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.
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.
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.