Tag Archives: pets

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.

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.

10 Steps to Secure Your Home or Apartment for Showings

So your landlord or an agent has called to say that she needs to show your home.

For owners this should come as no surprise. If your house is on the market, showings will happen and your agent will probably request that you absent yourself while they occur.

For renters, showings may be a surprise as they can happen at any time of year. You don't have to be moving out. A showing in the middle of your lease does not necessarily mean that your apartment building is for sale! Your landlord may be trying to get a better insurance rate or refinance the property. Both of these tasks could require access to your apartment. You should grant it provided that your landlord gives you proper advance notice.

Regardless of who is coming to view your apartment, though, you can be certain of one thing - strangers will be entering your living quarters and you may not be able to be home when it happens. Whether it's a new prospective renter, an appraiser or a Realtor, you'll want to take precautions to make sure that you've safeguarded your belongings. After all, your landlord's insurance won't cover the items if they go missing or get damaged.

Google currently shows over 36 million results for the phrase "robbed during an open house."

Here are ten things you can do to make sure your stuff stays safe when your home has an encounter with stranger danger.


Tales from the Field

Happy Halloween week, dear Piggies! As I will be up to my eyeballs in community organizing on Wednesday, today is our very special Halloween installment of StrawStickStone, featuring horror stories either from my personal experience or related to me first-hand from coworkers.

These are all safe for work, but not necessarily all safe for lunchtime. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Paper Outline

Gladys was 84 years old and in ill health. In the most recent days she had gone from able-bodied to hospitalized to hospice. Her daughter came in from out of state to handle her mother's affairs. She obtained Gladys' keys and written power of attorney to pick up some items from the apartment. We sent a staffer along with her.

They tried the front door and it would not open. So they went around back to try and gain access through the kitchen. The kitchen door opened only wide enough to allow them access one at a time. Beyond, they found accumulated the past 30 years of Gladys' life in stacks and piles. No surface was spared. The kitchen surfaces were loaded from counter-top to ceiling with canned goods, some dating back several decades with faded labels. Papers were stacked three to four layers deep against the walls, on chairs, table-tops and any other flat surface.

The bathroom showed that she'd been taking sponge baths for some time, as the tub was piled high with dusty old clothing and yellowed newspapers.

"Oh," said the daughter, "this is what she meant by 'Now you're going to find out, I'm sorry.'"

Even in the bedroom there was no flat surface remaining. It was April and the steam heated apartment was frigid, as every radiator was surrounded by piles of debris.

Where did she sleep? They wondered.

They finally spotted the only possible option. Gladys' ground floor apartment had two steps descending from the entry level down to foundation level. Everywhere else in the apartment only allowed small walkways for a human to pass through. On the stairs was a larger opening, maybe two and a half feet wide, of empty space surrounded by paperback books.

Surrounded by her hoarded items, Gladys had been sleeping on the stairs.

She died within the month. The daughter, pulled away from her job and her home downstate, spent the next three months removing all of the debris from the apartment to six separate storage lockers.

The apartment itself had been unattended for decades. The staff needed another two months to get it fully updated into a condition where any modern tenant would see fit to rent it. The 1970's era refrigerator had failed, likely leading to Gladys' final illness, but she had been too embarrassed to report the problem lest someone see the condition of her apartment.

Landlords, even when you get to the point where you have hundreds or thousands of apartments in your inventory, always remember to visit each apartment and take photos of its condition at least once a year.


One of my employers had picked up a rental property by the river - an overcrowded, hulking mess of a courtyard building with in some cases up to six adults sharing a tiny studio apartment. In addition to the massive human population, it also came with a complete set of the big six pests: rodents, ants, roaches, fleas, pigeons and gangbangers. (This was before the bedbug resurgence of 2009.)

It took the staff nearly three years to bring the many problems under control. First went the pigeons due to some creative netting and spiking of all exterior flat surfaces. Sealing the entire foundation slowly brought the roaches under control, along with massive applications of Maxthon and switching to a "no dogs" policy. Tenants in overcrowded apartments were slowly phased out, their apartments renovated and rerented. By the fourth year, the apartments were starting to look pretty good but the prices still hadn't completely rebounded due to the building's longstanding history of trouble.

It was July. A pot-smoking student had just been evicted from his 2nd floor studio for non-payment. As often happens in these situations, the mice that had been living off of his sloppy housekeeping fled to the next nearest source of food - the upstairs neighbor and her cats' food bowl. By this point we had established a zero tolerance policy for rodents at that location, so when the unhappy new host to the mice called in to request an exterminator she got more poison bait boxes than she could really handle. She also filed to break her lease at the same time, with good reason.

Now, I know that this next bit will not say nice things about my morals, but I will offer this apology: I was representing the landlord in this situation, and an agent owes obedience to their client. In property management, if the boss says you're supposed to show an apartment, you show it, regardless of condition. So off I went to show this girl's apartment. I had warned her beforehand, but the morning of the showing I got a text from her. "Careful in the kitchen," it said, "had to run out early."

It was an L-shaped studio, so I couldn't see into the kitchen until we were on the verge of entering it. It was a very pretty kitchen. Maple cabinets, dishwasher, granite countertops. And a nice big fat dead mouse in the middle of the hardwood kitchen floor. Knowing that there might be some surprises lurking about I had been walking ahead of the prospie and tried to position myself so that she wouldn't see the mouse. While continuing my spiel, I tried to nudge it up against the wall with my foot.

It didn't work so well.

It wasn't nearly this cute, I promise.

For the next 5 minutes, I stood very very still from the waist down and made a valiant effort to hide the fact that I'd just missed my target and now had a mouse corpse stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

It was to my amazement and probably yours as well that the prospie decided on the spot that she wanted to complete an application to rent the apartment. I set her up with a blank application and made an excuse that I needed to check something on the back porch. One trip outside and some frantic stomping about later, I was down one mouse and up one renter.

Moral of the story? Before renting an apartment always take a quick look at the agent's feet, and remember that while Realtors are bound to disclose any physical defects in the property, leasing agents are not always bound by or trained in to the same code of ethics.

The Invader

It was a Thursday evening in November. Cold and rainy. I was meeting a prospective renter at a building close to Wrigley Field to show a 2nd floor vacant 1 bedroom. It was about 7pm and I'd been on the job for over 10 hours.

The apartment had been empty for several months, as the prior tenant had left it in poor condition. Our workers had cleaned it out and left it empty. Even so it had been nearly three weeks since I'd had a request to show it. The landlord had set a very high price for a small apartment, and it showed in the low demand.

The first clue should have been that the door was locked. Normally that landlord left vacant apartments unlocked so that agents could come and go easily. The second clue should have been the strong odor of cigarette smoke. Or that the bathroom light was on. All of these things could have been written off due to a worker being in there recently, though, so I pressed onwards into the showing.

When I opened the bedroom door and turned the lights on things started to get creepy. Against the wall was a sleeping bag. Next to it was a half-empty bottle of whiskey, a full pop bottle of spent cigarettes, and the DVD case for an X-rated movie. The apartment had acquired a squatter. Fortunately the prospie was more amused than frightened, so we moved on to check out the kitchen.

We had been in the kitchen for maybe four minutes when I realized that the back door was cracked slightly open. I realized that gate downstairs was auto-locking. The squatter, if he had left the apartment, was still on the grounds. In one of the more frightening moments of my life, I opened the back door long enough to hook the screen door shut, then closed and locked the back door. We left the apartment pretty much immediately after, pausing only to take photos of the debris in the bedroom and lock the front door. I felt kind of bad locking the guy out in the cold, but I also spent a few minutes after I'd left the showing sitting in my car and shaking.

It took the staff about three weeks to finally get the squatter removed from the property on a permanent basis. They had to invoke the police to cart him off to a more secure place of residence before he got the picture.

Cuddly Chaser: The Black Cat

I had a showing at a top floor apartment that was still under construction. The workers had been in there for the past week or so, ripping out the kitchen.

The project foreman informed me that the key was on top of the doorframe. I am too short to reach the top of the door frame, but my prospie was tall enough to get it for me.

It didn't work.

The workers had locked all three locksets instead of just the one that could be opened with the single key. I ran downstairs, ran around, tried the back door... nope. Called the foreman. He came over (at 9pm!) to give me the back door key. Finally got into the apartment. It was half an hour after the showing was supposed to start. My prospie was obscenely patient.

The apartment was a shambles, of course, as construction sites are wont to be. I was drenched from running around in the rain, out of breath from doing 3 flights of stairs about six times, and totally worn out as it was the end of an 8 hour string of showings without lunch. I did as thorough a tour as I could, considering it was a 500 sq ft 1 bed. Living room, living room closet, kitchen, bedroom, bedroom closet, kitten.

"Meow?" I say. "I'm hungry and scared and I've been trapped in this closet for days and did I mention that I'm hungry?" screams the small black kitten, in kitten of course.

I had run past the signs in the lobby multiple times. Lost black cat, red collar with bell, answers to Arlo. Reward offered. In front of me was a black cat, red collar with bell, not answering to anything as it was screaming its head off out of hunger and fright. With half a bar of battery left on the cell phone I asked the prospie to please hold for a few minutes more, and scrambled back downstairs to call the tenant from the sign. Voicemail. I started back up stairs and notice shoes outside the door of the tenant's apartment. I knocked.

A groggy voice answered. I reply, "It's (my name) from (my company). I found your cat. Bring a towel, he's really scared."

The very happy tenant scampered upstairs with me, collected Arlo and took him back for food. He had been missing since the weekend, so at least four days. He had entered the empty apartment when the door was unlocked, and somehow got shut in the closet. The workers wouldn't have heard him meowing over the radio and the construction noise.

By this point the prospie had checked out the bathroom on their own, asked me for an application, and we ended the showing. I had to have the him pause while I locked up so that we could restore the keys to the top of the doorframe.

So there you have it, folks. Three creepy stories, and one black cat who got very lucky indeed.

Happy Halloween!

10 Unexpected Reasons Why Tenants Get Rejected

The "Landlord's Applicant Rejection Kit" actually exists, and is published by Nolo.com.

According to Chicago's fair housing laws, a landlord cannot use a tenant's race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military discharge status or source of income as a reason to select or reject their application. They can't use any of those as a basis for showing or refusing to show them an apartment. Most tenants are aware of these laws and most landlords follow them to some extent or another. They may not know all of the specific protected classes for housing, as Chicago has more than other cities and states, but they do the best they can.

High credit scores, verifiable income of a reasonable amount and a clean prior rental record remain the holy trinity of landlords' criteria for approving a renter. They allow a landlord to make a decision on the main issues that matter without risking a fair housing lawsuit. However, in the interest of protecting their buildings and minimizing maintenance costs a landlord may use some secondary, non-protected criteria in addition to the big three. Today we're reviewing some of those surprise factors that could kill your chances of landing your dream apartment so that you can plan around them. (more…)

Chicago Real Estate Statistics: Pet-friendly apartments

Chart of rent rates based on pet policies in Chicago from 2009-2011 in the MLS.

Is it better to allow pets? The results may surprise you.

Towards the end of last year I did a some research into the things that affect rent rates in Chicago. I used the MLS for my research. Some of this info has already been shared on my Facebook page but I want to share all of it with you along with some in-depth analysis.

Today I'll be talking about the effect of a landlord's pet policy on rent rates. The chart to the left shows the rent rates obtained for apartments that allowed both dogs & cats, cats only, and no pets at all in the downtown, near north and far north areas of Chicago from 2009 to 2011. (You can click on the chart to view it full size.)

You'll notice that the rates for cat-only apartments are much lower. Read on for my thoughts about the reasons for this. (more…)

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