Thanks to Tori Marlan and the Reader for "The Path of Lease Resistance" [March 14]. I can't say I enjoyed the article because it stirred up feelings of discouragement and disgust recently brought on by certain property owners who take the term landLORD all too literally. Still, the rights and responsibilities that underlie the landlord-tenant relationship are very important--and very easily overlooked.
Even after the inane and illegal treatment that I endured, I am resistant to the idea that tenants should assume landlords are out to get them. But I now know this: Being on amiable terms with your landlord is good; being on amiable terms and being aware of your rights and responsibilities is better; assuming you'll never have a disagreement or waiting until you do to learn the law is stupid.
That said, I would like to make it clear that I am not criticizing Amy Byrd and Shane Anderson. I am trying to send off some warning buzzers for tenants who believe, like they and I once did, that acting in good faith and having reasonable expectations means you won't get screwed. After reading about their experience and dealing with mine, I would like to offer this advice: If you've been living somewhere happily and then your building is sold, look out!
Renter, educate yourself. Get a copy of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (it's free) at the city clerk's office. Check out the Tenant-Landlord Handbook, published by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the Fund for Justice, and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. Don't be stupid.
Making an effort to protect yourself will be well worth it in case the owners of the property you rent
say they want you out of the building ASAP so they can renovate and they are willing to work out a flexible moving date, and then ignore your requests to discuss it,
drop a hand-delivered termination notice on your doorstep late at night and then leave town for two weeks without telling you who to contact in case of emergency,
phone you late at night and act alternately righteous and dismissive about ignoring your attempts to talk with them,
tell you they agree to your termination proposal one day, the next day refuse to even look at the statement formalizing it that you want them to sign, and top it all off by denying they ever agreed to your proposal,
tell you they will consider the security deposit to be the last month's rent, then claim you owe them rent and threaten you with late charges beyond the legal limit,
after refusing to agree to a mid-month moving date, later drop another improperly delivered note informing you that they expect you out by the end of the day,
enter the rental space while you are out without the legally required notice,
claim possession of the space but neglect to take responsibility for the utilities, even though it is late November and a gas shutoff may freeze the pipes and damage their property,
illegally change the locks and then start charging you for storing items supposedly left behind, even though they bought the building nine months into your lease and can't know what was in the house when you moved in,
refuse to pay you the interest on your security deposit (which, according to Section 5-12-080 (c) of the landlord-tenant ordinance, is legally due to you within 30 days of the end of each 12-month rental period) until after you move out, and then deduct charges for cleaning and repair that are unsubstantiated and thus illegal.
I'm for Byrd and Anderson, REACH, the legal aid lawyers (B and A should contact them), and anyone else who'll step out against the notion that those with more power and money should naturally prevail in any disagreement.