Fighting a Chicago proposal to exclude SRO residents from tenant rights protections

By Eithne McMenamin, Associate Policy Director

Chicago Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward) has introduced an ordinance to amend the city’s Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). The Cardenas amendment would weaken protections for tenants by targeting low-income tenants of Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels.

CCH LogoCCH is strongly opposed to the Cardenas amendment. Joining us to advocate against its adoption are the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, ONE Northside, and Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

Under current city law, tenants of SROs are treated the same as tenants of any other rental property. They are protected by the RLTO from the time their tenancy begins.

Under the Cardenas amendment, SRO tenants would not be covered by the RLTO until they have been a tenant for 32 days or more, and they must be a tenant who pays a monthly rent. 

This means that even if one is long-term tenant, as many SRO residents are, s/he would not be protected by the RLTO if s/he pays rent daily or weekly. Because SRO tenants are low-income, many cannot pay an entire month’s rent at once, instead paying as they can throughout the month.

Also, some SRO residents do not have enough money to reside continuously in their SROs. They may leave and come back throughout the month if they only have money enough to pay night by night. This pattern may go on for some time, where a tenant is a long-time resident but stays are intermittent. The Cardenas amendment would take away any protections they have under the RLTO.

Advocating against the Cardenas amendment, CCH and allies have met with Ald. Cardenas, Mayor Emanuel’s policy advisors, Housing Committee Chair Ald. Joe Moore (49th), and other aldermen. We are alerting them to the ways this ordinance would weaken protections for some of the most vulnerable renters in our city.

Read Mark Brown’s related column in the Chicago Sun-Times: “An alderman, the mob and an SRO”

The ordinance has not yet been scheduled for a hearing by the City Council’s Housing Committee.

Below is the letter sent to Alderman Cardenas detailing our opposition to the ordinance.

Dear Alderman Cardenas:

We understand you have introduced the “Amendment of Municipal Code Section 5-12-020 concerning exclusions in rental of dwelling units”. We are writing today to register our strong opposition to this ordinance.

Any ordinance that lessens protections for renters will not help homeless people and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless opposes any such proposals. We do not agree with the premise that following the RLTO should lead to increases in rents because all owners are following the same rules.  Nor do we support the idea of bad business practices or poor conditions as a trade-off for low rents.

CCH has worked on local and statewide initiatives, including the recently passed SRO preservation ordinance, to keep housing affordable and expand the supply. This is a far better way to address homelessness and housing affordability than weakening the ordinance that provides protections to renters.

It is our position that if landlords follow the RLTO currently in effect there should be no problem and the rights of both landlords and renters will be upheld. Where there are frivolous lawsuits that lack merit, our position is that those issues are best worked out in the courts.

In summation, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is strongly opposed to this proposed amendment to the RLTO. We have been and will continue to be in communication with Mayor Emanuel’s office, our allies on the City Council, and the news media about our opposition to this ordinance.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at (312) 641-4140.


Eithne McMenamin, Associate Director of Policy