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Lawrence v. Regent Realty Group Inc.

August 11, 1999

AURELIA LAWRENCE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
REGENT REALTY GROUP, INC., AND UNKNOWN OWNERS OF 435 W. OAKDALE, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Daniel R. Pascale, Judge Presiding. No. 96 M1 143272

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill

PRESIDING JUSTICE CAHILL delivered the opinion of the court:

We review the denial of a motion for a new trial where the trial court found at the close of evidence that a landlord defendant did not willfully violate the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. Chicago Municipal Code §§5-12-080(c), (f) (amended November 6, 1991). The trial court found that a "pet deposit" required in a lease was a "security deposit" within the meaning of the ordinance. But the court further found that the landlord's failure to pay interest on the deposit was not willful and did not subject the landlord to the penalty of double damages, interest and attorney fees provided for in the ordinance. Because we find that the ordinance is remedial, we hold that a showing of willfulness is not required to subject the landlord to the penalties provided in the ordinance. We reverse and remand.

We first take note of our standard of review. The appellant does not suggest one in her brief. The defendants suggest that the trial court should not be reversed unless its judgment is against the manifest weight of the evidence. Neither party addresses the posture of this appeal, which is brought after the denial of a motion for new trial. A trial court's denial of a motion for a new trial will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Maple v. Gustafson, 151 Ill. 2d 445, 455, 603 N.E.2d 508 (1992). But where the facts are undisputed and the decision turns on a proper interpretation of the law, we review that interpretation as a matter of law. People v. 1946 Buick, VIN 34423520, 127 Ill. 2d 374, 378, 537 N.E.2d 748 (1989).

While there were factual disputes that went to the issue of willfulness, none of the disputed facts are implicated in the trial court's finding that willfulness is a predicate for the award of statutory double damages under the ordinance. If, as a matter of law, the ordinance does not require willfulness to award damages, we need never reach the factual disputes about the landlord's behavior. The trial Judge in this case did not set out the reasoning that led him to hold that the ordinance before him required a willful violation to trigger penalties. But a willfulness requirement can only stand if the ordinance is penal. We follow in this opinion the reasoning set out in Friedman v. Krupp Corp., 282 Ill. App. 3d 436, 668 N.E.2d 142 (1996), to reach the Conclusion that the ordinance is remedial.

The sections of the ordinance we address are:

"(c) A landlord who holds a security deposit or prepaid rent pursuant to this section [for more than six months] after the effective date of this chapter shall pay interest to the tenant accruing from the beginning date of the rental term specified in the rental agreement at the rate [of five percent per year]. The landlord shall, within 30 days after the end of each 12-month rental period, pay to the tenant any interest, by cash or credit to be applied to the rent due.

"(f) If the landlord or landlord's agent fails to comply with any provision of Section 5-12-080(a)-(e), the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the security deposit plus interest at [five percent]. This subsection does not preclude the tenant from recovering other damages to which he may be entitled under this chapter." Chicago Municipal Code §§5-12-080(c), (f) (amended November 6, 1991).

Defendants suggest in their brief that the statement of facts in the plaintiff's brief contains argument and comment and fails to conform to Supreme Court Rule 341(e)(6). 134 Ill. 2d R. 341(e)(6). We agree, and with a handful of modest changes, adopt the statement of facts set out by the defendants.

Plaintiff and defendant Regent Realty entered into a one-year lease on September 21, 1990. The lease began on October 1, 1990, and ended on September 30, 1991. The monthly rent was $435. Plaintiff paid a $100 pet deposit in addition to a $435 security deposit. The parties renewed the lease five times. Each renewal lease began on October 1 and ended on September 30 of the next year.

The August 1991 renewal lease increased the rent to $455. The security and pet deposits were not increased. The renewal lease showed $26.75 in accrued interest.

The August 1992 renewal lease increased the rent to $460. The security deposit was $461.75. The pet deposit did not increase. The 1992 renewal lease showed $23.09 in accrued interest.

Plaintiff wrote a letter to Regent Realty on December 30, 1992, stating that her interest was incorrectly calculated in the 1992 renewal lease.

The August 1993 renewal lease increased the rent to $465. The security deposit was $484.84. The pet deposit did not increase. The renewal ...


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