Northwestern University Students Get Deposit Back
In this case, again, our clients were Northwestern University students who rented an apartment in Evanston.
They gave a total security deposit of $2,650. After a walk-through inspection of the apartment with the Landlord on the last day of their lease, June 30, 2010, the Tenants believed the Landlord didn't have a problem with the unit's condition.
A few weeks later one of the Tenants e-mailed the Landlord to inquire about the deposit return.
According to the Tenants, the first and only itemized list sent by the Landlord was an email on July 31, 2010. But the Landlords produced a print out of an email dated July 20, which was essentially identical to the July 31 email, except it listed "TBD" instead of dollar amounts for a list of damages. All Tenants denied seeing the email ever, but the trial court believed the Landlord sent the email on the 20th.
The trial court decided the landlord's July 20 email satisfied the Evanston Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (ERLTO) 5-3-5-1(C) requirement that the landlord send the tenant the written amount of deductions from the security deposit within 21 days. "TBD" meant "to be determined."
We appealed for the Tenants, and the Appellate Court reversed the trial court in an opinion excerpted to the right.
The Appellate Court's opinion also offered helpful guidance about how landlords can properly conduct themselves under the ERLTO and other security deposit laws. The Court adhered to a 25-year-old policy expressed in a case from Naperville called Mallah v. Barkauskas (2nd Dist. 1985) which requires landlords who cannot comply with accounting deadlines to return the security deposit, and later sue the tenant for property damage once the cost of repairs is fully ascertained. Keeping the deposit and not accounting for it on time, however, is not allowed.
Nadhir v. Salomon 2011 IL App (1st) 110851
[P21] * * * If we were to adopt defendants' position that they may list the dollar amount of any deduction merely as "to be determined" in the 21-day notice, the second sentence of section 5-3-5-1(C) would be completely superfluous because if the amount that must be returned to the tenant is unknown, then it is impossible to return that amount within the 21-day period. Adopting defendants' position would mean that a landlord could evade the 21-day return requirement merely by giving a tenant notice of some unspecified damages, rendering that deadline meaningless. We cannot accept an interpretation of the ERLTO that would lead to such a result.
[P22] Contrary to defendants' position, we read the plain language of the ERLTO to require a landlord, within 21 days of a tenant vacating the premises, to send written notice to a tenant of any deductions that the landlord plans to withhold from the security deposit in the form of an itemized list with specific dollar amounts. Within that same 21-day period, the landlord must also deliver to the tenant the balance of the security deposit, minus the itemized deductions.
[P23] To the extent that the trial court found and defendants now argue on appeal that a landlord is not required to list a dollar amount for each item of damages if it is reasonable under the circumstances not to, we can find no support for this proposition in the ERLTO. Section 5-3-5-1(C) mandates that a landlord "shall" provide the notice to the tenant and "shall" return the security deposit within 21 days of the end of the lease. There is no "reasonableness" exception to this requirement in the express provisions of the ERLTO, and when construing a statute we may not "read into the statute exceptions, limitations, or conditions which the legislature did not express."