Legal Question in Landlord & Tenant Law in Illinois

I moved into this apartment in Chicago, IL in June. I have a crazy hippy landlord that lives underneath me. On my lease it specifies that the backyard, garden lot (we have an entire Chicago lot as a garden attached) and the laundry facilities are all conditions of our rental agreement so essentially, from what I gather, that means that part of what I'm paying for are those amenities. I have a dog who is normally very well behaved but the first week we moved in my dog upended a bunch of crap underneath the deck. Why? My landlord, unbeknownst to us, was/is feeding and housing an opossum.

We discussed the dog at length before I moved in and she never once mentioned the opossum. She expressed incredulity at the idea that the dog was going after it, asking me "do you think he would do that?" You see what I'm dealing with here.

Clearly my dog was trying to hunt and kill the vermin. He didn't hurt any of her possessions, everything was cleaned up fine but when I went downstairs (she requested I come down to see what he'd done) I saw an opossum laying inside a tupperware container that had a large hole cut into it to accommodate the opossum. I have TONS of written correspondence in which she admits to feeding and harboring it. I requested back then that she remove the opossum habitat and she was horrified and went on a campaign to educate me about the harmlessness of the opossums. Regardless of how harmless it is, the opossum/s torment my dog because his main concern when he goes outside is to hunt them.

This is a huge inconvenience to me and to my dog. He forgoes 'doing his business' to chase the damn thing and I end up letting him out several more times a day because I don't know when he legitimately has to go out and when he senses the vermin. I told her explicitly that I was renting this apartment because a fenced in yard meant that I could care for my dog easier in regards to my schedule and for his happiness and health. She assured me this would be the perfect place for that which it has proven the opposite of because of the opossum and my second gripe: the woodpile.

We have a mulberry tree. A disgusting thing that produces thousands upon thousands of messy mulberries. They littered the backyard and my back entrance steps. They produced a rotting smell and occasionally she would go out there and sweep them up into piles but then leave the piles rotting there for days upon days which is not to speak of all the mulberries still rotting where there was no concrete to accommodate a broom. The mulberries attracted a SWARM of flies. I literally couldn't go out into the backyard without gagging and being surrounded by flies. Sometime in early July, I slipped down my back steps on all the mulberries. I hurt my arm and my leg. She finally acquiesced and trimmed back the tree from the part that hung over the stairs (and the part that hung over the neighbors fence which she was totally unconcerned about but the maintenance men did it when the neighbor begged them to)but left the rest of it up. The smell and the flies continued. Now that it's August they're mostly decomposed but we have a legacy. The woodpile.

After the tree was trimmed back, a GIANT pile of sticks, brances, leaves and rotting berries were left in the yard. Rats and possibly the opossum took up residence in it. When I rented the apartment there was a nice patch of grass (the only really nice patch of yard, the rest is mostly uncared for) where the wood pile now sits. Recently, after much prodding and fighting, she got rid of a significant amount of it but now retains a 5x5x5 pile of wood, scattered pieces of it around the general area and there is also wood in a stacked in a closed plastic bin (which I have no issue with). This excessive collection she claims as 'firewood' but all it's doing is attracting rats and other vermin. It's also tormenting my dog. She says the woodpile is none of my business. I say that it falls under the category of "rubbish, debris,[and] garbage" that the Chicago Housing code says she is responsible for keeping all living areas clear of.

She is now trying to lie to me and tell me that she rescues cats and the enclosures underneath the stairs are for cats even though I stood next to her and watched the opossum living inside of it. She once said that they were "just like pets" to her and I've got it all in writing. I have all the various incarnations of the wood pile and the opossum enclosure in pictures and video. I am at my wits end. She won't finish removing the woodpile and she won't remove the opossum enclosure. Is this a breach of contract? What the hell can I do to fight this crazy hippy? I was told animal control would be willing to come out to talk to her but in Chicago it takes forever to get anything done. Any advice? Anyone?

Thanks in advance (&for;reading this rather long winded question)

-Desperate in Chicago

Asked on 8/13/13, 9:46 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

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If you live in a 2-flat and the landlord/owner lives there too, the Chicago Residential Landlord & Tenant Ordinance does NOT apply and you are stuck with whatever your lease says, and Illinois State law, plus OTHER local laws applicable to your situation.

As far as the law goes, your lease will control, but most give you as a tenant the right to the "non-exlusive use, in common with other tenants and the landlord", to the "common areas" which essentially consist of any areas outside the actual rental units on the property, subject to the terms of the lease and rights and restrictions on such use. The problem in part, is that the landlord is asserting superior rights by keeping an animal that is the natural prey of various domestic dog breeds. Then again a lot of dogs will just root up things because that is something they do....and your dog's breed may have just that particular "trait". So whether there was an opossum or a cat may make no difference.

Anyhow It is POSSIBLE that your landlord has the right to keep an oppossum; Chicago requires compliance with state law. I am not familiar enough with that but despite potential delays you're right, this is a matter for Animal Control to investigate, but I would also call the State authorities since the Chicago city code says as long as the State says ok, Chicago is ok with it, and the longer you wait the longer the wait.... Realize, of course, that if you file a complaint your landlord will get t'o'd for sure, and this could wind up being a cause for an attempted eviction or just a lousy relationship til the end of your lease. If you want to risk it all, go ahead. Otherwise my sense of the situation is that unless your landlord is willing to let you out of your lease, about your only option would be to keep your dog on a leash at all times when outside your apartment. I would definitely have a problem if the landlord attempted to charge your security deposit with any costs to repair damage the dog cost until you became aware of the situation, however.

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8/14/13, 10:39 am

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