Your Rights

Becoming a Legal Adult: Tenant Rights and Responsibilities Q & A

Q: What are a landlord’s rights in an apartment?

A: A landlord can charge whatever rent he or she chooses, set rules for living there, collect for damages to the property and sell the apartment. (If there is a written lease, however, the lease continues even though the property is sold).

Q: What are my rights as a tenant?

A: You can use the apartment according to the rules and live there without unjust interference by the landlord. The landlord must keep the property in livable condition.

You may have other rights depending on the type of property you are renting (e.g. mobile home parks, government subsidized housing and multi-unit buildings). Also, your lease with the landlord may give you additional rights.

Q: Is there anything I should do before renting a property?

A: You should see the place you rent, note its condition, and report in writing any need for painting, cleaning, and repairing. This way, you will have a list of items needing repair to prevent the landlord from claiming that you caused the damage after you moved in. However, unless the landlord agrees to repair the damage you report, your renting the property as it is means that the landlord does not have to fix problems unless they violate health or building codes.

Q: What is a lease and what should it say?

A: A lease is a contract between you and the landlord. It need not be in writing unless it is for more than one year (No matter how long you are renting property, a written lease can be good protection, for reasons explained below).

Before you sign a written lease, read it carefully, and make sure that you understand all the terms—see a lawyer if you think you need to. Do not leave any blank spaces unfilled. Make sure any promises by the landlord to do something not included on the standard lease form (such as a promise to paint the apartment) get written on the lease and or on a piece of paper attached to the form and initialed by both of you. Also, make sure you understand who pays for utilities, gas, electricity, water, garbage and the like. If you have a pet, or are planning to get one, be sure that the lease allows you to keep pets. Make sure you keep an exact copy of the original lease signed by both yourself and the owner, and an exact copy of the list of damages, if any.

Q: What are the advantages to having a written lease?

A: You will have:

  • A better idea of all of your rights and obligations
  • Protection from a dishonest landlord
  • Protection against poor memories

Q: What are the disadvantages to having a written lease?

A: Printed form leases usually favor the landlord. The lease could change some of the rules that would otherwise favor you.

Q: What is a security deposit and what is it used for?

A: It is money that you give to the landlord in addition to rent at the beginning of the lease term in case you damage the property, don’t pay rent, or leave the apartment without cleaning it properly. It often equals one month’s rent, but it can be any amount.
A landlord of a building with 5 or more rental units must return your full deposit within 30 days after you leave or tell you in writing why not.

Special rules also apply to security deposits for mobile homes in parks with 5 or more units; if the owner claims that you damaged the home, he or she has 15 days after your lease term ends to give you an itemized list of damages and an estimate of repair costs. You have 15 days from the date you received the list to object to the claim.

A written lease usually tells you how security deposits will be handled and what you should do to get them back. If you have questions about your security deposit, contact a lawyer immediately. Under certain circumstances, you may have a suit against the landlord who fails to return your security deposit within the time allowed by law. See a lawyer for information regarding circumstances and conditions you must meet.

Q: What if I have a complaint about my living conditions and the landlord does not respond. Who can I call for help?

A: If you believe there may be Health Code violations, you may contact the Department of Public Health. In Chicago, you may wish to call the Tenants Rights Hotline at 312/292-4988. Their hours are somewhat limited, but it may be worth a try.

Q: Are there minimum habitability standards?

A: Landlords must provide a habitable apartment for a tenant. At a minimum, this means that the apartment must be livable, safe and sanitary. This standard is not met if the landlord fails to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or to rid an apartment of insect infestation. This warranty of habitability also applies to the public areas of the apartment building, like the hallways. However, if the unlivable, unsafe or unsanitary conditions were caused by the misconduct of the tenant, then it is the responsibility of the tenant to either fix the condition or pay the landlord the reasonable cost of repair.

Download the full Becoming a Legal Adult Booklet here


Note: This information was prepared as a public service by the Illinois State Bar Association. Every effort has been made to provide accurate information at the time of publication. For the most current information, please consult your lawyer. If you need a lawyer and do not have one, visit our lawyer referral page.

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