Moving out can be an exciting time for DePaul’s dorm-residing population. For many, it marks the last time residing within a supervised environment, as the future may hold the notion of living independently off-campus for the first time.
However, the truth of the matter is that independent living can bring its own set of challenges. Those residing off-campus must be aware of how people within the housing markets can take advantage of them.
“Knowledge of one’s rights is often the best initial line of defense against violation of one’s (renter’s) rights,” Julie Lawton, a DePaul law professor, said.
Rental homes come in all shapes, sizes and states of disrepair. Same goes with landlords, some of whom may operate in an unscrupulous manner.
“If students research prospective landlords and try to only rent from those with positive reviews, that can help avoid challenges down the road,” Lawton said.
The possibility of such challenges, however, can never be ruled out. Should a landlord violation occur, students should always first notify their landlord via a written note about the problem. Oftentimes, notice of violation and knowledge that legal action is possible is enough to make landlords cave in.
If that does not work, tenants can put forth their violation legally. Building code violations — such as disrepair, or discontinuation of utilities — should be addressed through proper city authorities pertaining to housing quality or safety. Violations of leases, which often pertain to financial violations, can be brought up in small claims “pro-se” courts, where tenants represent their own case. Lawton also points out that “there are a number of hotlines that students can call (for) a quick answer to whether their concern is legally defensible.”
Most importantly, The Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) delineates the rights that most renters are entitled to within the city, of which all renters should remain aware.
Freedom from unreasonable landlord access
Landlords are not allowed to enter your home unless they have given you notice two days in advance, and in most cases must do so between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The only exception to consensual access involves cases of emergency or certain repair situations that require unexpected access to the renter’s unit.
Reasonable maintenance of the home
Landlords are required to keep a housing unit in agreeance with safety laws, which can be violated through conditions such as flooding, rats and pests, faulty electrical circuitry, fire damage or poorly maintained locks. If a tenant notifies a landlord of a maintenance violation that is not rectified within 14 days, the renter has the option to fix the problem themselves and deduct the repair cost from rent, have the rent cost deducted to reflect poor housing value and quality or, in some cases, terminate the lease. Such penalties against the landlord are not allowed, however, if the maintenance damage is blatantly caused by the tenant.
Avoidance of security deposit abuse
If a tenant rents a home for more than 12 months, they are entitled to receive interest on their security deposit. Furthermore, a landlord can only deduct portions of the security deposit needed to cover unpaid rent or maintenance damage caused by the tenant, who must receive a written list of reasons that deposits were deducted. Security deposits also have to be returned within 45 days of the end of a rental.
Avoidance of home lockout
If a landlord physically locks out a tenant or intentionally cuts off utilities such as heat or water, the tenant is allowed to bring police action against the landlord. Additionally, landlords can be fined $200-$500 each day that this continues.
Fair sublease policies
Landlords must give a tenant the ability to sublease a unit without additional charge or penalty. Furthermore, if a tenant leaves their unit without finding a subleaser, the landlord must attempt to sublease the unit for them, with the tenant only paying the difference between the new renter’s rate and his or her own. For instance, if a leaving tenant paid $600 per month and left the house, with the landlord only being able to find a new renter willing to pay $400 per month, the first tenant will pay $200 per month for the remainder of their rental.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of The DePaulia’s 2015 Apartment Guide. To view more articles from this special section, click here.