LEGISLATION: Chicago Judge Rules Against Sham Recycling

A landlord who fails to keep tabs on the activities of a tenant can be held liable for environmental problems that the tenant causes, according to a ruling by an Illinois judge.

In the late 1980s, Asphalt Recovery Systems began piling asphalt debris on a seven-acre site in Chicago owned by D. Raymond Shane who had leased the property to Asphalt Recovery. The company claimed it was stockpiling the material to recycle for road patching work, according to an attorney for the city. In 1989, the city sued Asphalt Recovery for operating a landfill on the site without a permit and won a $4.8 million judgment for cleanup costs. The decision was upheld on appeal.

After Asphalt Recovery went out of business in 1993 leaving no usable assets, the city sued Shane. The city contended that Shane had a duty to check up on his tenant and, having failed to do so, he was responsible for any environmental damage. The city code contains a provision that saddles landlords with financial responsibility for environmental cleanups.

In August, a Cook County circuit court judge ruled that, under the city code, Shane was responsible for cleaning up the 300,000 tons of debris on his property.

Chicago's environmental commissioner Henry Henderson hailed the decision as a new weapon for the city against sham recycling. "Unscrupulous operators who masquerade as recyclers think they can dump their trash in Chicago and let the taxpayers clean it up," he said. "This ruling makes it clear that Chicago is enemy territory for dumpers and their business partners." Shane's attorney promises an appeal.