An Unusual Lease

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Rental leases can take many forms, from a contract spanning hundreds of pages to a simple text message conversation. LCBH has encountered any number of ways a landlord and a tenant have chosen to do business. One recent example involved Charles, who resided in a single-unit home that was owned by his uncle James. In 2012, James invited his nephew Charles to live with him and assist with renovating the home. Concerned by his own ill health and mindful that his nephew was also facing major spinal surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation, James drafted a handwritten document purporting to be a codicil (amendment) to his will. The document provided for Charles to reside in the home for a five-year period commencing after James’ death, so long as he maintained the property.

Charles performed various renovations until his uncle passed away in 2013. After his uncle’s death, a development company acquired the property and sought to evict Charles. The new owners were unwilling to honor James’ promise to let Charles stay and instead served him with an immediate demand for possession. They were also unwilling to consider letting Charles remain as a tenant, calling him a trespasser and threatening to oust him by changing the locks and shutting off the utilities. On multiple occasions they sent Charles harsh notices advising him to leave because of the imminent demolition of the home.

Though it did not comply with Illinois’ strict legal formalities for handwritten codicils to a will, James’ handwritten document did meet the requirements for a lease. At trial, the LCBH legal team was able to prove that the handwritten document was an authentic lease and the court found that the new owners could not evict Charles unless he breached his lease by failing to maintain the home. The new owner then agreed to pay $6,000 compensation to Charles to buy him out of his lease. This outcome allowed Charles to move with dignity and find a suitable new home on his own terms.