Leases – FAQ

Last updated: October 21, 2009 – 11:16 AM

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

This FAQ describes the different types of leases, how and when you can terminate a lease and identifies different lease provisions that are prohibited by law.

Does every tenant have a lease agreement?
Yes. It may be a written lease or an oral (unwritten) lease.

What is the advantage of a written lease agreement?
It sets out the terms of your agreement with the landlord. Furthermore, it states how long your tenancy will last, and your landlord cannot terminate this tenancy early unless you violate one of the lease provisions.

If I do not have a written lease, when can my tenancy be terminated?
Either you or your landlord can terminate it with at least one month advance written notice (if you pay rent every month), or at least 7 days advance written notice (if you pay rent every week). Neither of you has to give reason for terminating the tenancy.

If I have a written lease, can my landlord raise my rent before the lease ends?
Only if the lease states that the landlord can do this. Otherwise, your rent must remain the same until the lease ends.

If I do not have a written lease, when can my landlord raise the rent?
Your landlord can raise the rent only after giving you advance written notice. If you pay rent on a monthly basis, you must receive at least one month written notice. If you pay rent on a weekly basis, you must receive at least 7 days written notice.

What if I have a written lease that has provisions that I don’t like?
Don’t sign it. Once you sign the lease you are bound by all its provisions unless these provisions are against the law. (Illegal provisions are listed below). If you don’t like a provision, ask your landlord to cross it out. If he/she agrees to do this, both of you should put your initials next to the provision that has been crossed out.

What lease provisions are against the law?
Any provision stating that you agree to:

  • Give up any of your rights under Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance;
  • Limit your landlord’s liability for breaking the law;
  • Let your landlord win an eviction action against you without first serving you with a termination notice and a summons to appear in court;
  • Give up your right to a jury trial if your landlord files an eviction action against you;
  • Pay for your landlord’s attorney’s fees if he/she files an eviction against you;
  • Pay a late fee in excess of the amount allowed by the Ordinance (see below); or
  • Receive a discount that is equal to more than the monthly fee allowed by the Ordinance if you pay your rent before a certain day of the month.

How much can my landlord charge as a late fee?
If your monthly rent is $500 or less your landlord can charge you no more than $10 per month. If your monthly rent is more than $500, your landlord can charge you an additional fee equal to 5% of the amount that exceeds $500. Therefore if your rent is $700, your landlord can charge you $10 pus 5% of 200, for a total late fee of $20.

Is my lease still in effect if it has an illegal provision?
Yes. Your lease is still in effect, but your landlord cannot enforce the illegal provision. If he/she tries to enforce an illegal provision, you can sue him/her.

Do I have to move if my landlord sells the property before my lease ends?
No. Your lease remains in effect and the new owner has to comply with the terms of this agreement.

If I have a written lease, what happens when it ends?
If you want to leave the apartment when your lease ends, you can just move. You do not have to give your landlord any advance notice.

What if my landlord wants me to move when my written lease ends?
At least 30 days before the lease ends your landlord must provide you with a written notice stating that your tenancy will not be renewed. If you do not receive this notice in a timely manner, you may stay in the unit for up to 60 days after the date on which you do receive the notice. (remember, however, that your obligation to pay rent continues during this 60 day period).

Can I break my lease before it ends?
Only if your landlord agrees to let you out of the lease or violates your rights under Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If you want to break the lease because your landlord has violated your rights, contact an attorney.

What if my landlord doesn’t let me break the lease, but I still move out before the lease ends?
Your landlord must make a good faith effort to re-rent the apartment. If she’s unsuccessful, you remain responsible for the rent. If he/she rents it for less than what you were paying you remain responsible for the difference.

Can I sublet my apartment?
Yes, and your landlord cannot charge you any subletting fees. Furthermore, if your landlord does not let you sublet to a suitable person, you don’t have to pay the rent for that period that begins when the subtenant was willing to move in.

What if my subtenant does not pay the rent?
You remain responsible for it.

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 Chicagoís 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.

All 119 Comments

  1. If I live in a 2 flat building in Chicago that is owner occupied. Is the landlord required to give 30 day notice that the lease will not be renewed at the end of the term? He says he sent notice as a courtesy, but that it isn’t actually required in Illinois.

    1. There is no concrete statute regarding this situation. In general, in Illinois, at the end of the lease term the lease is over. Are there any clauses in your lease that may help define how the landlord and the tenant are to act in this situation. Many times notice provisions of this type are enumerated in the lease.

  2. What happens when the landlord does not want to give me a copy of the lease even after formal written notice has been sent to her and it has been more than 14 days?

  3. I currently live in a large 2 bedroom apartment with one roommate. We want to get another roommate to bring the total up to 3. My landlord was weird about having two people live there in the first place and actually raised rent (before signing the lease) when I said I would have a roommate. I’m worried she will try to raise rent again or reject a third person living there. Can she raise rent when we add a roommate and the original tenants still live there? Under what conditions can she reject a reasonable roommate? What could I do if she does reject the roommate? Thank you!

    1. Before answering your question, you need to look at your lease and see what the lease states. Some leases will only current residents to live there. Is there any discrimination happening? Landlords can reject people particularly if they have bad credit etc. The problem lies is what happens if your roommate does not work and then whose responsibility is it to get rid of the person. If there is nothing in the lease and no rule against it then you can. Just know that you will be the landlord to that person which means all the responsibilities that go along with it.

  4. I’m back! So we eventually found a subleaser and there are three of us living in the unit. Now I am on the flip side of the equation. I am moving out. I found a subleaser. She passed the background check and credit check. I followed both the written and verbal instructions of the landlord for subletting. The two current roommates blocked this girl from subleasing. One even brought her lawyer dad into the landlord’s office demanding I pay April’s rent and that they get a month to find a roommate. Our lease agreements are individually binding. I found several replacements but the roommates are not cooperating (not returning outreach from prospects) I have documentation of everything. Am I liable for April rent? Do I need to take legal action? I have in good faith looked for a sublease and found several but no one (the landlord or the other tenants are cooperating). Furthermore, am I going to lose my $300 security deposit?


    1. There are different ways to approach this and I am not sure what your relationship is with your roommates, nor who the lease is written. Are you separately responsible for payments or are you jointly responsible? Options include:

      1. negotiating an agreement with the current roommates. The Center for Conflict Conflict Resolution offers free mediation for situations like this.
      2. Not pay the rent and send the landlord and the roommates a letter stating that you you have provided everyone with several sublettors that are qualified and thus you have fulfilled your responsibility. They need to find a sublettor. If the landlord is not getting their money they can go after anyone that signed lease either together or as individuals. Usually the landlordd goes after occupants as they are the ones still occupying the unit.
      3. You could pay the rent and then sue the landlord and the tenants for not minimizing your damages.
      4. Did the landlord provide you with a summary of the landlord and tenants ordinance when you moved in. If not then you can terminate the lease and move out.

      As for the security deposit. At the end of the lease, it is still owed to you. If someone new moves in that person should have to pay a security deposit which can go to you.

      1. All that is stated at the beginning of the lease says “This lease form is intended for properties to which the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance is applicable. However, the Chicago Association of Realtors recommends that the Ordinance be carefully reviewed and that an attorney be consulted before using this or any other standard lease form for properties in the City of Chicago.”

        The two roommates signed the lease before me, during my signing of the lease, no summary was given to me.

        Should I consult a lawyer?

        1. The law requires that you are provided with an a summary of the lease. The only exceptions are for owner occupied buildings, hotels, motels, coops. I would always suggest consulting with an attorney.

  5. I have been here 6 yrs. Never signed a lease after the first 2 years. Now landlord selling property and new buyers want to live in my unit. What is the time frame that I have before I have to move out? Thank you

    1. You are considered a month-to-month tenant. Therefore the landlord must provide you with a written 30-day notice to vacate. The notice must coincide with the rental period. So if the rental period is from the first to the first then the landlord must provide notice 30 days prior to the first. If not then the notice will extend until the following month. A tenant may be able to make the argument that the landlord needs to resend a new notice.

  6. When is a landlord supposed to give you a copy of a lease you signed? I’m used to getting a copy as soon as I sign a lease, but not for this place. Is there a certain amount of time before it becomes illegal? BTW, I’ve already asked twice and the property manager seems like she can’t give me an answer either. She keeps saying I will get it but it’s been 2 weeks, and still no copy of the lease.

    1. There is no law that covers the question that you asked. The law does state that if you are covered by the landlord and tenants ordinance then the landlord must provide you a summary of the landlord and tenants ordinance which is often attached to the lease. Also if the landlord took a security deposit the landlord is required to provide you with a receipt immediately. Also if the landlord took a security deposit, they have 14 days to inform you of the bank in which your security is being held. This is often done in the lease so the landlord may be in violation of the law on this account.

      The best place to always start is with a written request for the lease.


  7. There are 3 of us on a year lease. My one roommate decided to move out within 24 hours of notifying us. She paid September & October. Our landlord said we must find a replacement or pay the complete rent. Her name is on the lease, even though she left, is she still responsible for her part of the lease? Is there any legality in our favor?

    1. There are several questions here. First, because you and your roommates signed a lease with your landlord you are jointly and severably liable for the rent. This means that the landlord can hold any of you responsible for the entire rent. In most cases the landlord is going to hold the actual people residing in the unit liable because it is the easiest to do. The landlord can evict you if the entire rent is not paid.

      You can hold your roommate liable for the rent though you must make a good faith effort to re-rent the room or unit. If you do not try to rent the unit then you may be liable for the entire rent.

      Finally if you decide to leave then the landlord must also try to re-rent the unit and can hold you and your roommates liable for the time the unit remains vacant.

      1. Why must we make a good faith effort to re-rent the room? She entered the agreement knowing the responsibility of a year long lease. Why should we be responsible for her share regardless of her residency?

        1. State law requires that if a renters terminates a lease early that the landlord must make a good faith effort to mitigate the damages. The question is are you going to want to take your former roommate to court to try and force her to pay. The landlord is most likely going to hold you responsible for the full rent.

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