Chicago landlords with apartments governed by the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (otherwise known as the CRLTO) are required to disclose, prior to entering into or renewing a lease with any potential tenant, the existence of any municipal code violations received during the preceding 12 months for both the dwelling unit and the common areas. This includes notifying the prospective tenant of the pendency of any code enforcement litigation or compliance board proceedings. No exceptions exist for code violations that are minor, and the landlord may not avoid the disclosure by fixing the problem before a tenant signs or renews a lease.

In addition, the landlord is required to disclose its receipt of any notice of intent by the City of Chicago or any utility provider to terminate water, gas, electrical or other utility service to the dwelling unit or the common areas. The disclosure is required to state the type of service to be terminated, the intended date of termination, and whether the termination will affect the dwelling unit, the common areas, or both. Unlike the landlord's obligations regarding code violations (which must be disclosed only as of lease signing and renewal) its obligation to disclose the potential termination of utility services continues even after lease signing or renewal.

What If a Chicago Landlord Doesn't Disclose Code Violations?

When a Chicago landlord fails to make the required disclosures, the tenant may pursue either or both of two potential remedies. It may terminate the rental agreement and/or it may recover one month’s rent plus attorneys’ fees and court costs. Before availing itself of either remedy, however, the tenant must first notify the landlord of the alleged non-compliance and specify which remedy (or remedies) it intends to seek (lease termination and/or money damages) if the non-compliance is not remedied by a specific date. The tenant may choose the date, although it may not be less than 14 days after the landlord receives the notice. If the landlord cures the omission by the date specified, the matter has been resolved. If, on the other hand, the landlord fails to cure the omission by the date specified, the tenant may avail itself of the remedy it selected. If the tenant elects to terminate the lease, however, it must relinquish possession of the apartment within 30 days after the expiration of the cure date specified in its notice, otherwise the notice is deemed withdrawn and the lease remains in effect. On the other hand, if the tenant solely desires the money damages and attorneys' fees, it need not cancel the lease and move. (Law geeks and policy wonks will be pleased to know that this issue was addressed and decided in the case of Ranjha v. BJBP Properties.)

Remember that not all Chicago landlords are subject to the provisions of the CRLTO. The most common exception applies to owner-occupied buildings of six units or less, although landlords and tenants are strongly advised to consult the ordinance to confirm its applicability before acting. They are also strongly advised to retain counsel in the event of a problem and not to rely exclusively on domu's summary of the law, because law is typically subject to reinterpretation and change. Finally, the City of Chicago administers a “Building Violations Online” webpage, which allows the public to monitor the administrative activity at any property in the city.  Anyone genuinely concerned about the safety and habitability of an apartment should start there first.