Invoices are not Paid Receipts
In this case the Tenant had amounts withheld from her security deposit for alleged damage to a wall, and also for the Landlord's cost of mailing the partial security deposit refund back by certified mail.
The Tenant claimed that a dent in the wall had already been there when she moved in. The Landlord said the dent was due to the Tenant. As the Tenant waited for her security deposit return, she called the Landlord until the Landlord hung up the phone on the Tenant.
We ultimately took this case to trial for the Tenant because no settlement offer was ever made. The Tenant won, in part, based on our theory that the copies of invoices sent by the Landlord were not the same as the "copies of paid receipts" required under RLTO section 5-12-080(d).
The Landlord appealed on more than five different issues. The Appellate Court agreed that a copy of an invoice, even accompanied by a copy of the check the Landlord wrote to pay the invoice, is not a copy of a paid receipt.
One interesting issue raised by the Appellate Court on its own during the briefing was equitable estoppel. The Court asked us to file supplemental briefs about whether the Tenant should be equitably estopped from suing her Landlord about the $220 deduction from her security deposit when the Tenant had cashed a partial refund check from the Landlord before suing.
We argued that the Landlord was in as good a position as the Tenant, if not better, to know what their own obligations were under the RLTO, and that the Tenant's cashing of the check could not be blamed for the Landlord's failure to comply.
The Appellate Court held that:
"under the well-established principle that '[a] party claiming the benefit of an estoppel cannot shut his eyes to obvious facts, or neglect to seek information that is easily accessible, and then charge his ignorance to others”, [Landlords'] estoppel claim must fail."
Boyer v. Buol, 2014 IL App (1st) 132780
¶ 45 Section 5-12-080(d) of the Ordinance provides that, where a landlord deducts money from a tenant’s security deposit to pay for repairs,
“the landlord shall deliver or mail to the last known address of the tenant within 30 days an itemized statement of the damages allegedly caused to the premises and the estimated or actual cost for repairing or replacing each item on that statement, attaching copies of the paid receipts for the repair or replacement. If estimated cost is given, the landlord shall furnish the tenant with copies of paid receipts *** within 30 days from the date the statement showing estimated cost was furnished to the tenant.”
(Emphasis added.) Chicago Municipal Code § 5-12-080(d) (amended July 28, 2010).
In the present case, as has been discussed earlier, defendants mailed plaintiff her security deposit check on July 5, 2012. Included alongside the check was a one-page “Proposal” which stated that Bolek & Lolek would perform the necessary repairs for $220. On the bottom of the page was a photocopy of an unnegotiated check for $220, from the account of Buol Properties, LLC, signed by Ms. Buol and made out to Bolek & Lolek. The check was dated July 3, 2012, and the memo line of the check contains the address of the subject premises. Plaintiff argues that this photocopied check is insufficient to constitute a paid receipt. We agree.
¶ 46 We note initially that the Ordinance does not define the term “receipt,” nor do the parties cite any law as to its meaning. However, Black’s Law Dictionary defines a receipt as “[a] written acknowledgment that something has been received.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1382 (9th ed. 2009); see also Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 714 (7th ed. 1969) (defining a “receipt” as “a writing acknowledging the receiving of goods or money”). Thus, in order to qualify as a receipt, the documentation provided by defendants would have to show that the $220 in question was actually received by Bolek & Lolek. This requirement is not satisfied by a photocopy of a check that has not been negotiated by its payee. As plaintiff
points out in her brief, a photocopy of an unnegotiated check can easily be produced without the check being given to anyone, just like a picture of cash.
¶ 47 Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s finding that defendants failed to furnish plaintiff with copies of paid receipts for the work done to her former apartment, in violation of section 5-12-080(d) of the Ordinance.