Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance will make rental landscape fairer for suburban renters

For Immediate Release: January 25, 2021
Kristin Ginger, Communications Manager, Housing Action Illinois, or 312-854-3333

CHICAGO – Community-based organizations and tenant leaders are calling on Cook County Commissioners to pass the Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance (RTLO) this January, extending basic rights and protections for more than 245,000 suburban households.

The Cook County Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance (RTLO) creates safeguards against extrajudicial and illegal landlord-self-help lockouts and sets out clear guidance so a landlord knows when they can enter a unit. The law articulates which procedures a tenant can follow to remain protected if they must withhold rent until building problems are addressed; prohibits or voids lease provisions that try to waive the state’s procedure for notices of changes to the tenancy; and prevents landlords from charging ineffectual late rent payments that are outrageously high in proportion to the money owed.

“Landlords who foster good working relationships with their tenants are already doing what this requires,” said Sheila Sutton, Housing Policy Organizer at Housing Action Illinois. “They’re ensuring safe living conditions in their units, making repairs, keeping the heat on, and respecting their tenants’ dignity and safety. These are basic expectations.”

The RTLO creates the kind of standards for landlord conduct that have existed for more than 30 years in Chicago, Evanston, and Mount Prospect, which already have local tenant-landlord ordinances.

“As a Chicago resident and victim of retaliatory action by my landlord, I speak up for the suburban Cook County residents whose voices are silenced because they do not have protection from retaliation,” stated Charlotte Starks, tenant/activist. “All county residents deserve safe and habitable housing and protection against retaliation when they advocate for a safe home.”

“People often think that tenants in the suburbs don’t experience problems with their landlords like tenants in the city—but the reverse is true,” said Nareen Kim, Director of Housing Law Practice at North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic. “Tenants in Chicago have an ordinance to protect them, but in the suburbs, tenants have nothing. My office is one of the only housing legal services providers in the area, and we are inundated with calls from tenants whose landlords are denying them basic rights. We need the Cook County RTLO so that suburban tenants and landlords know what the rules are—and landlords face repercussions if they choose not to follow them.”

The Cook County RTLO will a great difference for low-income renters who already face far too many challenges to their housing stability. The majority of renter households in Cook County are low-income—64 percent, according to the 2019 State of Rental Housing in Cook County by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. The economic distress of the pandemic has only made their situations more precarious. These renters are more likely to encounter predatory landlords, and they are the ones for whom exorbitant late fees, the refusal to return a security deposit, disguising a security deposit as a “move-in fee,” or the cost of taking a landlord to court can set off or deepen a spiral of financial insecurity.

The RTLO will also be a step forward for racial equity. Our nation’s long history of structural racism continues to affect housing in our communities, and individuals who are Black, indigenous, and people of color are disproportionately impacted by a lack of regulatory floors for tenant landlord engagement.

More than 60 community organizations have endorsed the proposal, including housing advocates, social service providers, legal aid organizations, tenant rights groups, and disability rights activists. These supporters include Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Housing Action Illinois, Housing Choice Partners, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Neighbors for Affordable Housing, North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic, PASO – West Suburban Action Project, Progress Center for Independent Living, and an increasing number of allies, including renter advocates.

The community-based supporters have spent months negotiating over the terms of the legislation with groups representing property rental owners. A December vote on the RTLO was delayed to provide County Commissioners time to review amendments that came out of these conversations. The legislation that the Cook County Commission will vote on during the Zoning & Building Committee meeting on January 26 represents compromise, while still creating strong tenant protections that will bring more fairness and equity to the rental landscape in Cook County.

About Housing Action Illinois
Housing Action Illinois is a statewide coalition that has been leading the movement to protect and expand the availability of quality, affordable housing in Illinois for more than 30 years. Our 140+ member organizations include housing counseling agencies, homeless service providers, developers of affordable housing, and policymakers. We bring everyone together to work toward our vision of an Illinois where everyone has a stable, good home.