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Heat & Other Essential Services – FAQ

last updated on November 2, 2009 – 1:55 pmno comments

photo credit: midnightcomm on flickr

photo credit: midnightcomm on flickr

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

What are essential services?
Heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas,and plumbing.

Who is responsible for paying for these services?
That depends upon the terms of your lease agreement.

What if I’m responsible for the cost of heating my apartment?
Your landlord must give you a written statement setting forth the projected average monthly cost of heating your unit. (Your landlord must do this even if your tenancy is not governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance).

What if I get a shut-off notice because my landlord didn’t pay a utility bill?
After giving your landlord written notice of this problem, you can

  • pay the utility company to keep the service on, and
  • deduct from your rent the amount you pay the utility company.

What is the first thing I should do if an essential service that my landlord is supposed to supply is shut off?
You must first give your landlord notice of this problem. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. After providing such notice, you have several options. These options are set forth in the answers to the next five written questions.

Can I pay the utility company to restore the service?
Yes, and you can deduct this payment from your rent. Make sure you get a receipt from the utility company so you can prove how much you paid.

Can I buy something (such as a space heater) that can supply the essential service?
Yes, and you can deduct from your rent the cost of what you’ve bought. Make sure you get a receipt for your purchase so you can prove how much you paid for it.

Can I sue my landlord?
Yes, but contact an attorney first. He/she can help you sue your landlord for an amount that reflects the reduced value of your apartment plus attorney’s fees.

Can I move out of my apartment and stay in a motel until the essential service is restored?
Yes, and you do not have to pay rent for the period you’re in the motel or other temporary housing. Furthermore, you may deduct from your future rent payments the cost of this temporary housing (as long as it does not exceed your monthly rent).

If my landlord doesn’t restore the essential service, can I terminate my lease?
Yes, but only if your landlord doesn’t restore the service within 72 hours of receiving your written notice. If that happens, you can send your landlord another written notice stating that you are terminating the lease agreement. NOTE: You may not terminate your lease agreement for lack of an essential service if the utility company is unable to provide the service). If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, your lease will remain in effect.

What if a member of my family, a guest, or myself are responsible for the lack of service?
In that case, you may not use any of the remedies set forth above.

Am I entitled to notice if the building’s utilities are going to be disconnected?
Yes. Your landlord must provide you with written notice of any proposed shut-off. This notice must:

  • Identify the service that will be terminated;
  • State the intended date of termination; and
  • State whether the proposed termination will affect your apartment.

What if my landlord fails to provide me with this notice?
You can notify him/her, in writing, that you will terminate the lease agreement in no less than 14 days if he/she does not provide you with the required information. If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, your lease will remain in effect.

How warm should my apartment be?
The Chicago Municipal Code states that, from September 15 of each year to June 1 of the following year, the temperature in your apartment must be at least:

  • 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • 66 degrees for all other times.

This is true even if your tenancy is not governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.

What if my apartment is too cold?
Record the temperature in your apartment three times a day for a week. If these recordings show that your apartment is too cold, send your landlord a letter stating that he/she is violating the Chicago Municipal Code and must increase the temperature in your apartment. If he/she doesn’t comply with this demand, call the City’s Heat Hotline at 312/744-5000.

What if my landlord shuts off my utility service in an attempt to force me out of the apartment?
Call the police and an attorney. (For more information, see the pamphlet entitled “Lock-outs and Retaliation”).

Please Note: This information, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicagoís Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

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