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Apartment Conditions & Repair

Find out how to address repair issues with your landlord.

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Starting and ending the rental agreement; security deposits.

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Home » Apartment Conditions & Repair, Chicago-specific Guide, Landlord & Tenant FAQ

Apartment Conditions and Repairs – FAQ

last updated on April 24, 2010 – 3:46 PM111 comments

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

What is my landlord responsible for?
Your landlord has a duty to keep your apartment in good shape and make all necessary repairs. If she fails to do this, you may be able to:

  • Make the repairs yourself and deduct their cost from your rent;
  • Withhold a portion of your rent;
  • Sue your landlord; or
  • Terminate your lease agreement. This pamphlet explains when and how you can do these things.

What must my landlord do to maintain the condition of my apartment?
Keep your toilet, bathtub, shower, and bathroom sink in good working order;

  • Keep your furnace and boiler in good working order;
  • Keep your windows weatherproof;
  • Keep your floors, walls and ceilings in good repair;
  • Keep your plumbing fixtures in good repair;
  • Keep your electrical outlets safe and operable;
  • Prevent the accumulation of stagnant water;
  • Keep all of the appliances he supplies in good working order;
  • Maintain the building is foundation, exterior walls, and roof in good and watertight condition;
  • Provide adequate hall and stairway lighting; Keep all stairways and porches in a safe and sound condition;
  • Provide trash containers;
  • Protect you against rodents and insects by exterminating; and
  • Comply with all other requirements of Chicago’s Municipal Code.

If my landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs, can I use my rent to pay for these repairs?

Yes, but only if the repair will not cost more than $500 or one-half of your rent (which ever is greater). Using your rent money to make necessary repairs is called “repairing and deducting.”

How do I “repair and deduct?”
First you must give your landlord a written notice stating that, unless she makes the necessary repairs within 14 days, you will make them yourself and deduct their cost from your rent. Keep a copy of the notice. If your landlord doesn’t make the necessary repairs within 14 days of receiving the notice, you can make the repairs or pay someone else to do it. After giving your landlord paid receipts to confirm the cost of repair, you can deduct this cost from your rent. See sample letter here.

What if I want to repair a problem in a common area, such as a stairway or hallway?
You must first give all of the other tenants written notice of your plan to make the repair.

If my landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs, can I withhold a portion of my rent?
Yes, but first give your landlord a written notice stating that, unless she makes the necessary repairs within 14 days, you will withhold a certain portion of your monthly rent payments. NOTE: You cannot withhold a portion of your rent and “repair and deduct” in the same month.

If I decide to withhold a portion of my rent, exactly how much should I withhold?
The amount you withhold must reasonably reflect the reduced value of your apartment. Be conservative. You cannot withhold all your rent unless your apartment is in such bad shape that you must move, and you can rarely withhold as much as 50%. If you withhold too much, your landlord may be able to evict you for nonpayment of rent. To be safe, consult with an attorney. See “rent reduction” sample letter here.

Can I terminate my lease because my landlord has failed to make necessary repairs?
Yes, but only in very serious cases. Consult with an attorney first.

How can I terminate my lease?
First, you must provide your landlord with written notice that you will terminate your lease in no less than 14 days unless he makes whatever repairs are necessary. If she does not correct the problem within 14 days of receiving this notice, you may terminate your lease agreement. If you terminate the lease, you must move within the next 30 days otherwise your lease will remain in effect. See sample letter here.

If my landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs, can I sue him/her?
Yes, but consult with an attorney first.

Can I make my landlord pay for the cost of repairing a problem I caused?

What if my landlord fails to provide me with an essential service (such as heat, electricity, or running water)?
See the page entitled Heat & Other Essential Services.

Does my landlord have to repaint my apartment?
Not unless the paint is cracking or peeling.

Can I sue my landlord if my property is damaged in her apartment?
Only if the property was damaged as a result of your landlord’s negligence.

Please Note: This information, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicago’s Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

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  • Cynthia says:

    I moved from Missouri to Illinois last April. I moved into a garden apartment, and was waiting on the arrival of my furniture. I woke up and the apartment was flooded in the bedroom and living room. I called the management company early the following morning so they could address the issue. They took awhile and came out to the apartment and pulled the carpet up where the flooding happened and replaced the carpet padding underneath. They then put the wet carpet back down on top of the new carpet padding and had a couple guys come and extract the carpet two days later.The smell was horrible! I called the management company and told them I could not stay in this apartment because the smell was so bad. They messed around for a long while and then finally pulled the old carpet out of the entire apartment leaving the old carpet padding down. The smell was still there. They were waiting on the landlord to find an estimate on how much it would cost to replace carpet… not fixing the issue at all. They were going to leave the old carpet padding on the floor and have new carpet installed… not to bright. A month later new carpet was installed and new carpet padding. Still Problem not solved. A few months past and guess what??? We had heavy rains and the apartment was flooded again. I called and they came out and replaced wet carpet padding and put wet carpet back down on floor leaving me in a wet mess once again until someone could come out the steam clean the carpet.. no deodorizing nothing just steamed cleaned. The smell was back again. Anyway this has happened over and over 4 more times and the last 4 times they have done nothing to replace carpet padding, extract water, nothing! The carpet has dried by itself and the smell comes and goes.
    I stopped paying the rent, because mainly of this issue and nothing is being done at all along with other flooding issues in the laundry room which is also in the lower level and floods into my apartment/kitchen and nothing ever gets done! They ignore my phone calls, they say they will call back and they never do, I end up calling them again. They promise to do things and nothing gets done.
    They served my 12 year old daughter a 5 day notice, not even me!
    I am waiting on my papers to go to court.
    I need some advice on what to do next.
    Thank You

    • Not paying rent will result in court action. You will need to speak with an attorney. When you say you want help, what is it that you want to do. Do you have a lease and want to get out of it, are you on a month to month agreement and do not have the money to move, do you want to stay there and try to force the landlord to fix the problem.

      • Cynthia says:

        I am in a years lease which is up in April. I am not wanting to stay at this apartment, but I don’t have anywhere else to go right now. I would like to get out of my lease if possible. If I pay what is due to the landlord and he still takes me to court, what would happen? Still eviction? He clearly doesn’t want to fix the problem so I don’t think I should have to stay and still pay rent or better yet keep the lease. The village inspector came out and told me that the landlord is in violation with a couple of things. Isn’t the landlord responsible for upkeep of his building and to make it a safe and livable for his tenants? It states in the lease that the landlord is responsible for making any repairs in a timely manner. What is a timely manner? Never?? He needs to be accountable for something and not just collect but not fix anything!

  • Brooke says:

    There is a window latch broken in my son’s bedroom, making the window unable to lock and seal properly to protect from the cold. I first notified my landlord in early December. He lied and said he ordered the part, but here it is, more than a month later and not fixed. There is a coating of ice around the window and now I’ve noticed mold. This is unsafe for my child. When I tell my landlord this, he just ignores my emails. Recently, he’s told us that he wants to sell the condo and wanted us out in 60 days. We negotiated to 90 days and a month’s rent, plus our security deposit back. We have also been waiting for him to FedEx the letter for signature. My landlord is clearly lying. I live in an expensive apartment (rent is $2400/mo) and think it should be better maintained than it is. Can I terminate my lease or withhold rent in this situation? I’ve talked briefly with a lawyer, but that was only to discuss the ending of the lease due to listing the property.
    What are my rights?

    • The Chicago Ordinance states that you can terminate the lease because of repairs if they make the unit not reasonably fit and habitable. In that case you would have to give the landlord a written letter stating that if the problem (window that does not latch) must be fixed within 14 days from the receipt of the letter. If it is not fixed that the tenant will terminate the lease because it is not reasonably fit and habitable.

      Another possibility allowed under the law is repair and deduct. In this case the tenant can send a 14 day letter to the landlord requesting the repair. If it is not completed in the time period then the tenant can hire someone to make the repair and deduct the cost off the rent.

      The second option may be a safer one. If a judge would decide that the issue you raised is not bad enough to make the unit not reasonably fit and habitable then the landlord could potentially sue the tenant for the duration of the lease or until someone else moves in.

      As for the agreement, you follow up with a letter stating that you made a verbal agreement on date and time and then what the agreement is and then state that you will assume this is correct unless the landlord get back to you.

  • Anna says:

    The ceiling in the bedroom of my 1 bedroom apartment has serious leaks. In fact, for the past 3 years, one spot in particular leaked at least once a year, until it was patched again. When I called about the leak cropping up again last Friday, my landlord said he would send someone out to fix it, but instead sent someone out to shovel snow from the roof. That just ended up making matters worse. Water started streaming from the ceiling in multiple spots, including from and around the ceiling fan/light fixture. I had to remove all items from the room (which is roughly 1/4 of the apartment’s living space) and am sleeping in my office. I’ve done my due diligence to protect the floors by putting down pots, garbage cans and drop cloths.

    I’ve sent multiple emails stating the problem and the landlord has come out to survey the damage, but insists that because the weather has been so poor, he can’t do any better than getting on a roofer’s wait list. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for a week, hoping for a response with legitimate timing. Since he’s yet to secure a date, I fear I could be living this way for a significant amount of time – he’s got a history of being very slow to both respond and get problems fixed. I know that I need to give him 14 days to make repairs, but at this point, I don’t trust that the repairs he makes will actually fix the problem. Moreover, I’m also concerned about the health hazards of potential mold in the drywall and electrical damage in the ceiling fan would pose.

    Basically, I’d like to get out of my lease. If I send my 14 days notice, my understanding is that the 14 days begins from the date he confirms receipt. I have a couple of questions regarding this:

    - I sent an email a week ago line listing the issues, explaining that the room is uninhabitable and what my expectations of repair would be. The landlord responded via email asking me to call him. Can my 14 days technically begin from the date of his acknowledgement of this email? Or would I need to have stated that he make the repairs within the required 14 days or I plan to vacate?

    - If an email is not adequate, does a letter have to be sent certified mail? Or can I use UPS or Fedex delivery requiring signature confirmation?

    - The landlord is the owner of a property management company that has an office. If someone else is to sign for the letter, would that still be considered “received”?

    - Should I seek legal counsel if I would like to get out of the lease? Or do you think that the violations are straightforward enough that I could use form letters and attempt to get out of the situation myself?

    Thanks for your time!

    • The law regarding terminating the lease because or repairs states that the problem has to make the unit not reasonably fit and habitable. I cannot tell if the leak makes the unit not reasonably fit and habitable. The letter should let the landlord know that if the problem is not fixed in 14 days that you will be terminating the agreement. Did your initial letter state that? If not it would be safest to send the letter stating your intention. It is always best to seek the advice of an attorney. Did the landlord provide you with a summary of the Chicago rental laws with the lease. If the summary is not attached to the lease you can terminate the lease because of that.

  • Shay says:

    I have been renting for 6 yrs. My walls need painting badly and my carpet needs changing . Is my landlord bound by law for the up keep of walls and carpeting ?

    • There are not any laws that require a landlord to repaint or re-carpet a unit. If the paint is peeling then you could have an argument as there may be lead paint which is a health hazard. In other words the problem has to be a danger or unhealthy before the law requires the landlord to act. The same is true for the carpet. Danger could include mold, holes ore tears that one could trip on etc.

      If it just look ugly there are not laws requiring a landlord to make it look nice. You could try negotiating with the owner. If you are a good tenant then the landlord should want to keep you rather than find a new tenant. The landlord will most likely have to paint if you move out.

  • Chad says:

    I have a few things here.

    My girlfriend recently moved into a garden apartment. When she viewed the space, she noticed that the hardwood floor was not maintained and had severe damage. She moved in anyway. The floor looks like it has never been maintained or replaced. There is literally clear packing tape keeping a section of the floor from caving in. The rest of the floor looks likes a haunted house. It creaks, sinks in, or floor boards pop up with every step you take.

    I told my girlfriend to ask the landlord to fix it, but the landlord said that the floor will remain in its current condition. Is there something that we can do, or does the fact that she moved into the unit and singed the lease already negate any action that can be taken?

    Secondly, when my girlfriend signed the lease there was no mention of a security deposit. But she went to pick up the keys the landlord informed her that there will be a 2 month’s rent deposit ($1550), even though she already paid the first month’s rent, and that she will not be able to move in right away because the bathroom floor had rotted away and needed to be replaced. This is unrelated to the hardwood floor.

    The only concession that the landlord has made is that she is only charging my girlfriend for a half month’s rent for the 2nd month.

    Is this fair and legal? Does a security deposit have to be agreed upon when the lease is signed? So she signed the lease and gave first month’s rent in September. She did not get her keys until Oct. 5th, and still was not able to move in until Oct. 20th.

    • As for the floor, I cannot tell whether there are structural problems with the floor or if the main concern is cosmetics. There are no rules regarding cosmetics. The landlord is not required to repaint or finish or re-carpet the floor. If the floor presents some sort of health or safety risk then the landlord has to do something about it. You can call 311 and request an inspection. It will be the easiest way to see if there are health or safety problems.

      As for the deposit, what does the lease state. If the lease does not mention a deposit then the landlord cannot now after the lease is signed decide to charge a deposit. If the lease states that the tenant will pay a deposit then the tenant will have to pay a deposit. It does not matter what was said verbally what counts is what is written down.

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