Daily Development for Monday, October 24, 2005
by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Elmer F. Pierson Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
Of Counsel: Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin
Kansas City, Missouri

LANDLORD/TENANT; RESIDENTIAL; WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY:.  Each townhouse in a complex of townhouses is a separate building for the purposes of exemption from the provisions of the Chicago Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance. 

Allen v. Lin, 826 N.E.2d 1064 (Ill. App. Ct. 2005). 

Plaintiff tenant and defendant landlords lived in townhouses owned by the landlords.  The townhouses were two units away from one another and were located under one roof.  Tenant brought action against landlords for breach of contract and violations of the City of Chicago Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance (Chicago Municipal Code § 5-12-101 et seq. (2004)) (RLTO). 

At the bench trial, the circuit court granted the defendants’ motion for directed verdict on the RLTO claims on the grounds that section 5-12-020(a) of the RLTO exempted the property in question from application of the ordinance.  The exemption applied to “owner-occupied building[s] containing six units or less.”  The trial court relied on the defendant’s testimony that the tenant’s unit and the landlords’ unit were among six units located “under one roof” to determine that these six units comprised a “building” for the purposes of the exemption.  The trial court rejected plaintiff’s argument that townhouses should be considered separate buildings just as if they were single-family homes, even if they are under one roof. 

The appellate court, however,  reversed the trial court’s decision as to the application of RLTO and remanded for further proceedings.  Relying on a principle elucidated in Meyer v. Cohen, 632 N.E.2d 22 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993), the only case in Illinois to have interpreted the “owner-occupied” exclusion of RLTO, the appellate court stated that section 5-12-020(a) must be interpreted in a way that is logical, that gives effect to the legislative intent and that protects public interests.  The court then looked to the stated purpose of RLTO “to establish the rights and obligations of the landlord and the tenant in the rental of dwelling units,” and to Sandstrom v. De Silva, 645 N.E.2d 345 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994), where the court held that each townhouse in a group of townhouses constituted a separate building for the purposes of Chicago Municipal Code section 13-4-010.  In light of these considerations, the court found that each townhouse constitutes a separate building for the purp!

 oses o
f the RLTO.

Comment: Although the opinion does not say so, presumably, by its reading,  the Act also would not apply if there were six units in a row of townhouses and the entire complex was owned by a resident landlord.  The concurrence states that it was the legislative intent to establish a different rule where the landlord resided in the same building as the tenant.  Why should this be different if the units are apartments or townhomes? 

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