Your Rights

Tenant Rights Under Illinois Law

If you rent a house or apartment, Illinois law provides you with certain legal protections. Being familiar with the law, as well as the specific terms of your individual lease, can help you avoid problems with your landlord.

When renting a house or apartment, most tenants ask for a written lease, an agreement with the landlord indicating, among other things, the length of the lease (usually one year), the amount of the rent, the terms of any rent increase, information related to the security deposit, and your obligations as a tenant. In certain circumstances, landlords must pay interest annually to tenants on security deposits.

Before moving in, tenants should take photos of the house or apartment in case there is a dispute about damages later on. It is also advisable to pay your monthly rent by check or money order (not cash) and to keep a copy of your lease agreement and receipts together in a safe place.

Tenants should expect the landlord to keep the house or apartment building up to local building code. In return, the tenant must keep the property clean, make structural changes only if permission is received, pay the rent on time, abide by the guidelines set forth in the lease, and give the landlord the required notice before moving out.

If a repair is needed, landlords have a limited amount of time to make them. If the landlord doesn't cooperate, you should send him or her a letter by certified mail. If the landlord fails to timely do repairs, you may have the right to do them yourself and deduct the amount from your next rent payment. Keep receipts and take before and after photos; these documents can be used as proof if you need to go to court.

Depending on the terms of a lease, if a landlord wants to enter a tenant's house or apartment for any reason other than an emergency, the tenant must be informed in advance and must have provided permission.

A tenant can be evicted for non-payment of rent, not complying with lease provisions, or if the building has turned condo after the tenant's lease expires. The process can only be done by a court order. If a landlord tries to evict you without approval from the court, you should contact the local police or sheriff's office.

A tenant who is planning to move should be paying rent in compliance with the lease or rental agreements, and proper notice should be given to the landlord according to the terms of the lease. Tenants have the legal right to remove all of their possessions, including any fixtures that have been installed such as a ceiling fan or light fixture - if they can do so without altering the property or making a structural change.

When tenants prepare to move out, they can help ensure getting their deposit returned if they accompany the landlord on a walk-through of the empty house or apartment to mutually agree on what, if any, damages there are. If there is a charge for repairs, the landlord must send an itemized list of damages and their cost, along with a check for the security deposit, minus those charges. Tenants have the right to have their security deposit, with the accumulated interest, if any, returned within 30 days after moving out.

Chicago residents have many protections under the Chicago Residential Landlord/Tenants Ordinance. Several of those rights are also found in state statutes related to larger apartment projects (12 or more units).

If a landlord has agreed to pay for such services as gas, electricity, water or garbage collection, and the landlord fails to make those payments, a tenant may be forced to choose to either terminate the service or pay the bill out of pocket. A tenant who pays for the services that are specified as the responsibility of the landlord may ask the landlord for reimbursement. Should the landlord refuse to pay, the tenant has the legal right to deduct the payments made for services from the rent. Only the actual amount paid for those services may be deducted, however.

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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