Renter’s Rights

Negligence on the part of landlords is disempowering and aggravating. It can leave renters without electricity for days, or in a puddle of froth overflowing from a dishwasher. Title 5, Chapter 12 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is the renter’s one bargaining chip in these situations. Yet few renters know of its existence, let alone the leverage it gives them under difficult circumstances.

Including both tenant and landlord responsibilities, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance puts into words what renters may take to be implicit. For example, Section 05-12-050, “Landlord’s Right of Access,” requires a landlord to notify a renter at least two days prior to accessing the dwelling unit at a “reasonable time,” and furthermore makes clear that unreasonable withheld consent on the part of a renter can lead to termination of rental agreement, as outlined by Section 05-12-060, “Remedies for Improper Denial of Access.”

The Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance provides formal guidelines for motions against landlords who neglect their responsibilities, particularly on how to withhold rent, collect interest on overdue security deposits or prepaid rent, and protect oneself from unlawful dispossession of a dwelling unit. Any violation of Section 05-12-070, “Landlord’s Responsibility to Maintain,” which makes landlords accountable to the entire ordinance, allows renters to withhold rent until violations are addressed and fixed. Renters may present landlords with a written notice specifying any failure of landlord maintenance, stipulating that “rental agreement will terminate on a date not less than 14 days after receipt of the notice by the landlord.” Delivering written notices via registered mail is strongly suggested, as is careful recording of living conditions under violations of landlord maintenance.

The ordinance can be found online at For legal help, visit the Center for Renters’ Rights, a Chicago-based nonprofit, at For general advice see the Metropolitan Tenants Organization at