. Building contractors in particular are notorious for dumping their construction debris in any nearby unsecured container. Make sure it isn’t yours.

Additionally, dumpster diving is not just for thrift shop loving hipsters anymore. Identity thieves have a field day rummaging through tenants’ discarded papers. Grease theft from grease dumpsters is also common, since grease is used to make biodiesel and can therefore be resold at a high price. (Most grease dumpsters are designed to have higher security than your normal dumpster for just that reason.)

However, before you go chaining up your trash containers make sure you’ve considered the tenant training you’ll have to do to make this kind of precaution successful. Tenants will need to have keys to the chains’ padlocks. They will also need to be instructed to re-secure the dumpsters after depositing their trash. Your success rate will depend a lot on how well you convince your tenants of the necessity. Better pest control and protection against identity theft should be your two biggest talking points on that front.

Private Hauler Gotchas

Long Term contracts. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sign your renters to a five or ten year lease that allowed you to raise their rents arbitrarily at any point? Well, private trash haulers do exactly that. And they generally require four to six months advance notice to get you out of the contract. Make sure you negotiate heavily before you select a hauling company.

Graffiti. You’d think that for the cost of service, the haulers would regularly swap out dumpsters that get tagged, right? Unfortunately this is not the case, and the taggers know it. Dumpsters are one of the most popular locations for graffiti, since landlords assume that the haulers will clean them and vice versa. If your building’s dumpsters are located close to the street or an alley intersection they will be particularly likely targets for tagging. Make sure that you keep some paint on hand to cover any tags.


 

Next week I’ll be doing a three part series on the quality of building materials. (Trust me, it will be more interesting than it sounds!) See you then!

Apartments: Is Bigger Really Better? (Tenant Version)

I used to work for a theatre company that did most of its work in a very large performance hall. It had 25 rows and stadium seating, and the stage was 25 feet wide and three stories tall. (That’s the width of a standard Chicago lot – pretty substantial for a city perfoming space.) It would have been a fantastic hall for big musicals, operas, and large scale events. The problem was, this company was a tiny one. They were not doing big shows, but in order to fill that huge space they had to spend tons on scenery and sound amplification in order to make it work for them. In this case, the bigger space was definitely a detriment.

When it comes to apartments, you can have one or the other but not both.

When it comes to apartments, you can have one or the other but not both.

So let’s say you and your roommate have $1600 to spend between yourselves for an apartment. You have the choice between a 1000 square foot high-end, loft style condo in Lakeview with two bedrooms, and a 2000 square foot vintage unit with a basic set of appliances and four bedrooms in Irving Park. There are a large number of renters out there who would automatically say that the four bedroom unit is the better deal, even if they don’t pick up extra roommates to fill the additional rooms. Bigger = better, right? I have five reasons here to help you explain to your roommate why this is not necessarily the case.
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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.

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Dear Piggy: Questions from the Readers

I’m writing this on Tuesday night at 7pm. I’m deliberately avoiding watching the election results. So you guys get an omnibus of nine questions that have come in from the readers.

I didn’t show up for eviction court in Cook County. What will happen?

Generally if one side shows up for eviction court and the other doesn’t, the present person generally “wins” the case – for now. So, if the tenant appears but the landlord does not, then the landlord has to start all over again and re-file a new case. If the tenant doesn’t show up but the landlord is present, it’s a bit more complicated. The landlord will have to prove that the tenant was served with proper notice of the court date. They will also have to prove that the tenant has committed the offense that is causing the eviction case, be it non-payment or some other behavioral problem. A landlord in this case will probably get possession of the unit but no money judgment. However, the landlord should not rest on their laurels – many tenants in this sort of situation will “lawyer up” and get the case reopened before the sheriff can actually come around to evict.

If my landlord takes a utility bill addressed to me out of mailbox is he responsible for paying it?

First of all, if the landlord takes anything addressed to you out of your mailbox, she has committed mail fraud. This is a federal offense punishable by a minimum prison sentence of five years.

As for the financial repercussions. If your bill is tied to your name and your social security number, your credit score will bear the brunt of it going unpaid. So regardless of whether or not you think the landlord has “claimed responsibility” for paying the bill by taking it, you have a responsibility to ensure that the bill gets paid on time. I would get a backup copy from the utility company’s online account system and pay it anyhow.

However, if you don’t pay your heating bill and your pipes freeze and burst, your landlord will bear the cost of repairing the damage. The repair bills will certainly exceed your security deposit. So the landlord has a vested interest in ensuring that you’re current on your heating bills, but generally not to the point of paying it themselves. A smart landlord, though, would find out the status of payment in another way or just deal with repairing the damage afterwards. In my opinion, it’s better to be able to bring an air-tight damage suit against a tenant after the fact than to incur a five year stay in a federal prison.

Is a two flat in Chicago bound by the landlord tenant ordinance?

For two-flats, if the landlord lives in the building it is exempted from the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance but is covered by the Illinois state ordinance (PDF) instead. If the landlord does not live in the building then it is covered by the Chicago ordinance.

My tenants’ apartment is disgusting. Can I ask them to clean for showings?

Well, technically, yes. And according to the CRLTO they have to comply.

CRLTO Section 5-12-040 Tenant responsibilities.

Every tenant must:

(a)     Comply with all obligations imposed specifically upon tenants by provisions of the municipal code applicable to dwelling units;

(b)     Keep that part of the premises that he occupies and uses as safe as the condition of the premises permits;

(c)     Dispose of all ashes, rubbish, garbage and other waste from his dwelling unit in a clean and safe manner;

(d)     Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits;

(e)     Use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, in the premises;

(f)     Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any person on the premises with his consent to do so; and

(g)     Conduct himself and require other persons on the premises with his consent to conduct themselves in a manner that will not disturb his neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the premises.

The pertinent bits here are items (b) through (e) above. As always I recommend that landlords try to negotiate a more calm & reasonable resolution to the problem before they throw the book at their tenant. However, in a worst case scenario the landlord can present the tenant with a 10-day “cure or quit” notice which mandates that they clean up their act within the next 10 days or their lease will be terminated.

However.

If the tenant does not comply with the notice then the landlord will have to evict them in order to enforce the notice, so obviously this is not terribly effective when it comes to an apartment that will probably be empty in a matter of weeks anyhow.

Here’s my personal thoughts on the matter. If a tenant has such poor housekeeping skills that the apartment is “disgusting,” I highly doubt that their cleaning efforts under duress will be too impressive. Chances are you will need a few days or even weeks to get the place cleaned up in between tenants, so why bother wasting your time showing a dirty apartment? It won’t rent at a top price, and you’ll have to show it many more times to find a tenant. Besides, the only tenants who will probably like a messy apartment are also messy, so you’ll wind up with a self-perpetuating cycle of filth. Here’s what I would do instead.

  • Explain to the tenant that the apartment is too messy to show in its current condition.
  • Explain that the condition of the apartment has been noted in their file.
  • If your lease doesn’t already allow for specific cleaning costs, provide the tenant with the prices for a deep clean by a professional maid service and make sure that they know you will have to deduct that cost from their security deposit.
  • Hold off on showing the apartment until it’s empty and clean.

Can I pretend that my friend was my past landlord?

This is called “fraud.” It’s a bad idea, although tenants with poor rental history (or tenants who assume that their landlord hates them for any reason) do it all the time.

Will you get caught? That depends on if your landlord verifies ownership of your current address or not. It’s very easy to do. If you get caught, I’d personally not be surprised if your landlord rejects your application.

If you don’t get caught before you sign the lease, you’re pretty much in the clear. Even if you wind up in eviction court and the landlord accuses you of falsifying the application, it’s his neck on the line for not doing enough research.

Courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Chicago History.

What’s the difference between redlining and steering?

Redlining and Steering are both practices that violate fair housing law. Redlining was originally a mortgage lending term which drew a “red line” around certain neighborhoods. Applicants that didn’t fit a particular profile would not be granted loans to purchase property within the red line. Steering occurs when members of certain demographic groups are “steered” towards neighborhoods that are known to be dominated by that same group – e.g., Asians being shown only properties in Chinatown.

So basically, Redlining keeps people out of a neighborhood. Steering pushes them into specific enclaves.

Both are illegal.

Can tenants watch TV at any time of night?

I’m guessing that this is really a noise question. Look up to where I quoted the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance above. As long as the tenants aren’t disturbing their neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of their homes and apartments then the tenants can do whatever they want. However, if neighbors are complaining that the noise from the TV is affecting their sleep, health or ability to use certain rooms of their house, then the landlord may need to step in.

Of course, the tenants should try to work out the noise issue between themselves before escalating it to involve any authority figure, be it the landlord or the police. The landlord’s only recourse will be a written reprimand or, in the worst case scenario, a 10-day “cure or quit” notice followed by an eviction case.

When can you charge a late rent fee in Chicago?

Illinois and Chicago do not have “grace periods” for rent payments. Therefore, unless a lease specifies a grace period, rent is late on the day after it is due and fees can be assessed at that time. Also, bear in mind that while the IRS may count the date of postmark, a landlord doesn’t have to. As for what time late fees should be assessed, that’s up to you. I personally recommend giving the benefit of the doubt and assessing late fees when business opens the day after rent is due. I know some landlords who assess late fees as soon as midnight passes, though. Either could technically be claimed as valid, but the former is more likely to hold up in court.

Will my cat stick to my radiator?

Not unless you physically attach him to it.

Cats are generally smart enough to move away from dangerously hot objects like stoves and radiators. A radiator heated by steam (212 degrees F) will not get hot enough to melt fur (300-400 degrees F depending on humidity). It might give him a little burn the first time he touches it, though, so use caution around kitty the first time the radiators come on.

Judging the Judges (2012 Election Special)

I hope that all of you already have one of these. If not, go get one today!

So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year you’re aware that we’ve got an election coming up. In fact, early voting started Monday, so get out and do it, y’all. I’m not here to tell you who to vote for. Instead, I’m here to call your attention to the fact that there’s other stuff on the ballot for Chicago voters that may catch them by surprise.

If you’re a landlord or renter you have a couple of choices to make that may be more important than your presidential vote. One involves power – the electrical kind – and the other involves the people downtown at the courthouse who preside over eviction lawsuits.

A Little Early Morning Opacity

I tend to vote early in the day before it gets crowded. This year I’ll have to remember to drink some coffee before I head out, as I’m going to be confronted with some pretty opaque questions on page one of the ballot before I even get to choosing between Mr. Obama (D), Mr. Romney (R), Mr. Johnson (L) and Ms. Stein (G) and assorted candidates for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. I’m also going to have to go earlier than normal, as I’d bet most voters are going to be scratching their heads as they try to untangle these four massive questions and the lines could be longer than normal. (more…)

10 Things You Can Do Regularly to Save Money

Many of you reading this blog are saving up for a down payment, security deposit, cash purchase of investment property, or a similar major expense in the near future. With slim paychecks and rising expenses it can be difficult to squirrel away the recommended 20% of every paycheck.

When I transferred from property management to brokerage I knew I was going to take a pay cut for a while as I rebuilt my business. Here are some of the things I’ve done to cut my expenses. Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

  1. Don’t pull your scores – real FICO scores are expensive. But definitely check your credit report.

    Check credit reports regularly. You get one copy of your report from each of the three credit bureaus every year. I usually pull one at the start of the year, once over Memorial Day weekend and once over Labor Day weekend. The dates go in my calendar. The FICO credit scores are not free. And the Scores offered by many of the “free” credit score websites that have popped up lately are not FICO scores. They use a different scale. The free reports you can obtain through annualcreditreport.com are just a list of your open accounts, but for checking accuracy that’s all you really need.
    My Cost: $0 and 15 minutes. My Savings this year: $0, but I learned that one old collection account had dropped off of my report this year.

  2. Call insurance companies annually. Did you know that health insurance plans since the beginning of the year have had to cover preventive care 100% before your deductible? Do you even remember what your car insurance deductible is? It’s always good to check with each of your insurance providers annually to find out if you can get a better rate. That goes for homeowner’s/renter’s insurance, business liability insurance, landlord umbrella policies, car insurance, and health insurance for the self-employed. You won’t always get cheaper insurance if you call, but it’s always worth the effort.
    My Cost: $0 and 25 hours. My Savings this year: $75 in car insurance plus $5580 in health insurance plus $120 for annual checkup now covered by insurance.
  3. There are other sites out there that allow comparison shopping but they’re owned by corporate entities. Plug In Illinois is the state-sponsored site and likely to be more neutral.

    Switch electricity suppliers. Hey Chicago! You don’t have to get your power from ComEd. You don’t. It’s worth looking into other options, especially if you have central AC. New carriers in the area offer lower prices. Investigate your options at the Illinois Commerce Commission’s “Plug in Illinois” site.
    My Cost: $0 and 45 minutes. My Savings this year: About 5% off my bill plus the good feeling of knowing that my electricity is now coming from renewable sources.

  4. Track cell phone usage. Do you know how many minutes are on your cell phone plan? How about the date when your contract expires, if you’re on a contract? When was the last time you used all of your minutes or text messages? Have you been with your cell phone provider long enough to earn a new phone? Do you not know? Maybe you should check. It’s especially useful to track your voice minute usage and make sure your plan suits your current lifestyle.
    My Cost: $30 for a new smartphone last year. My Savings last year: No savings but I got a phone and a mobile broadband router for the same price I’d been paying for just voice service on my old carrier. (I’m on a 2 year contract so I’m holding tight on this until next year. The expiration date is definitely in my calendar!)
  5. Appeal property taxes regularly. I’ve discussed this at length in a prior article about property taxes. You get a window for appealing your taxes every 3 years, and under certain circumstances you can appeal outside of that window. If any home similar to yours has sold nearby you in the past year, it’s worth trying to appeal your taxes based on their sale price.
    My Cost: County filing fee. My Savings this year: About $200/mo.
  6. Always get multiple estimates. Calling around for estimates can be annoying and you always feel like you’re being a pill. However, you learn in the process about the task at hand, and businesses that won’t provide an estimate are not going to remain in business very long. Treat your bank account like it’s a business operating account. Allow yourself a certain amount of petty cash for expenses, but if a purchase will require more than your petty cash allowance then go do the proper research.
    My Cost: $0 and a few hours of time. My Savings this year: $500 on a dental treatment and $700 on an exterminator.
  7. Chicago’s got some of the best water in the world. (Lake Michigan photo by John Chimon)

    Learn to love ice water. Beverages cost more than food. This is true for most restaurants, and especially for alcoholic drinks. Pop & sugary juices are not healthy either. With the exception of my morning coffee (homemade, french press, black) I stick to ice water from the tap for most of the day.
    My Cost: My portion of the water bill in my monthly assessments. My Savings this year: At 20 cents per can of soda, at least $113.75 so far this year, plus the wear and tear on my pancreas.

  8. Shop slowly. This started with my mother’s habit of carrying items around with her in the store as a “test drive” before purchasing. She generally does not make a purchase unless it’s on her shopping list or she’s toted it around with her in the store for a while. In my case I use my 2 week “Do I need an Ipad” test on pretty much all of my major purchases before I even walk into the store. Mom has picked up on this test and was recently using it herself. She’s quite the frugalista, so I’m very pleased.
    My Cost: Quite a bit of time doing research. My Savings this Year: At least $700 on an iPad, $200 in unnecessary clothing & shoes, and $80 in makeup.
  9. Be nice. Win stuff.

    Buy low, tip high, stay consistent. I don’t want my thriftiness to hurt the individual workers. I want them to be able to afford to go shopping too. Tips are 100% take home for the laborers, while unit cost is retained by the corporation. Whenever possible, especially in the service industry, I make sure to tip high and I frequently reap the benefits if I’m a returning customer.
    My Cost: Minimal. My Savings this Year: At least $80 in free beers from grateful bartenders, plus $30 from being able to go longer between manicures.

  10. Refinance the mortgage. Much like insurance, you won’t always win on this one. However, as long as mortgage rates stay below what you currently have and you stay on top of your credit score, you have at least a shot at a successful refinance of your loan. This is the one scenario where the cost may outweigh the savings. Make sure you run the numbers before you go ahead with the refi. Check with a different lender at least once a year, or once every 3-5 years if you recently refinanced.
    My Cost: About $700 in 2010 for a HARP refi. My Savings: About $28k in interest.

Do you have a money-saving tip to share with us? Let me know in the comments!

 

10 Common First-Time Renter Mistakes

After I did first-time buyer mistakes for Monday it occurred to me that there’s other real estate virgins out there who might need a few warnings. Tenants, for example, are often the newest of all to the housing market, and they do tend to make some common errors that mark them as newbies in the apartment hunt. Whether this is your first apartment or your twelfth, avoiding these missteps will save you a world of grief.

It may be pretty, but can you cook in it? (Photo: ApartmentTherapy.com)

1. Choosing the prettiest apartment. I did this back in 2003. Found a lovely vintage apartment on the lakefront with crown molding, dining room chandelier, lots of space, and a shiny new kitchen. It was cheap, the landlord would accept my pet bunny, I rented it. I failed to take into account that the only bathroom was inside the bedroom. It turned out to be a very impractical location for me as I had a lot of overnight houseguests at that point in my life. Much like when choosing a spouse, it’s what’s on the inside that counts more than the apartment’s looks. Make sure the room layout and amenities suit your lifestyle.

Here’s one quick benchmark for practicality. Each of us has a ritual that we have to do on a regular basis at home, or the rest of the day doesn’t feel right. For me it’s my morning coffee and breakfast – I will NOT leave the house for the first hour or so after I wake up. For others it will be going through the mail right after they get home from work, or taking a pause from gaming to refill your water glass from the fridge. Figure out what you ritual is. As you go through each apartment, play out how that ritual will work for you in the new space. If it doesn’t work, nix the listing. (more…)

Dear Piggy: Does a Chicago Landlord always have to pay for water?

Hand drawn graphic of water pouring into a piggy bank

Is it wise (or even legal) to make your tenants pay for water in Chicago?

I received the following question from a reader:

Dear Piggy,

I am a Chicago landlord. The new tenants in one of my two-flats have two small children and one more on the way. I recently received my water bill and see that the water usage is much higher than it was with the prior tenants. I know that nearly every apartment in Chicago comes with water included in the rent. I’m wondering, am I allowed to bill my tenants for water and sewer usage?
– Sincerely,
My Sink Runneth Over

The short answer is yes, a landlord in Chicago can technically bill a tenant for water and sewer usage. However, they can only do so in very specific circumstances, and only if the rental unit is metered individually. It is not a good idea though, due to a combination of risk and market expectations.

The long answer is, as you would guess, far more complex. (more…)