The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
When a landlord rents an apartment to a tenant, are there any disclosures or notices the landlord must give to the tenant, or put in the lease? I want to be sure I’m doing it right when I rent my properties.
Statewide, there are only 4 situations that require landlords to disclose anything to tenants. (Chicago landlords must do more.) Otherwise, there’s no general disclosure requirements that apply to all properties and tenants.
The first situation is for places built before 1978, federal and Illinois law require landlords to provide tenants with information about lead paint hazards. That’s satisfied with a pamphlet from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Federal law also requires landlords to disclose to tenants what they know about lead in the building, and give tenants copies of any reports of lead testing—even tests that show no lead. Landlords are not required to test for lead, however, so it’s OK for a landlord to say they don’t know of any lead in the structure.
The second situation requiring a disclosure involves radon. Landlords don’t have to test for radon, but if they do, and tests show a radon hazard, the landlord must disclose that fact to prospective tenants. But—only when renting apartments “below the third floor above ground level.”
If a tenant tests for radon and detects a hazard, the landlord must disclose that fact to current and prospective tenants. That duty to disclose continues until new tests show no hazard.
The third and fourth situations requiring disclosure both involve utilities. If a landlord wants to divide among tenants a utility bill that’s in the landlord’s name, or when a tenant’s utility bill includes usage in common areas, that fact must be disclosed to tenants in the lease.
The Tenant Utility Payment Disclosure Act applies to the “master-meter” situation. It requires that a written lease explain how the tenant’s share of the utility bill is calculated. The total of all tenant payments can’t exceed the total utility bill, and, upon the tenant’s request, the landlord must provide copies of those bills.
This law only applies when a landlord wants to bill separately from the regular monthly rent for utilities in the landlord’s name. If the utilities are in the landlord’s name, but included in the monthly rent, no disclosure’s required.
The Rental Property Utility Service Act applies when the tenant’s own utility bill includes usage outside their own unit. If, for example, hallway or exterior lights are on the tenant’s bill, or a washer or dryer, that fact must be disclosed in the lease. If it’s not, the tenant’s rent can be reduced by the full amount of the tenant’s utility bills.
Unfortunately, this last law is the only one that provides a remedy if the landlord doesn’t make the required disclosure. Otherwise, failure to disclose might be a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, or provide support for a personal injury case for lead poisoning or radon exposure.