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.

Obviously, it's important for both landlords and tenants to know which is which. There's no point for a tenant to struggle through two weeks in an uninhabitable apartment if they could be out in 3 days. On the flip side, there is no reason a landlord should rush and/or pay expensive overtime costs to fix a problem in 3 days if they've got two weeks to finish the job. To make it easier to remember what falls within the constraints of the 3 day timeframe, I've created a mnemonic that should help you, and it's very appropriate for this blog.


Of course I can't just leave you like that. Of course I'm going to explain it all.

E = Electricity. The apartment must have electrical service.

A = Access. The tenant must be able to enter their apartment.

R = Running Water. The apartment must have running water.

T = Temperature. The apartment must be able to attain a safely warm temperature in winter.

H = Hot Water. There must be some means for the tenant to obtain hot water.

P = Plumbing. Broken pipes, blocked pipes; if water can't get in and out of the unit you're gonna have a bad time.

I = Immediate Danger. Anything wrong with the property that puts the health and safety of the tenant in immediate danger must be fixed quickly.

G = Gas. Gas service should not be interrupted if it is necessary for providing heat or hot water.

Deadbeat Tenants need not Apply.

One caveat here: some leases say that the tenant is responsible for paying some utility companies directly. In this case, if the tenant doesn't pay and service is cut off, the landlord is not required to rush and fix the problem. The 72 hour countdown only applies if the lack of service is due to building defects or other similar causes beyond the tenants' control.

Tenants Options Once Time Runs Out.

If there's an Earth Pig issue in your building, the tenant notifies the landlord in writing, and it isn't repaired within 72 hours of notification, the tenant has 3 different routes they can use to "encourage" repairs.

1. Fix the problem themselves and deduct the cost of repair from the rent.
2. Sue for damages.
3. Get temp housing (e.g., hotel), withhold rent for the days when you had to stay in the temp housing, and deduct the cost of the hotel stay from the rent.

If the problem is actually the landlord's fault, and not due to a utility company having supply issues, the tenant can also take the following steps:

1. Withhold rent so that they're only paying for the actual value of the apartment in its current state. Note: Withholding can start as soon as 24 hours after notification.
2. If the problem isn't fixed at the end of the entire 72 hour repair period, the tenant can give the landlord 30 day notice that they're moving, and cancel the rest of the lease without worrying about losing their deposit.

If you're a tenant reading this and you're in a situation where you have to take one of these options, please talk with a lawyer or with the tenant's union before proceeding. There are stipulations and conditions that are far too complex to delve into here, especially with the "cancel your lease" option.

Landlords: Be Prepared.

So Chicago Landlords, you know the items you'll have to fix quickly. You can take steps to be prepared so that the 72 hour countdown doesn't cause havoc.

  • Make sure you've got contractors on call who can help you with each of the Earth Pig problems, and make sure they are open on weekends and holidays!
  • To avoid paying holiday overtime as much as possible, have regular maintenance performed on the gear that can cause Earth Pig problems.
  • Make sure your security deposit account remains reasonably liquid. In the event of a catastrophic fire you'll have to get those deposits back immediately. Don't run the risk of having them tied up in a 3-Year CD.
  • Remember which services are essential. Tenants often don't know what makes an apartment truly "uninhabitable" and will try to convince you that their broken stove burner constitutes an essential services failure. Unless that burner is leaking gas or sending off sparks, it probably doesn't count. Obviously you should still be prompt and compassionate about fixing the problem, but you don't need to pay for triple overtime.

Thoughts? Do you have a better anagram? Let me know in the comments. I'll be back Friday with Rent Bacon - I'll see you then!