Renters’ Rights

Sometimes, finding the right apartment is the easiest part of the rental process. Negotiating with a landlord can be confusing and stressful, and new renters can find themselves lost in the fine-print of their contracts. Although a landlord’s obligations may seem vague, they’re not. The Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) clearly details the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. Here are some of the main issues to know about:


Security deposits: When you first sign a lease, you will have to pay a deposit generally ranging from one to two months’ rent that protects the landlord against damages to the apartment. You are entitled to a receipt, so make sure you get one. At the end of your rental agreement, you will get the deposit back, provided the apartment is in good shape. Before deducting expenses for damages, the landlord must provide you with an itemized list of damages. Upon moving out, you can request a walk-through with your landlord to inspect the apartment. If the landlord withholds your security deposit unfairly, you may sue the landlord to reclaim it. It’s a good idea to take pictures of the apartment both before moving in and upon moving out as proof.

Landlord access to your apartment: Landlords cannot enter the apartment without notice, but tenants are expected to permit reasonable access upon receiving two days notice from the landlord. In the case of emergency, the landlord may provide notice two days after the fact.

Damages/failure to maintain property: Landlords are responsible for maintaining the property and providing the services outlined in the lease. If they fail to do so, you have two options. You may request that the landlord make repairs within 14 days, and withhold a reasonable amount of your monthly rent if they fail to do so. Or you may arrange to have repairs done and deduct the greater of $500 or half a month’s rent (without exceeding a month’s rent).

Subleases: For summers or study abroad, you may opt to sublet your apartment. By law, the landlord must accept a reasonable subtenant without requiring additional fees.

Rent: If you are late on rent, the landlord can charge a late fee of up to $10 per month on rents under $500, plus 5 percent per month on the part of the rent that exceeds $500.

Moving out: The landlord cannot require you to renew your rental agreement more than 90 days before your lease expires. If you are moving out prior to the end of the rental agreement, the landlord must make a fair effort to find a new tenant. Keep in mind: if a new tenant does not sign on, you are responsible for the upholding the lease. If you leave property in the apartment, the landlord is not allowed to dispose of it. He or she must store it safely for at least seven days. Only the sheriff may remove your belongings, after the landlord had gotten permission from courts.

Evictions: It is illegal for landlords to lock you out or change the locks unexpectedly, or cut off heat, utilities, or running water. If this happens, notify the Chicago Police and the landlord may be fined. However, the landlord may sue for eviction for not paying rent, damaging the apartment, disturbing neighbors, or violating your lease. If you are late on rent, the landlord must give a written notice allowing you to pay rent for up to five days before suing for eviction. If you pay your rent within five days, they must accept your money. If you violate your lease, the landlord must tell you in writing what you have done and give you ten days’ notice.

The bottom line: While an oral agreement counts as a lease, sign a written lease and keep a copy. Go over the lease before signing and make sure it does not provide for anything that contradicts the laws stated by the RLTO, such as excessive late fees on rent. Take pictures of the apartment before moving in and upon moving out, in case of a dispute over the security deposit.


For more information on the tenants’ rights listed in the Municipal Code of Chicago visit For legal help, visit the Center for Renters’ Rights, a Chicago-based nonprofit, at For general advice see the Metropolitan Tenants Organization at  (Sasha Tycko)


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