See a bed bug? Snap a photo. No heat? Write down the date the radiator went off. See a mouse? Take a note. Any and all times you encounter a sub-standard living condition, it's important to have a record of it. If your case ever goes to court or you find yourself arguing with your landlord over these conditions, having notes will only help make your case stronger. And in a world where most of us have a camera in our pocket, it couldn't be easier to take a picture, send yourself an email, or write yourself a memo. Save yourself more work in the future and start documenting it now.
2. Give Written Notice
Without written notice, you have no case against your landlord under the law. Telling a judge you spoke with your landlord about your problems just isn't enough--it's got to be in writing. Under Illinois or Chicago law, tenants are required to give landlords written notice of problems with their homes, even if you know your landlord won't do anything about it. This gives landlords an opportunity to fix the problem before any legal action is sought. So even if you know it will fall on deaf ears, you've got to do it. The best way to do this is hand your landlord a written notice (and keep a copy for yourself). But you can also send it certified mail, return receipt requested, to your landlord's address (under the law, they are required to give this to you) or as a last resort email it to an email address you know your landlord uses. It also doesn't hurt to use multiple methods. If your landlord fails to fix the problem after a certain amount of time, then you can go forward legally.
I know it's the last thing you want to do, but under the law, unless your landlord isn't providing an essential service or their failure has placed you in immediate danger, you have to give your landlord time to fix the problem. Depending on the type of issue and the law that applies to your specific living situation, this could be five days, 10 days, or 14 days after you give written notice. I know it's not fun to wait 14 days knowing that mice are getting into your apartment, but unfortunately, it's the law. However, once the waiting period is over, you can proceed with legal remedies.
4. It's Never OK to Withhold All of Your Rent
As many tenants know, under Illinois and Chicago law, you can withhold rent for poor living conditions. Unfortunately, what many don't know is that you cannot withhold all of your rent. Under Chicago law, when it comes to rent withholding, a tenant can only withhold an amount that "reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises." Therefore, if you get any value out of your home, it's not reasonable to withhold all of the rent. For instance, even if you have no heat and no electricity but you still have four walls and a roof--you are getting some value from the premises and it's unreasonable to withhold all of the rent. So if you decide to withhold rent due to poor conditions, think hard and reasonably about what that amount should be. Document the reasons why you believe it's reasonable and let your landlord know you'll be withholding for those reasons.
5. Know What Law Applies to You
For those living in Chicago, it's likely that the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO or RLTO) applies to you. However, there are various exceptions to application including those buildings that are landlord-occupied and contain six units or less. If that's the case, Illinois law is where you will turn. If you live in Evanston, you have a separate ordinance. Likewise, other municipalities may have their own ordinances that apply. It's important to determine what law applies to your situation so you are aware of the waiting periods, the manner in which you must give notice and ultimately, what damages you may be entitled to under the law. So Google it, talk to other tenants, or contact an attorney and know what law protects you.
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