John Roska: Retaliatory eviction and the law

John Roska: Retaliatory eviction and the law

Q: Can my landlord evict me for complaining about conditions? The landlord has ignored my requests for repairs, so I want the city to inspect for code violations. But not if that will get me evicted. Does it make any difference if I only have a month-to-month lease?

A: Landlords can't evict tenants just for complaining to outside authorities about conditions. That's a "retaliatory eviction," which is specifically prohibited by Illinois law.

But, it's an illegal retaliatory eviction only if the eviction is only about complaints to authorities. You're not necessarily protected it there are any other grounds for an eviction — like non-payment of rent.

The Retaliatory Eviction Act was passed in 1963. It's designed to protect tenants who try to do something about defective conditions, by protecting them from eviction if they complain about those conditions.

The whole law is just 2 sentences long. Sentence 1 says landlords can't evict or refuse to renew a lease "on the ground that the tenant has complained to any governmental authority of a bona fide violation of any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation."

Sentence 2 says any lease provision that tries to undo the law's protection, and allow landlords to evict for complaining to authorities, is unenforceable.

The law sounds good for tenants, but in practice rarely does them much good. That's because it prohibits a very specific kind of retaliation: for complaining to a government authority, about code violations.

So, it may be retaliation for a landlord to evict you for complaining to the press, or for stirring up oTther tenants to complain, but it's not illegal retaliation. One case specifically said it's not illegal retaliation to evict someone for circulating a petition to other tenants to protest a landlord's practice.

And, if there are other grounds to evict you, the fact the landlord is retaliating against you for going to the housing inspector won't automatically save you from eviction. If the landlord can prove you owe rent, you can be evicted even if your complaint to a governmental authority was what really got the landlord's goat.

If you're behind on the rent, then, don't think a complaint to the city will immunize you against being evicted.

The fact you only have a month-to-month lease creates a grey area. Ordinarily, either side can terminate a month-to-month lease by giving 30 days notice. (In writing, and delivered 30 days before the next rent payment is due, so there's a full rent cycle before having to move.) So landlords can usually terminate a month-to-month lease for any or no reason at all.

But, the law says it's a retaliation eviction "to terminate or refuse to renew a lease" for complaining to authorities. So, landlords may not be able to terminate, or refuse to renew, a month-to-month lease for retaliatory reasons.

If that's true, as a few cases hint, then it's unclear how long the tenant is protected against eviction, before the landlord could once again terminate the month-to-month lease without it being retaliatory.

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