Protect Yourself From a Terrible Landlord With These 10 Renter's Rights

According to the city of Chicago's website, more than 60 percent of the city's residents are renters. Just as certain responsibilities are required of them, they are also afforded certain rights under Illinois and Chicago laws and can hold landlords and building/unit owners responsible for their duties. Chicago renters' rights and responsibilities are subject to national, Illinois state and city laws.

The Illinois Attorney General's office recommends tenants demand a written lease "to avoid future misunderstandings with your landlord," which potential renters should read carefully before signing.

In Chicago, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO) governs the relationship between the two parties, a summary of which must be attached to every lease to which it applies signed within the city. (The ordinance does not cover hotels, school dorms or units in owner-occupied buildings with six or fewer units, though it does cover oral agreements.)

Check out this list and read on below to see some of the rights given to Chicago renters and landlords:


The CRLTO states that tenants must buy and install batteries to keep smoke detectors working properly, keep the unit safe and clean and avoid disturbing other residents. A resident must also allow a landlord access to a unit after two days' notice.

The attorney general's office also says that tenants must pay rent on time, keep the unit "clean and undamaged" (and pay for any damages beyond "normal wear and tear" for which a tenant is responsible) and give a written 30-day notice if you intend to leave at the end of your lease in order to get your security deposit back.

Chicago landlords also have responsibilities according to the CRLTO and the Illinois Attorney General's office, which first includes keeping the unit fit to live in. They must also make necessary repairs to buildings and units in compliance with health codes and cannot cut off access to water, heat or electricity.

In the case of a landlord or tenant who does not comply with these duties, both parties have rights they may exercise.

Landlords may not penalize tenants for making complaints about housing to government officials, police or the media.

Tenants may expect that landlords will make minor repairs after an oral request and will make major repairs within two weeks of a written request, according to Chicago business attorney Evan Sauer, writing at Chicago Curbed. If such repairs are not made, tenants may hire someone to make the repairs or make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the next month's rent. Or, a tenant may deduct money from the next month's rent to reflect the lowered value of the unit if repairs are not made. If a major repair is not made within two weeks of a written request, a tenant may terminate the lease (within 30 days), according to Sauer.

If there is a fire for which the tenants or their guests are not at fault, the tenants may move out immediately, providing written notice of their departure within two weeks, or they may stay and expect that necessary repairs be made, according to the CRLTO.

Landlords must accept reasonable subtenant suggestions from a tenant, or make an effort to find a subtenant on their own if they do not agree to the sub-letter that the tenant has suggested. Landlords cannot charge additional fees to subtenants or tenants in a sublease situation, according to the CRLTO. If both parties, however, make "good faith" efforts to find subtenants and cannot agree on one, the original tenant remains responsible for rent through the end of the original lease.

According to Sauer and the attorney general's office, tenants are entitled to interest on security deposits. Renters should expect to receive their security deposit, plus interest and minus deducted repair costs, no more than 45 days after they move out. There is technically no legal limit on what a landlord can ask for as a security deposit, but is usually equal to one month's rent and is collected to cover the cost of repairs or cleaning after a tenant has moved out. If they must use some of the deposited money to pay for repairs or cleaning, landlords must provide tenants with an itemized list of repairs and costs. Alternatively, the landlord may apply the interest as rent credit every 12 months.

If tenants pay rent late, landlords may charge a fine of $10 per month on rents under $500 and $10 plus 5 percent on rents over $500. If a tenant fails to pay rent at all, the landlord may terminate the lease agreement after five days' written notice. If the renter pays the due rent within the five-day period, they may stay.  If the renter otherwise violates the terms of the lease, the landlord must give 10 day's notice before terminating the lease agreement.

Landlords may not lock residents out of their homes. According to the CRLTO, this provision applies to all rental units in the city, even ones the CRLTO does not usually cover. Landlords can be fined up to $500 for every day the lockout continues.

Nationally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity are responsible for regulating fair housing practices and protecting residents from housing discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, disability, age, English proficiency, familial status or activity receiving federal assistance. Housing providers that receive HUD funds or have loans that are insured by the Federal Housing Administration must also comply with regulations that protect equal housing opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Ultimately, it seems that Chicago landlord-tenant laws are designed so everyone acts with common sense and decency. Renters who need help understanding or exercising their rights can call the Chicago Rents Right Hot-line at 312-742-RENT (312-742-7368).