New law tells tenants to fix-it-yourself

By Frank Krolicki

Champaign tenants may soon find it easier to get an irritating leaky faucet or broken window fixed, thanks to the passing of a new state law that will give them more control over repairs.

The “Residential Tenant’s Right to Repair Act,” which passed on Aug. 9 and will be effective Jan. 1 of next year, will allow tenants to get repairs done themselves if a landlord fails to do so within 14 days after a repair notice is filed. The repair fees can then be taken out of the tenant’s monthly rent.

While this law has existed in Urbana since the 1970s, it was passed to include all of Illinois less than one month ago.

“Up until now, it has been very hard to get landlords to do repairs that they do not want to do,” Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union, said. “This will get to the heart of the problem in that tenants will no longer have to keep paying full rent if repair requests are ignored.”

Patt said tenants will be able to use rent money to perform any repairs required by law or a lease. The law is not meant to give tenants the opportunity to have any desired work done to put on the landlord’s tab, she said.

“There is no law that requires a tenant to have a gold-plated sink, but this will cover the basics – missing screens, inoperable toilets, plumbing leaks and things like that,” Patt said.

Alex Titlow, graduate student and Champaign tenant, said the law will make the lives of many tenants easier because they will no longer have to deal with necessary appliances and amenities being broken for long periods of time.

But Patt said there are some important restrictions to note.

For one, a tenant is allowed to deduct no more than $500 or a half of one month’s rent – whichever is less – for the repairs. In addition, the tenant must give his or her landlord 14 days notice of the repairs through certified mail.

Also, public housing – including residence halls, mobile home parks and owner-occupied buildings of six or fewer units – is exempt from the law, she said.

Miriam Booth, general manager of Bankier Apartments, said she was not aware that the law had been passed to include the entire state, but that it was a good idea.

“I think 14 days to get repairs done is ample time,” Booth said. “If a landlord is so overwhelmed that they can’t fix something in that time, they might be grateful for a tenant getting it repaired.”

Patt emphasized that it was still crucial for tenants to thoroughly review a lease before signing to make sure it includes furniture and luxury appliances, as the law only covers these items if they are included.

She said 350 to 400 students a year have gone to the Tenant Union with repair problems in the past and that she feels the number will drop as a result of a smoother renting experience through the new law.

“This is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Many tenants have found themselves without recourse, having to keep paying full rent even if landlords do not do repairs. This will change that,” Patt said.