As this blog has previously discussed on numerous occasions, each state in America, and many of the larger cities, have adopted laws designed to protect the rights of tenants to in the rental of residential property. Chicago has embodied such protections in the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”).
Under the RLTO, landlords are required to maintain security deposits in an account separate from that in which a tenant’s rent money is kept. The landlord is also obligated to pay the tenant any interest accrued on the security deposit annually. After a tenant vacates a property, the landlord is required to return his security deposit within forty five days, minus deductions for damage to the property, unpaid rent or outstanding utility bills. If the landlord withholds all or part of the security deposit, he send a written statement of the itemized damages within thirty days to the last known forwarding address of the tenant.
Recently, Judge Joyce Marie Murphy Gorman of the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled that a landlord’s failure to return a refundable pet security deposit, along with interest, constituted a violation of the RLTO’s security deposit provisions. The Judge further held that the landlord’s misconduct expose him to damages equal to twice the security deposit amount, court costs, and reasonable attorneys fees.
The tenant sued under the RLTO, claiming that her landlord had failed to return a $500 pet security deposit. The landlord claimed that he had forgot to return the deposit. Following trial, the Judge ruled in favor of the tenant, issuing a judgment against the landlord in the amount of $4,500.00 ($500.00 for the pet security deposit and $4,000 in damages representing two times her initial $2,000 total deposit).
The Judge based her decision on RLTO Section 5-12-080(f)(1), which provides in relevant part:
Subject to subsection (f)(2), if the landlord fails to comply with any provision of Section 5-12-080(a) – (e), the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two (2) times the security deposit plus interest at a rate determined in accordance with Section 5-12-081.
Under Illinois state law, the landlord must have willfully violated the law to recover the double security deposit damages. As demonstrated by this case, the RLTO has no such requirement and any violation can trigger the increased penalty provisions.
Tenants who find themselves in a situation where their landlord has failed to return their security deposit should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. A tenant that believes his or her landlord has violated the provisions of the RLTO must file a lawsuit within the two year statute of limitations that has been placed on such actions or risk being barred from any recovery at all.
If you have questions regarding the rights and obligations you have as a tenant 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.