Landlord-tenant plan needs revisions

This month, the Cook County Board is considering a Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). Unfortunately, instead of protecting tenants, this measure unevenly protects problem tenants who impact the quality of life for everyone who lives in the building as well as the landlord.

Cook County commissioners should consider four principles before adopting this new law.

First, judges should have discretion to weigh the facts of the case and the relative harm caused by any alleged violation when determining an appropriate punishment and whether to award attorney's fees. In other cities where these local ordinances are common, these laws have been weaponized against smaller housing providers. It's not unusual for them to receive thousands of dollars in judgments for mere technical violations of the ordinance, such as not reporting to a tenant the statutorily-required interest on security deposits, even when the housing provider doesn't collect security deposits. Ultimately, those fees are recouped with higher rents on all residents.

Second, the ordinance should allow for the collection of late fees. Housing providers rely on timely rent payments to cover their costs: mortgages, taxes, repairs and building maintenance. If tenants are late on their rent, owners may not have the funds available to cover those costs. Building maintenance suffers and the tenants who are timely suffer.

Third, move-in fees are an important alternative to security deposits, which can be quite burdensome on tenants who live paycheck to paycheck. In fact, most residents prefer move-in fees to security deposits. Housing providers and tenants should have flexibility to negotiate the arrangement which best serves them both and helps keep the rents low for everyone else in the building.

Fourth, if the ordinance includes regulations for housing providers, it also needs regulations on tenants and options for housing providers when tenants do not meet those obligations. In order to maintain a building, residents must take responsibility for maintaining their individual unit. They need to be immediately responsive to the housing provider if there is a maintenance issue, such as a building-wide plumbing problem or bed bug infestation.

An ordinance regulating landlord-tenant relations should be balanced to reasonably protect both parties. The goal of any such measure should be a productive relationship that provides the tenant with a secure place to live and the landlord the ability to provide that home. The Cook County Board needs to take its time and be thoughtful with this process, or the long-term consequence will be fewer housing options at higher costs.

Jeff Weinberg, Drexel Properties

Board Member, Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance (NBOA)

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