Insecure in Your Own Home What It Means To Rent in Illinois - Findings and Recommendations from the Illinois Renters Survey

January 2006

The goal of the Illinois Renters Survey was to understand the experience of renters in Illinois in order to determine how best to improve the landlord-tenant relationship and, ultimately, the quality of life for Illinois renters.

Three-hundred and ninety-six Illinois residents from across the state responded to the survey. The typical respondent lived in an unsubsidized property that was not owner-occupied. They had a family size between two and three and made $10,000 per year or less. Over 80% of tenants paid their landlord a security deposit for their rental unit.

The survey asked individuals whether they had ever experienced specific situations during their time as a renter. The experiences reported in the survey show that a lack of education, resources and basic consumer protections have forced an untenable number of families to live in unstable, unsafe housing.

A majority (57%) had security deposit problems, ranging from being unable to afford the deposit to not being able to get it returned. One-third of all respondents lived in poor housing conditions because the landlord either refused or neglected to do basic repairs. One in four households had a landlord enter their unit without their permission. One in six experienced a retaliatory action, either in the form of an eviction or an increase in rent.

Most notably, one in eleven households had a landlord threaten to shut off the utilities to the property and one in twelve had a landlord actually lock-out – illegally evict – the respondent from their apartment.

Outside the City of Chicago the rate of these egregious activities is almost doubled. Those that made $10,000 or less and lived outside of Chicago had a much higher rate of both of these experiences, with one in seven being locked-out and close to one in six threatened with a utility shut off.In addition, a high percentage of respondents did not know the rights and responsibilities of tenants (37%) and landlords (42%).

Based on these findings, we make the following recommendations for Illinois:
1) Adopt a comprehensive Residential Landlord-Tenant Act;
2) Expand protections against retaliatory evictions;
3) Adopt and enforce a statewide property maintenance code;
4) Expand education on the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants
5) Increase resources for alternative dispute resolution and legal representation; and
6) Expand the amount of safe, decent and affordable housing available.

The Illinois Renters Survey is a project of Housing Action Illinois, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law as part of the Tenants’ Rights Working Group. The Tenants’ Rights Working Group is a collection of individuals and organizations concerned about Illinois tenants that works to improve the landlord-tenant relationship.