Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County. No. 94LM1022. Honorable Scott B. Diamond, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication April 26, 1996. As Corrected August 28, 1996.
Honorable Robert W. Cook, P.j., Honorable John T. McCULLOUGH, J., Honorable Rita B. Garman, J., Concurring
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cook
PRESIDING JUSTICE COOK delivered the opinion of the court:
The Mobile Home Landlord and Tenant Rights Act (Act) (765 ILCS 745/1 et seq. (West 1992)) imposes severe restrictions upon landlords who rent mobile home lots. The landlords in this case did not comply with those restrictions, and we accordingly reverse.
Landlords Jerry and Gabriele Fyke (landlords), d/b/a Northwood Mobile Estates, brought this action to evict Debbie Melton (tenant) from a mobile home lot for unpaid rent. The trial court granted landlords possession of the lot and awarded them $2,700 in unpaid rent and attorney fees. Tenant appeals, contending she met her rent obligations under the terms of her written lease and that the rent increases allegedly resulting in the unpaid rents were invalid under the Act.
On May 1, 1992, tenant entered into a written lease with landlords for a mobile home lot in Maroa, Illinois. Rent was set at $90 per month for a year-to-year term (1992 lease). Paragraph 19 of the 1992 lease stated:
"19. Renewal Term and Holding Over: If not earlier terminated under other provisions of this lease, upon expiration of the original or a renewal term hereof this lease shall be renewed and extended automatically for a term equal in duration to that of the original term, upon the same terms and conditions, provided however, that either Owner or Tenant may give written notice to the other at least thirty (30) days prior to the expiration of such original or extended term, as the case may be, in which event this lease shall terminate upon the expiration of the original or extended term hereof during which such notice [of] election to terminate is given. Not withstanding [sic] the above, the Owner shall have the right to raise the rent for the renewal term by giving thirty (30) days['] written notice thereof to the Tenant, whereupon the Tenant shall have ten (10) days thereafter to give the Owner notice of his election to terminate this lease."
On March 26, 1993, less than 60 days before the end of the term, landlords sent notice that starting May 1, 1993, lot rent would be increased to $96 per month for all tenants. Gabriele testified she hand-delivered the notice to tenant and explained that the $96-per-month rate was for a month-to-month lease term. Tenant replied that she was not going to sign a month-to-month lease. Landlords then offered tenant the choice of a year-to-year lease at $126 per month or the month-to-month lease at $96 per month. Tenant testified she refused both options because, "I agreed I was still on my old lease of 1992 because it had a roll-over clause."
On April 21, 1993, tenant made a rent payment of $90. Landlords responded by sending tenant a "reminder note" that starting May 1993 lot rent was $96 per month. Tenant mailed landlords a check for $6. Landlords argue tenant thereby made "a conscious decision *** to go to a month-to-month lease." Every month thereafter tenant paid landlords $96.
On June 6, 1993, tenant wrote landlords, "I am still waiting for the new lease that you insisted I need to sign. If I do not receive a copy by mail within 15 days I will assume my old lease is still in effect." Landlords apparently delivered a copy of the new lease sometime in July 1993. The new lease provided rent was $96 per month for a month-to-month term. Tenant never signed this lease. On July 12, 1993, tenant requested a copy of her old lease in order that her attorney might compare the leases.
On June 24, 1994, landlords notified tenant that her rent would increase to $126 per month, effective August 1, 1994. In a June 28, 1994, letter, tenant replied that the rent increase "is not possible or legal." She continued:
"First, you are not allowing 60 days['] notice, second my lease does not renew in August.
My lease with you was dated effective May 1, 1992. This lease renews automatically on an annual bases [sic]. Therefore, if you wish to increase my rent, you must notify me 60 days prior to my lease ...