Advocates Secure Renter Protections for Suburban Households in Cook County, Illinois

The Cook County Board of Commissioners passed the “Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance” (RTLO) unanimously on January 28, securing renter protections for 245,000 households not covered by local ordinances. The RTLO creates a basic code of conduct between landlords and tenants regarding lease terms, repairs, and other provisions to promote safe, healthy living conditions in rental properties. Similar ordinances have long been in place in a few Cook County cities and towns—Chicago, Evanston, and Mount Prospect—but prior to passage of the RTLO, renters in other communities could only make use of the extremely limited tenant protections in Illinois state law. The impact of the ordinance is significant: with more than 5.1 million residents, Cook County is the second largest county in the nation.

Over the course of several months, and in the face of strong and vocal opposition from interest groups representing rental property owners, Housing Action Illinois—an NLIHC state partner—worked alongside Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, and other campaign partners to ensure passage of the RTLO. Additional partners included organizations representing voucher holders (Housing Choice Partners), people with disabilities (Progress CIL), and immigrants (PASO).

Tenant leaders from these groups advocated in favor of this legislation from their expertise as low-income renters made even more vulnerable by the intersection of race, disability, and immigration status. They provided testimony, spoke with legislators, conducted socially distanced door-to-door outreach, and shared their stories with the media to fight for their rights as renters.

Campaign partners held an RTLO Week of Action in December, educating commissioners and the public through fact sheets and Facebook Live events, creating a “Twitterstorm” to raise awareness, and emailing and calling commissioners. Overall, more than 65 organizations endorsed the campaign, ranging from tenants’ rights groups, housing and homelessness organizations, policy centers, and faith groups.

The campaign also utilized NLIHC’s The Gap report to illustrate that extending tenant protections would significantly help communities of color. Low-income tenants are disproportionately people of color and they are disproportionately impacted by the lack of protections for tenant landlord engagement.

On the Cook County Board, Commissioners Scott Britton (14th District) and Kevin Morrison (15th District) championed the effort. Commissioners Britton and Morrison introduced the RTLO in July 2020 after securing feedback on the content of the ordinance from a wide range of stakeholders. Throughout the campaign, Commissioners Britten and Morrison worked in a partnership way with campaign leaders to negotiate with the opposition, develop and implement a media and communications strategy, and secure the votes necessary for passage.

Other provisions of the RTLO include:

  • Restricting retaliatory conduct and undisclosed landlord entry
  • Protecting owners against property destruction and abandonment
  • Banning unlawful lockouts
  • Providing consistency on how and when landlords can safely evict renters
  • Prohibiting lease terms that waive written notices, rights to a trial, and disclosures
  • Blocking landlords from charging exorbitant late rent fees
  • Improving procedures for completing minor repairs in a timely manner
  • Guaranteeing fair security deposit returns
  • Preventing nontransparent move-in charges
  • Allowing landlords a two-business day right to cure noncompliance with leases

These provisions clarify the roles and responsibilities of tenants and landlords and make the rental landscape easier and fairer for navigate for everyone. While the full RTLO goes into effect on June 1, the anti-lockout provision took effect immediately.

“When everyone knows the rules, it’s easier to play by them,” said Sheila Sutton, housing policy organizer at Housing Action Illinois. “The RTLO lays out basic expectations for landlord while protecting the dignity and basic rights of renters and creating processes to follow when something goes wrong. It’s long past time all renters in Cook County were given these essential protections.”

For more information about the Housing Action Illinois and the Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance, visit: