Last month, this blog discussed many of the defenses to eviction actions of which tenants should be aware to protect their legal rights in the rented property. One such defense which was not discussed was that of retaliatory eviction, essentially arguing that the landlord brought the eviction in response to some action by the tenant that was offensive to the landlord.
Illinois’s Retaliatory Eviction Act (“REA”), codified at 765 ILCS 720, et seq. and reflected by a similar provision in Chicago’s Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”) at § 5-12-150, states in relevant part that it is against the “public policy of the State for a landlord to terminate or refuse to renew a lease or tenancy of property used as a residence on the ground that the tenant has complained to any governmental authority of a bona fide violation of any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation.”
Essentially the REA prohibits a landlord from evicting a tenant for engaging in certain in “protected conduct.” In order to establish a retaliatory eviction defense, the tenant must demonstrate: (1) he complained in good faith to a governmental authority regarding a building or health code violation; (2) the landlord had knowledge of the tenant’s complaint; and (3) the landlord terminates the tenancy or refuses to renew the tenant’s lease.
The RLTO provisions take the retaliatory eviction defense a step further, defining seven categories of protected conduct, including:
Complaining of code violations to a governmental agency or public official.
Complaining of building, housing, health or similar code violation or other illegal landlord activity to a community organization or the media.
Seeking the assistance of a community organization or media to remedy a code violation or illegal landlord activity.
Requesting the landlord make certain repairs to the premises.
Joining a tenant’s union or similar organization.
Testifying in court concerning the condition of the premises.
Exercising any other legal rights.
In addition to enumerating these types of protected conduct, the RLTO creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if landlord initiates an eviction action within a year of a tenant complaining to a government agency.
Retaliatory eviction is a seldom utilized defense to evictions for several reasons. First, unless the tenant can avail himself of the presumption established under the RLTO, it can difficult to prove that a landlord’s action in evicting the tenant was, in fact, retaliatory. Indeed, a landlord could retaliate against a tenant and later claim a legitimate reason for the eviction such as non-payment of rent or noise complaints. Further, if a tenant is unsuccessful in proving his retaliatory eviction defense, he could be held liable for the landlord’s attorneys fees, adding to the already high costs of moving.
If you have questions regarding the eviction process, defenses to an eviction action, or believe you have been the victim of the unfair practices of a landlord, contact the experienced real estate attorneys at The Slater Firm, Ltd. today.