A few weeks ago, I wrote about an interesting case, Weininger v. Haldes, published pursuant to Rule 23(e). Be reminded that this is the rule that provides that the case usually cannot be cited in other cases and does not have precedential authority in other cases. In other words, the opinion is “out there” but cannot be relied upon by landlords or tenants. Today, I will discuss another fairly recent Supreme Court Rule 23(e) case from 2011, Bilsky v. Calabrese, that muddies the landlord-tenant waters with an uncharacteristically landlord friendly holding.
Generally speaking, pet deposits have been governed by the same rules that apply to all security deposit under Section 5-12-080 of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance. The landmark case, Lawrence v. Regent Realty, that firmly placed the leverage in the tenants’ hands when dealing with security deposits in Chicago actually involved violations of the RLTO committed by a Chicago landlord who had taken a pet deposit and failed to pay interest on that deposit.
However, in the Bilsky case, the court held that a pet deposit is not a security deposit subject entitled to the protections of the RLTO. The court reasoned that “a ‘pet deposit’ is a deposit with a limited purpose and, as such, is not a ‘security deposit’ under the RLTO”.
The analysis in this case is a shocking departure from that in Lawrence. By extrapolating outward, one could theoretically subdivide security deposits into multiple deposits of one particular “limited” purpose or another and avoid the RLTO entirely. For instance, a landlord could have one deposit for pets, one for cleaning, one for yard work, one for common areas, etc.; the possibilities are limited only by the imagination!
However, before landlords go renaming their security deposits and throwing section 5-12-80 of the RLTO out the window, I must stress that this case cannot be used in court to support the landlord’s position. WE DO NOT ADVOCATE THAT ANY CHICAGO LANDLORD SHOULD FOLLOW THIS CASE. We are discussing this case only for its “novelty” value inasmuch as the result obtained is interesting in light of the vast bulk of landlord-tenant law interpreting the CRLTO.
Any landlord who proceeds down the path of taking a security deposit of any kind, even a pet deposit, without complying with the provisions of the RLTO, is walking a dangerous line indeed. This is part of the danger of Rule 23 cases. They can’t be relied upon and they are not “good law”!