Building Security, Locks, & the Law – FAQ

Last updated: November 2, 2009 – 2:27 PM

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

lock1Is there a law requiring my landlord to change the locks before I move in? Yes. An amendment to state law 765 ILCS 705 § 15, also known as the Landlord Tenant Act, requires lessors to change or re-key locks on or before the day that a new tenant moves in.

What kinds of locks must be on the front and rear doors of my building?
The front and rear entrance doors to the building should each have a DEADLOCKING LATCH (see picture), which automatically locks when you shut the door. From the outside, it can be opened only with a key. From the inside, it can be opened merely by turning a knob or handle.

If my building has a vestibule or lobby, with an outside door and an inside door, must they both have a deadlocking latch?
No. Only one of these doors must have this latch.

locks2What kind of lock must be on the doors to my own apartment?
Both the front and rear doors to the apartment must have a DEADBOLT LOCK. This can be a “vertical drop” type lock (see picture), or a saw-resistant horizontal bolt that projects at least one inch. If you are not sure what kind of locks you have, ask a locksmith.

Must the front door of my apartment have a window or peephole?
Yes. It must have some kind of viewing device that allows you to look out the door without opening it.

locks1Should my windows have locks?
If your window is less than 20 feet from the ground (or within 10 feet of an adjacent roof, outside stairway, fire escape, ramp, or porch which can be reached from the ground), then it must have a SASH LOCK It must also have a lock which allows it to open 4 to 6 inches and then lock in that position. This is called a VENTILATION LOCK.

Who is responsible for the cost of installing these locks?
Your landlord. If you want more security than these locks provide, you must get your landlord’s permission to install them and you must give him/her a set of keys. Your landlord does not have to pay for the additional locks.

What about burglar bars?
You cannot install burglar bars without your landlord’s permission. (Make sure you get this permission in writing). Furthermore, your landlord does not have to pay for the burglar bars or their installation. Because bars become a permanent part of his/her building, they also become her property. NOTE: It is against the law to install burglar bars on the entrance or exit doors to your apartment or building. Furthermore, certain burglar bars are illegal, so contact the fire or police department to find out whether the kind you want to buy are legal.

What if my doors and windows do not have the required locks?
Send your landlord a written demand for the right locks, and keep a copy of this letter. If your landlord does not comply with your demand you can call the Department of Buildings (312/744-5000), which can sue your landlord and force him/her to install the required locks.

If my landlord refuses to install the correct locks, can I install them myself and deduct the cost of installation from my rent?
Only if your tenancy is governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If you live in Chicago, the Ordinance governs your tenancy unless you reside in:

  • An owner occupied building containing less than seven apartments;
  • A hotel, motel, inn, rooming house, or boarding house (unless you have resided there for more than 31 days and pay rent on a monthly basis); or
  • A hospital, convent, monastery, school dormitory,temporary overnight or transitional shelter, cooperative, or
  • A building owned by your employer (assuming your right to live there is conditioned upon you being employed in or around the building).

How do I install the correct locks and deduct the cost of installation from my rent?
You must first give your landlord a written notice stating that, if he/she does not install the required locks in 14 days, you will install them yourself and deduct the cost of installation from your rent. Keep a copy of this notice. If your landlord does not install the locks within 14 days, you may install them yourself or pay a locksmith to install them. After providing your landlord with paid receipts confirming the cost of installation, you can deduct this cost from your rent. This procedure is called repair and deduct. Remember, you can use this procedure only if your tenancy is governed by the Ordinance.

If I use the “repair and deduct” procedure, how much can I spend?
Up to $500 or one-half your monthly rent, whichever is greater.

Can I use the “repair and deduct” procedure to install the correct locks on the entrance door to my building?
Yes, but you must first give all the other tenants in the building written notice that you are going to do this.

If I install new locks on my door, must I provide my landlord with a key?
Yes, because your landlord must be able to get into your apartment.

When must I let my landlord into my apartment?
You must let your landlord enter your apartment to:

  • Make necessary repairs;
  • Supply necessary services;
  • Show the apartment to prospective purchasers, workmen, etc.;
  • Show the apartment to prospective renters within 60 days of the date on which your lease expires; or
  • Determine whether you are complying with the terms of your lease agreement.

Your landlord must provide you with at least two days notice, and he/she can only enter your unit at a reasonable time. Entry between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. is presumed to be reasonable.

Does my landlord ever have the right to enter my apartment without giving me advance notice?
Yes, but only when:

  • There is a problem in the common area of the building or in another apartment, and he/she needs to enter your unit to unit to fix this problem; or
  • There is an emergency.

In either case, your landlord must let you know that he/she entered your apartment within two days after the entry.

What if my landlord keeps coming into my apartment to harass me?
You can call the police. If your landlord does not have a right to be in your apartment, the police should force him/her to leave. You can also:

  • File a lawsuit and ask the court to order your landlord to stop entering your apartment more often than necessary; or
  • Give your landlord written notice that you will terminate your lease agreement unless he/she stops harassing you within the next 14 days. If he/she does not stop, you can terminate the lease. If you terminate the lease, however, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, the lease will remain in effect. You should consult with an attorney before pursuing either of these two options.

Can I refuse to let my landlord into my apartment?
Only if you have a good reason. For instance, you can refuse to let your landlord in if he/she has not provided you with the required advance notice, or if he/she is trying to enter your apartment between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. (Remember, however, you cannot refuse to let your landlord in when there is an emergency). If you are not sure whether you have a good reason to deny your landlord access to your apartment, call an attorney or the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (773/292-4988).

What if, without good reason, I refuse to let my landlord into my apartment?
Your landlord can:

  • File a lawsuit and ask the court to order you to let him/her into the apartment; or
  • Terminate your lease agreement and have you evicted. (See the pamphlet entitled Evictions for more information).

Please Note:This pamphlet, 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 31 Comments

  1. I live in an apartment. Where there is 3 exits. But the back exits has a pad lock. At all times. Also i live upstairs. In case of a fire. I will have to run to the front of the building and down the stairs

    1. The Chicago building code requires 2 exits. If all your exits lead to the same door that could very well be a fire hazard and illegal. I would check with the fire department. Has the landlord provided a reason for locking the back door? Have you mentioned your concern to your landlord? Once you talk with your landlord and confirm with the fire department, let us know what happens.

  2. I live in Bloomington, IL and I have asked my landlord to install a peephole for security reasons as I’m 60 years old and live alone except for when my daughter is home for a visit. They said I would have to pay for it and for them to install it. Is this true

    1. I am not sure what the building code states for Bloomington Illinois. Chicago’s code requires a peephole or other means of looking out. If the building code does not require it then the landlord is correct in that it is not their responsibility to install the peephole. If it is a part of the code then the landlord must bear the cost. You might try contacting your city representative to ask what the code is regarding peepholes. If it is not a part you might want to suggest that Bloomington consider passing an ordinace requiring peepholes.

  3. I tried to find the exact building code to cite to my landlord about having to keep the doors to the building locked. I know you say it’s the law, but I need to cite the exact law. I looked on the Chicago department of buildings site, but I saw nothing. Thank you!

    1. 13-196-170 Self-closing devices required for corridor doors.

      In residential buildings exceeding four stories in height, all apartment doors opening upon public corridors shall be equipped with approved self-closing devices. In all new and existing single-room occupancy buildings, irrespective of height, all dwelling unit doors opening to public corridors shall be equipped with approved self-closing devices.

  4. Unfortunately i fell into the hospital for almost two weeks. The thieves were workers of the owner of the building and had a duplicate key. When I returned from the hospital they had almost taken everything. The landlord did nothing, neither order to some worker to change the locks. I lost almost everithing. The landlord acted that this was not his responsability to provide me more security even though he was in the hospital. My extra saving was stolen and I asked him to use one of my two insurance only for this month to cover my rent because I do not have money . I’m retired (almosrt 69). I went to police station, but they didn’t nothing.
    Finally I have to buy new lock and change the other one. This is devastated and the landlord said to me that I should had insurance against thefts, but of its responsibility to have changed the locks. I can not believe it.

    1. What documentation do you have that the landlord’s workers stole your property. If you have conclusive evidence then the landlord is responsible because he hired the workers and thus because they were working for him he is responsible. He should not have let anyone into your unit without your permission and being responsible for their conduct. Once again if you can show that the landlord is at fault regarding the workers getting the keys then the landlord is responsible for changing the locks. You can use our app to help you document your situation and write necessary letters.

  5. What if you landlord decided to lock the building door but there is no intercom system or anyway for package to be delivered?

    1. The Chicago building code does require at least a one-way intercom system if the building is at least 80 feet, approximately 5 stories. How tall is your building.

      If there was an intercom system in place and it is not working then the landlord must maintain the intercom.

      I do not know of any law in Chicago that requires a landlord to provide a mail box.

  6. I can’t see the “exceptions” area for rules if the landlord lives in the building. It’s a mid rise building with about 150 apartments. They’ve been leaving g the backdoir unlocked from 7am til 9pm daily.

      1. So what is the rule? We also have a new fob system and they won’t give any extras. So there’s no exception then? What are my options? It’s on weekends too.

        1. I am not sure what the question is? If you can get enough of the other tenants asking the landlord to change fobs because it creates a danger then the landlord may have to take action. Though once again landlord may try to make you responsible for the cost due to negligence.

        2. They are giving us fobs, but won’t give us extras. Aren’t we entitled to an extra? Our management seems to think that this is allowed: to leave our back door unlocked from 7am to 9pm. What can we do about this?

        3. Ok. And what can we do about the back doors being left unlocked from 7am to 9pm daily? Apparently the management thinks it’s legal.

  7. The house where my son rents a room was burglarized when a housemate left the back door unlocked. The burglars entered the unlocked house and found two interior rooms unlocked. They stole two computers, a couple sets of keys, and a car in the lot that one set of keys started. They also stole keys to the house. The tenants are worried the burglars will return as they have housekeys and keys to two rooms. Is the landlord required to change the locks?

    1. This a gray area of the law. If your question is simply whether the landlord has to change the locks, there is a strong argument that this is an immediate health and safety issue. It would be like not having a lock on your door. The landlord would have to remedy the problem in that case. The landlord may argue that there is no problem and that the locks are not broken and therefore not a code violation.

      If you are asking who has to pay for the change in locks that becomes grayer as the landlord can argue that the problem was caused by negligent on the tenants part. Under the law if the tenant causes the damage then the tenant is responsible for correcting the damage.

      The argument from the tenant perspective can be well the tenant did not cause the damage. Uninvited guest stole the keys. Let’s say that the an intruder broke down the door. In this case, the landlord is responsible for fixing damage.

      Is this a single family home? If there are other units that are in jeopardy then this second argument becomes stronger.

      There is certainly a legal issue here. I have no idea how a judge would rule on such a situation. Then the question is do you want to hire an attorney to litigate the issue. Hiring an attorney may cost more than replacing the locks. Has your son had a conversation with the landlord about replacing the locks? A letter/email to the landlord may be the best way to start and to see how the landlord is going to respond.

  8. How much notice must a landlord give the 18 tenants in his building when he decides to change the locks (providing two new keys for each household). My landlord gave us one day’s notice (nothing by text or email)–sliding an envelope with a letter explaining that there had been recent burglaries (bicycles stolen) and beginning tomorrow, the locks would be changed for all of the doors offering admittance to the building (7 doors, each using an identical key).

    It seemed to be inevitable that a fair number of my neighbors will have been away, returning, perhaps late at night, and unable to enter the building. Could one sue the landlord for doing the change with so little notice, especially when alternatives–text messages, email, and even phone calls would have been the thing to do when not doing it could effect lots of grief for tenants through no fault of their own.

    Any precedents?

    1. The law states that the landlord has to provide 2 days notice to enter the unit to make repairs. you should consult with an attorney but I think the landlord would have to provide everyone with 2 days notice unless there was an emergency. For instance, lets say that someone got robbed at gun point and the person stole the person’s keys. This could possibly be considered an emergency. In emergency situations, the landlord is not required to provide and notice.

      If the a tenant suffered actual damages, lets say that they had to pay for a hotel because they could not get into the unit. They could sue the landlord for damages. I would speak with an attorney. I think that it would start with a letter to the landlord stating that the landlord entered the building without notice and and caused damage. An attorney might be able to do a small class action and state that everyone suffered damage.


  9. Company installed a fence yet has deadbolt on each side. No one has a key and the closest exit you have to purchase a gate opener

    1. Hi Tina,

      You should send the landlord a 14-day notice requesting that the repair be made (aka give keys to the tenants so they can exit/enter). While it’s not a repair in the traditional sense it is the legal step you need to take to exercise your right to access the building. Once the landlord receives the notice he has 14 days to remedy the problem or you have the right to withhold a portion of rent until the problem is resolved. You should always take pictures if possible, and send them with the notice. Always make a copy of anything you send and keep it for your records. Keeping a paper trail of your actions is important. That’s why I strongly recommend using our free renters app to take photos, and create a timeline of events for your records. You can easily create letters to send to your landlord and find other tenants rights information there. Sign in at Feel free to call our hotline between 1-5PM Monday through Friday at 773-292-4988 as well.

  10. Yesterday (Sunday), I locked my keys in my apartment.Upon moving in I was only given one set of keys. I contacted (via Text) the building mgr- who does not live in the building to please let me inside. I explained I made a copy of the key, but the copy did not work. The building manager then called me and explained nobody was able to let me into my apartment. He apologized because he never informed me I couldn’t make duplicate keys at a hardware store- they had to be made by a locksmith only. He then asked me if he’s ever given me a spare key at move-in, I replied “no.” He said he recommends I call a locksmith or to wait until tomorrow. I called a locksmith because I couldn’t wait until tomorrow, I had my purse in the apartment and my work gear for the next day. The locksmith cost $100.00 and had to drill a hole into my keyhole on the knob, so now I have to buy a new knob and key set and make copies for the landlord and for myself. Is there anything I can do in regards to getting this taken off of my rent? I read the lease, it says nothing regarding this situation.

  11. The fire dept had to break into the security door of my building. Since there is no mamager on site to assist in emergencies or lock outs who is responsible to fix the security door? This is not the direct entry to my home.

    1. The law states that tenants are responsible for their actions and the actions of their guests. I do not think that the fire department is going to be considered a guest. There could be other circumstances such as if there was a fire and the fire was the result of negligent action on a part of the tenant then the tenant could be held liable for the damage to the apartment. Without knowing all the details it is difficult to say.

  12. Although we have a lock on the front door of our 3 story walk-up, my landlord’s maintenance man refuses to replace the buzzer system. I missed an important delivery last week and guests need to call me and I have to run down stairs to let them in. Twice the landlord himself has told me he was going to fix it but his “minion” that lives in the building refuses.

    1. If the owner does not live in the unit, the law allows the tenant to give the owner a written notice describing the problem and giving the landlord 14 days from the receipt of the letter to fix the problem and then telling the landlord in the notice that if the problem is not fixed that the tenant will hire someone to make the repair and deduct the cost from the rent. You can deduct upto one half months rent.

  13. I write on behalf of a friend. She had her computer stolen in a break-in. There is no functioning lock on the back door of the yard bordering on the alley behind her building. Is the landlord required to have a functioning lock on the back door of the yard? The burglars got access to her apartment by coming in through the unlocked back door bordering the alley. She has spoken to the landlord after the burglary and he is refusing to put in a lock for this back door.

    1. Here is link with a picture of the locks required on the front and back doors of an apartment. You can try calling 311 and requesting an inspection and the city inspector should cite the landlord for any violations. Are there other tenants impacted by this door? If so could all join together and write the landlord a letter demanding the repair of the locks. Finally if you are covered by the landlord and tenants ordinance then you could possibly hire someone to replace the locks and give keys to everyone including the landlord. You will have to follow certain procedures described in the law including sending a 14-day letter. Here is a link to a sample letter

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