Cook County Enacts New Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance
By Taylor H Wachal
On January 28, 2021, the Cook County Board commissioners approved a suburban residential landlord-tenant ordinance (the “Cook County Ordinance”). It will create regulations throughout the entire county, except for municipalities of Chicago, Mount Prospect, and Evanston, which already have their own regulations in place. In many ways, the Cook County Ordinance mirror’s Chicago’s ordinance. Suburban landlords will now have another level of due diligence to consider, prior to renting out their properties.
However, the following types of properties are exempt from the Cook County Ordinance:
- Owner-occupied buildings with six units or less; and
- Single-family homes, or single condominium units, that are not owned or managed by a company, where the owner or owner’s family member has resided in the property within the last twelve months.
The Cook County Ordinance took effect June 1, 2021. Below are some of the key points of the new ordinance.
The provision of the Cook County Ordinance that prohibits landlords from locking out tenants without the proper eviction process (illegal eviction) went into effect immediately. This is the only immediately applicable regulation. If the landlord illegally locks out the tenant, the tenant may file suit to get back into the unit plus for his or her attorneys’ fees and damages (two months’ rent or twice the actual damages, whichever is greater).
Landlords are prevented from charging late fees greater than $10 per month for the first $1,000 in rent, plus 5 percent per month for any amount of rent over $1,000. For example, if a monthly rental amount of $1,500 is late, the highest fee a landlord may charge is $35.
Security deposits may be no more than 1.5 times the monthly rent. Any amount in excess of the value of one month’s rent, at the election of the tenant, shall be paid either simultaneously with the initial security deposit, or in no more than six installments within six months after the effective date of the applicable lease. Security deposit payments cannot be disguised or utilized as anything other than a security deposit (i.e., move-in fee, pet fee, etc.).
Also, security deposits shall be held in an account of a financial institution located in the State of Illinois. Those funds remain an asset of the tenant and may not be commingled with assets of the landlord. The funds must be deposited into a separate account that complies with the Cook County Ordinance. The deposit must be returned to the tenant within thirty days of moving out. If the landlord retains any portion of the deposit, a detailed explanation of the costs to support that retention must be provided to the tenant within thirty days.
Move-in fees are permitted, but an itemization including a reasonable estimate of the landlord’s cost for moving the tenant into the unit, must be provided as support for the fee.
The landlord must notify the tenant in writing of his or her intent to not renew the existing rental agreement at least sixty days prior to the termination date of the applicable lease. If the landlord fails to give required written notice, the tenant may remain living in the property for up to 120 days after the date on which the notice should have been given. During that time, the terms and conditions of the lease stay the same. Further, no tenant may be required to renew a lease more than 60 days prior to the termination date of the applicable lease. If the landlord violates this regulation and requires further notice, the tenant may recover one month’s rent or actual damages, whichever is greater. Landlord’s Access to Property A landlord must give two days’ notice to the tenant if the landlord intends to access the property. The landlord may only enter the property between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., unless emergency access was necessary. If the landlord unlawfully enters the property, the tenant may file suit and recover one month’s rent or twice the actual damages, whichever is greater, plus attorneys’ fees.
There are various provisions of the Cook County Ordinance that provide for the recovery of attorneys’ fees by both the tenant and landlord. However, the Cook County Ordinance prohibits leases from including a provision that generally states that the tenant will pay for the landlord’s attorneys’ fees in an eviction lawsuit. Attorneys’ fees are only recoverable if provided by court rules or statute. Further, the Cook County Ordinance provides for statutory damages of two months’ rent or recovery of actual damages, if a lease contains a provision of this nature.
Landlords will be given timelines to address defects of their properties and will be subject to lease terminations or loss in, should they miss the deadlines. For example, minor problems (i.e., repairs that don’t cost more than $500 or half a month’s rent, whichever is greater) must be fixed within fourteen days upon written notification from the tenant, or the renter can fix it themselves and deduct the cost from their rent. If the landlord fails to repair the defect within 14 days after notice, the tenant may deduct rent in an amount that reasonably reflects the reduction in rental value caused by said defect. The tenant may also file a lawsuit for an injunction plus any damages the defect has caused them.
The above points are what we deem to be the most pertinent changes to for Cook County landlords. For further guidance on all of the new regulations under the Cook County Ordinance, it is best to review the full text.