Pets can be a landlord’s worst nightmare. Dogs and cats are often noisy and dirty, and they can wreak havoc on newly finished floors. So landlords have the right to keep animals out of their units. But this right is not absolute. If a disabled tenant needs the aid of a service animal, landlords must allow the pet inside the building, even if they have a strict no-pet policy.
Service Animals: The Landlord’s Duties
The Fair Housing Act, a federal law that governs rental activity in every state, requires landlords to offer “reasonable accommodations” to disabled tenants. So if a landlord selects a tenant who is one of more than 10,000 Americans currently using a service animal, a few key rules apply:
1. Tenants who require the aid of an animal due to a “sensory, mental, or physical condition that substantially limits a major life activity” must be allowed to live with a service animal.
2. Service animals do not need visible identification or documentation, but landlords can ask for proof that the animal is necessary. A letter from any health care professional will usually suffice.
3. Landlords cannot force disabled tenants to pay a pet deposit, but the tenant is still liable for any damage caused by the animal.
Building owners may also require that tenants keep their animals are well-behaved, but that’s a typical landlord right that extends to human tenants, too. And since most service animals are highly trained, it’s fairly rare for them to cause serious problems for landlords. Other tenants, however, are another matter.
Other Tenants’ Right to Void Their Lease
While the Fair Housing Act limits landlords’ right to keep service animals out of their buildings, other tenants do not face the same restrictions.
If a tenant moves into a building because of its no-pet policy, and a service animal moves in next door, the tenant has a right to challenge the validity of the lease. Of course, objecting to a service animal won’t win anyone a Humanitarian of the Year award, but the absence of pets can be an important factor for many tenants, especially those who suffer from allergies.
So while landlords must allow service animals to assist disabled tenants, they may also have to void the leases of tenants upset by their new neighbors.
Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance Triggers New Duties for Condos
Most condo associations keep a vigilant watch for bed bugs in their buildings, but a new Chicago ordinance looks to ensure that no pests fall through the cracks. To combat a wave of bed bug terror, the city of Chicago recently passed a law forcing condos to promptly resolve bed bug infestations, or face a $1,000 daily fine. The ordinance, which boldly labels bed bugs a “public nuisance,” also requires each condo association to draft a plan of attack for potential insect invasions.
New Bed Bug Regulations for Condo Associations
In order to comply with the new rules, nestled in Section 7-28-840 of the Chicago Municipal Code, condo associations must:
· Prepare a pest treatment plan. Every condo must draft a plan for the “detection, inspection, and treatment” of bed bugs by September 5, 2013. While this sounds awfully vague, the city health department has promised to post a sample plan on its website soon.
· Publish the plan of attack. After creating a comprehensive pest control plan, each building must also post its strategy on the city health department’s website.
· Report any bed bug incidents. If a single creepy crawler appears in the building, condos must immediately report the problem to the department of health.
· Treat the infestation. If a bed bug enters the premises, condos have a duty to hire a licensed pest control service to “totally eliminate” the problem, even if this requires multiple treatments. The most surprising requirement is the pest treatment plan, which must incorporate the “best practices” currently used in the war against bed bugs. And condo associations face a potential fine if they fail to create a suitable pest control strategy.
Condos Must Report and Record Every Bed Bug Incident
Alas, the duties don’t stop after treatment. After each bed bug incident, condo associations must also keep a written record of the treatment. These reports must remain accessible for city health inspectors to review. And if any resident of a condo reports a bed bug problem, city officials reserve the right to inspect the interior and exterior of the entire building to check for signs of the hungry critters. The ordinance certainly creates a new burden for condo associations, but if the rules help thwart the bed bug epidemic, residents will be able to sleep more soundly at night.
Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance Places Extra Burden on Landlords
Bed bugs, as far as we know, aren’t interested in politics, but they certainly created a stir this spring in the stately halls of Chicago’s City Council. After months of negotiations, the council has passed an ordinance labeling bed bugs a “public nuisance,” which spells doom for the nightmarish critters, but could also take a bite out of landlords’ wallets.
Under the new rules, Chicago landlords who fail to promptly treat and report bed bug infestations face a $1,000 fine for every day of noncompliance.
Landlords Must Treat and Report Every Bed Bug Incident
The ordinance creates several new responsibilities for local building owners. Under Section 4-4-332 of the Chicago Municipal Code, landlords must now:
· Completely eliminate the pests. Upon notification of a bed bug issue, landlords must immediately hire a licensed pest control service to “totally eliminate” the bugs, even if this requires multiple treatments.
· Report all treatment. Landlords must keep a written report of all bed bug troubles, and store receipts for every pest treatment. These records may be viewed at any time by city health officials.
· Check neighboring units. Building owners also have a duty to inspect all units next to the infested location to make sure the bugs haven’t made travel plans. The most important language of the ordinance is the new duty to “totally eliminate” any bed bug problem. This means landlords cannot rest until every last critter is killed.
Tenants Also Have a Duty to Cooperate and Report
While landlords certainly hold more responsibility than tenants, the new ordinance also enlists tenants in the fight against the tiny merchants of sleeplessness.
The rules require tenants to notify landlords of the presence of bed bugs, cooperate with treatment efforts, and dispose of personal property that has not been treated by a pest control service.
But the primary burden clearly rests on landlords, who must eliminate bed bug colonies as fast as possible or face thousands of dollars in fines.
Have a craving? We all do from time to time. Who hasn't made a late night, beer infused, trip to a bright White Castle to down some hot "sliders"? Well, now you can satisfy that craving just about anywhere. White Castle has jumped on the food truck bandwagon and announced it will soon launch "slider" food trucks in select markets.
We can't wait. Hopefully, the Pepto truck is close behind.
Recently I represented a buyer who was under contract to purchase a bank owned property ("REO" in real estate lingo). The buyer was quite pleased with what he believed was a great deal on a nice suburban Chicago condominium. All was proceeding swiftly toward an easy close when the subject property condominium association disclosed that the buyer would be on the hook for $10,000 in past due assessment charges. As you might imagine, the buyer was shocked. Particularly in light of the fact that the regular monthly assessment was only $50. The buyer's Realtor professed ignorance of the issue. The seller argued that the buyer was liable pursuant to Illinois law. Who was right? Well, as with many real estate legal issues, the answer depends on the particular facts.
Begin the analysis with the law. There is in fact an Illinois law that does under certain situation require a buyer to pay the prior owner's past due assessments and fees. Section 9(g) of the Illinois Condominium Property Act provides:
(4) The purchaser of a condominium unit at a judicial foreclosure sale, other than a mortgagee, who takes possession of a condominium unit pursuant to a court order or a purchaser who acquires title from a mortgagee shall have the duty to pay the proportionate share, if any, of the common expenses for the unit which would have become due in the absence of any assessment acceleration during the 6 months immediately preceding institution of an action to enforce the collection of assessments, and which remain unpaid by the owner during whose possession the assessments accrued. If the outstanding assessments are paid at any time during any action to enforce the collection of assessments, the purchaser shall have no obligation to pay any assessments which accrued before he or she acquired title.
A careful reading of the statute is required to determine if it in fact applies to a particular purchaser. The buyer must be buying from the bank that was the mortgagee (e.g. the foreclosing bank). If the seller is in fact a subsequent purchaser or an investor that purchased at the foreclosure sale, then the law does not apply. In my situation, our seller was indeed the mortgagee that had foreclosed and was now the owner selling the property. The next inquiry is the most critical. The law limits an association’s right to collect to those amounts that accrued “...during the 6 months immediately preceding institution of an action to enforce collection of assessments...” What does this mean? Well, the law requires that the association must have tried to collect what was due from the owner. In fact, the law goes further and requires that the association must have instituted an “action” which has been read to mean that the association must have filed a lawsuit (a joint action forcible entry and detainer or a civil collection) or a counterclaim against the owner in the foreclosure. If this was not done, the inquiry ends there and the association has no right to collect. If an action was indeed filed, that triggers the second part which requires the association to look back six months from the date the action was started. Assessments and fees which fall outside of this window are excluded and cannot be collected.
In my particular case, a close analysis of the assessment ledger revealed only $300 fell within that period and that the bulk of the money sought by the association was in fact not due.
Several lessons can be taken from this example. First, never take for fact what an association says without double checking. Most associations are quick to claim money due for six monthly assessment payments when they never did anything to try to collect. Routinely they get paid because of the ignorance of the law. Stand your ground and do your homework. Second, make sure buyers are aware of the law at the outset before going under contract. Ask whether there are indeed past due assessments claimed. Know what the issue is before going under contract and take that into account when setting a price with your buyer. Go in with “eyes wide open.” Finally, even when all else seems lost, negotiate. The seller still wants to sell and the buyer is ready to close on a deal. Use that leverage to negotiate a better deal. In my example, my buyer insisted on paying nothing (even though he was in fact liable for six monthly assessment payments of $50). When he threatened to walk away, the seller caved and agreed to pay the amounts due to the association.
I hope this example is helpful in your own dealings with this issue.
Rusty Payton is an Illinois Realtor and a licensed Illinois real estate attorney with over twenty four years experience in real estate. He may be reached at 773-800-1051.