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The Chicagoland Apartment Association and the city of Chicago have launched a Landlord Hotline to provide residential apartment owners with the most up-to-date information on current rental laws, issues and management techniques. Chicagoland Apartment Association Executive Vice President Judith Roettig said, "We want to help owners establish positive relationships with their residents and maintain a `Best Business Practice' approach to their dealings with residents."

The nonprofit organization represents more than 300 members who are owners and managers of more than 105,000 apartment homes in the greater six-county Chicago area. The CAA's Landlord Hotline (773/227-7766) is believed to be the first such service in the nation, said Roettig. It is supported by the Chicago Department of Housing and is a companion service to the resident phone line operated by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. This is not the only hotline created in the area.

City housing officials have also established a Chicago Rents Right Hotline (312/742-RENT) to act as an information and contact clearinghouse for owners and residents. CAA, the city and other groups worked jointly to set up these call-in services. They are now training staff members from each of the city's 50 aldermanic ward offices on how to assist property owners and residents who come to them for help. "This is a collaborative effort that was launched by Mayor Richard M. Daley with the cooperation of these and other groups," said Elise M. Mann, Chicago's Assistant Commissioner of Homing.

"The goal is to provide basic information about the rights and responsibilities of being a rental property owner or a renter under Chicago's Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance," Mann said.

The relationship between resident and owner is a truly significant one for Chicago, she said. Rent is the largest expense for most residents, and owners depend on residents for vital income. Good residents and owners invest in their buildings, neighborhoods and the city.


"The Chicago Rents Right Hotline directs callers to specific organizations and agencies, such as the Chicagoland Apartment Association, Chicagoland Bilingual Landlord Association and Metropolitan Tenants Organization," said Mann.

Referral and information telephone numbers available through the Chicago Rents Right Hotline include:

* CAA Landlord Hotline, 773/227-7766.

* Chicagoland Apartment Association, 847/678-5717.

* Chicagoland Bilingual Landlord Association, 773/276-7633.

* Chicago Association of Realtors, 312/ 803-4900.

* U.S. Department of Homing and Urban Development, 312/353-6236, Ext. 2040 or Ext. 2045.

* Metropolitan Tenants Organization 773/292-4980.

The Rents Right Hotline offers information and contacts on landlord training, fair housing laws, dispute resolution, city services, rental forms/leases, emergency loans for property repairs, and a Chicago Rents Right brochure and summary of the residential landlord-tenant ordinance, among other topics.

The effort to inform property owners and renters of their rights and responsibilities was off to a good start with the city's 1986 enactment of its initial landlord-tenant ordinance, Roettig said. It marked the first time that the legal obligations of, and protections for, each group were clarified and codified. "But we found over time that a key component was missing--education," said Roettig. "The laws were on the books, but the information was not getting to the people who needed it."

The Chicago Rents Right Hotline was designed to help fill the gap. And the specific need to help property owners--especially those involved in small rental operations--led to the creation of the CAA's Landlord Hotline, Roettig said.

Getting Answers

"What we hope to do through the Landlord Hotline is help all apartment owners get non-legal help on questions and issues. This can be of particular benefit to the smaller owner, who may not be as sophisticated as the larger owner," said CAA President Stuart Handler.

According to Leona Pontone Barth, Hotline Coordinator and CAA Director of Education and Training, "most owners do not want to make mistakes, but many times are not aware of the responsibilities, ordinances or laws.

"They need this information. They need to be made aware of what is expected of them. We don't give legal advice, but can put them in contact with court liaison people or different resource agencies," Barth said.

In this way, small owners can gain access to the latest information and management skills and techniques that large property owners have access to," she said.

Roettig noted that landlord-tenant law is a complex area that owners sometimes need help to understand. "For example, there are people out there who don't realize that they are subject to the ordinance," Roettig said.

The Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance generally applies to anyone who rents housing. An exception exists for owner-occupied buildings of six units or less.

"A condominium owner who leases his home to someone might not realize that the ordinance fully applies to him and to his resident. But it does," said Mann. Rental houses and public housing are also covered. Another example, said Mann, is that the ordinance does apply to oral leases. She cited past surveys that indicated up to 70 percent of the renters in the Chicago area do not have written leases.

City law requires that even with an oral lease, owners must provide residents with a written summary of the city landlord-tenant ordinance.

Other areas of frequent confusion and conflict include rental applications, resident screening, security deposits and interest, resident deduction for repairs, and owner self-help.

"It's best for owners and for residents to approach their relationship as a business," said Roettig.

"It's difficult, sometimes, to keep it on that level because for both renter and property owner it's a matter of `The Home.' But don't let it become personal and emotional," she said.

"Owners should use a `Best Business Practice' approach. Take photographs of the premises at move-in and at move-out. Walk through the apartment with the resident and use a checklist to identify items that need repair. Write things down," said Roettig.

"Providing a resource for property owners will go a long way toward ensuring they receive dependable information about owning and managing rental property in Chicago," said Roettig.

Don DeBat does media relations for the Chicagoland Apartment Association.
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Date:Jun 1, 2001
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