suburban renters in suburban Cook County have new rights and protections
Cook County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass the Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance (RTLO) in January 2021.
All provisions take effect on June 1, 2021.
The RTLO creates the kind of basic floors for landlord conduct that have existed for more than 30 years in Chicago, Evanston, and Mount Prospect. Landlords who foster good working relationships with their tenants are already doing what it requires, such as offering fair lease terms, ensuring safe living conditions, and respecting tenants’ dignity and privacy.
The ordinance passed with a series of amendments and revisions. See the history of the legislation and proposed changes here and view the final ordinance here.
Expanding access to affordable rental homes and protecting renter rights is one of Housing Action’s key priorities. Learn more about our work on rental affordability in Illinois here.
About the Cook County RTLO
What the Ordinance Does
- Creates safeguards against illegal lockouts and guidance on when a landlord can enter a unit
- Prevents landlords from charging really high late rent fees, excessive security deposits, and certain non-refundable “move-in” fees
- Establishes requirements for regular and emergency repairs and procedures for withholding rent until problems are addressed
- Protects against unfair lease terms
Why It's Critical
The ordinance will make a key difference for low-income renters who already face far too many challenges to their housing stability. The majority of renter households in Cook County—64 percent—are low-income. The economic distress of the pandemic has only made their situations more precarious. These renters are most 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.
Know Your Rights: Renter Resources
Download in Spanish »
Want to know more about your rights under the RTLO?
Are you being illegally locked out?
What is a lockout?
Your landlord cannot:
- Change, remove, or add locks
- Remove or block doors or windows
- Cut off utility services like electricity, gas, heat, and water
- Remove your appliances and fixtures
- Remove your personal property
Threats and violence against you or your property are also not allowed.
What can you do if you are locked out?
- You can call your local police department or 911. Make sure you have your landlord’s name and phone number and show proof you live there (lease, rent receipts, ID, bills).
- Call your local Building Department or township.
- Call an attorney or housing advocate.
Your legal rights
You can sue your landlord to get into your unit and get two months’ rent.
One pager on lockout protections:
Online step-by-step lockout letter creator for renters
Downloadable, editable sample lockout letter for renters
Video on RTLO Lockout Rights
Speaking Up for Renter Rights
Sharon Norwood at her home in Evergreen Park on Dec. 6, 2020. (Youngrae Kim/Chicago Tribune)
Evergreen Park renter Sharon Norwood has experienced nightmarish apartment conditions herself and backs the potential ordinance because her repeated complaints about lack of air conditioning and heating circulation, mold, and plumbing issues went ignored. At one point, she draped large quilts over her doors to keep warm during the winter.
“It was a nightmare for me to be there,” Norwood said. “When you are a renter, you feel like you have no voice out here.”
Read Chicago Tribune article featuring Sharon Norwood, renter advocate with Housing Choice Partners »
“This much-needed legislation lays out common-sense rules of engagement and creates a fair and level playing field for landlords and their tenants in suburban Cook County. In the absence of this Ordinance, renters are left with no recourse when moving is not financially feasible, and landlords don’t have options when maleficence occurs…We can, and should, do better for the residents of Cook County.”
“Structural racism exists in every aspect of our society. That of course includes housing. What’s clear is that Black families in particular are susceptible to the handful of landlords that would seek to take advantage of the residents of Cook County.”
“With tenants and landlords working together, we would have less evictions, and this ordinance would give us that help.”
“Let me be clear: No renter in Cook County should face housing insecurity, arbitrary costs, or undue fear because they lack fair protections. For decades, Chicago, Evanston, and Mount Prospect have barred landlord retaliation and illegal lockouts with common sense landlord-tenant laws. Now more than ever, we must ensure Cook County renters have the same rights.”
“When I was renting in the suburb of Maywood, the owner hid so as to not give back my deposit…[another] apartment didn’t have heat. And another thing that the landlady did, every time I went out—I found her several times inside my home…Renting, I’ve had many experiences good and bad, but most have been bad, because as a Spanish-speaking person, we don’t know our rights. How are we going to defend ourselves against people like this who mistreat someone, and more because of speaking Spanish?”
Thank Your Commissioner
We are excited to say that every single commissioner supported the RTLO, which passed 16-0 in a bipartisan, unanimous vote on January 26, 2021.
Chief Sponsor Commissioners Scott Britton and Kevin Morrison were critical to the ordinance’s success, and we are particularly grateful to the two of them for their leadership. We are also thankful for the support of co-sponsoring Commissioners Anaya, Deer, Johnson, Lowry, Sims, and Suffredin.
About Our Initiative
Housing Action Illinois, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Housing Choice Partners, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Neighbors for Affordable Housing, North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic, PASO – West Suburban Action Project, and Progress Center for Independent Living partnered to pass the RTLO, along with an increasing number of allies, including renter advocates.
More than 60 community organizations endorsed the RTLO, including housing advocates, social service providers, legal aid organizations, tenant rights groups, and disability rights activists:
A Safe Haven Foundation
Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago
Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County
Autonomous Tenants Union
BEDS Plus Care Inc.
Beyond Legal Aid
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council
Center for Changing Lives
Center for Disability & Elder Law
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos
Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance (CAFHA)
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Chicago Urban League
Chicago Volunteer Legal Services
Christian Community Health Center
Citizens in Action Serving All (CASA) Blue Island
Connections for the Homeless
Connections of Illinois, Inc
Dina & Eli Field Ezra Multi-Service Center
Enterprise Community Partners
First Lutheran Church of the Trinity
Greater Chicago Legal Clinic
Habitat for Humanity Chicago
Health & Medicine Policy Research Group
Housing Action Illinois
Housing Choice Partners
Illinois Legal Aid Online
Impact Behavioral Health Partners
Jane Addams Senior Caucus
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, Connections for the Homeless
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
La Casa Norte
Latino Policy Forum
Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing
Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services
Legal Council for Health Justice
Manufactured Home Owners Association of Illinois
Metropolitan Planning Council
Metropolitan Tenants Organization
Moran Center for Youth Advocacy
Neighbors for Affordable Housing
North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic
Northside Action for Justice
Northwest Side CDC
Northwest Side Housing Center
PASO – West Suburban Action Project
Progress Center for Independent Living
Shriver Center on Poverty Law
South Siders for Peace
South Suburban Housing Center
South Suburban PADS
St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square
Supportive Housing Providers Association
UNETE La Villita
Uptown People’s Law Center
Working Family Solidarity
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