Historically, tenants have had much less power than landlords in the landlord-tenant relationship. This is especially true when it comes to rent increases. Many landlords know that moving is expensive and very inconvenient. Once they have a tenant settled in an apartment, they can often increase rent above market rates because moving is so painful. As a Chicago tenants’ rights attorney, I am commonly asked, “Can a landlord increase my rent in Chicago?” As we will see, landlords can increase rent, but only at appropriate times, with sufficient notice, and not for an improper purpose.
Does Chicago Have Rent Control?
Chicago does not have a rent control ordinance. In fact, rent control has been banned in all of Illinois since 1997. The Illinois Rent Control Preemption Act, specifically bars units of local government (such as the City of Chicago) from enacting any sort of law or ordinance that regulates or controls the amount of rent charged for leasing a private residential or commercial property. Specifically, the Rent Control Preemption Act states:
(a) A unit of local government, … shall not enact, maintain, or enforce an ordinance or resolution that would have the effect of controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private residential or commercial property.
(b) This Act does not impair the right of a unit of local government to manage and control residential property in which the unit of local government has a property interest.50 ILCS 825/5
Home rule preemption. A home rule unit may not regulate or control the amount of rent charged for leasing private residential or commercial property. This Section is a denial and limitation of home rule powers and functions under subsection (g) of Section 6 of Article VII of the Illinois Constitution.50 ILCS 825/10
Accordingly, rent control is currently banned in Illinois. That said, as of March 25, 2021, there is a serious push to lift the rent control ban and allow units of local government to enact rent control laws. In fact, House Bill 116, which is currently pending, would lift the ban. For more detail about the debate surrounding rent control in Illinois, see the links below:
Lawmakers move to lift rent control ban in Illinois
House bill to allow rent control advances amid debate on whether it helps or hurts tenants and landlords
Lawmaker advances bill to repeal state ban on rent control
If the ban is lifted, it will be up to individual municipalities to enact ordinances they feel appropriate. Historically, the Chicago area has been the most active area of Illinois in terms of tenants rights, so one would expect Chicago to act if historical precedent is followed.
Can a Landlord Increase My Rent During a Written Lease?
A lease is a contract between a landlord and tenant and, absent a law that overrules the lease, the lease terms must be followed by the parties to the contract.
I have more than a decade of legal experience, so I have seen over a thousand residential leases. The majority of leases in Chicago are based on forms from The Chicago Association of Realtors, Domu (a local apartment finder website), or one of a few other sources. These leases almost never specify rent increases during the term of the lease. In fact, one of the primary reasons tenants enter into a lease for a specific amount of time is to be guaranteed a set amount of rent for that term. It is very rare to see a lease allowing the landlord to raise rent during the lease term; when such lease provisions exist, it tends to be in a situation where a multi-year lease includes a rent increase after each year.
It should go without saying that a tenant should read an entire lease and all its attachments before signing. (Also take pictures or scan each page since some landlords do not give the tenant a copy.) The lease will be boring, and it may include language you do not understand, but you may catch something that would otherwise come back to haunt you (like a rent escalation clause). Ideally, have a lawyer review the lease — especially if you see something concerning.
When reviewing a lease, pay particular attention to the following:
- Anything that is hand-written;
- The “Additional Agreements and Covenants” box found on many forms;
- Addendums and rules and regulations that are not part of the pre-printed form; and
- The whole lease if it is not a Chicago-specific form lease.
As a general matter, landlords that add a lot to the form lease (or don’t use a form lease at all) should be considered suspect. If there are pages and pages of addendums or additional rules, the landlord probably wrote them for a particular reason and intends to be overbearing.
If there is no right in the lease to increase rent during its term, the landlord cannot increase rent until the term expires. There are no exceptions. If there is a right in the lease to increase rent during its term, the landlord still might not be able to increase rent since the law limits the right in certain circumstances. (See the discussion of the Chicago Fair Notice Ordinance below.)
Can a Chicago Landlord Increase My Rent After My Lease Expires?
If a tenant’s written lease expires and they continue renting on a month-to-month basis, or if the lease was always month-to-month, or if a written lease provides a right to increase rent during the lease term, rent can usually be increased under the situations described below, pursuant to the Chicago Fair Notice Ordinance.
If a tenant has lived in a unit for less than six months, the landlord must give at least 30 days’ written notice before raising rent or terminating a lease.
If a tenant has lived in a unit for six months to three years, the landlord must give at least 60 days’ written notice before raising rent or terminating a lease.
If a tenant has lived in a unit for more than three years, the landlord must give 120 days notice before increasing rent or terminating a lease.
If a landlord attempts to give notice in a shorter timeframe than required by law, the tenancy will continue for the entire legally required notice period at the same rent rate the tenant was paying before the rent increases (or the lease terminates).
Thus, the general rule is that when landlords are permitted to raise rent in Chicago, they must still give the tenant between 30 and 120 days’ written notice depending on the length of the tenancy. However, there are some exceptions to this rule that do not permit increasing rent even if the landlord would otherwise be able to.
Retaliatory Rent Increases
Landlords sometimes attempt to increase rent as retaliation for tenants engaging in certain activities, such as reporting code violations or requesting repairs. However, most residential units within the Chicago city limits are protected from this type of rent increase under the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”).
That said, there are several categories of exempt properties not covered by the RLTO. The most notable exemption is units located in owner-occupied buildings with six units or less. Thus, if you live in a building with six or fewer units and the owner of your unit (not other condo owners) also lives in the building, protection from retaliation will not apply. To read about the less-common RLTO exemptions, click here.
As noted above, you are protected from retaliatory rent increases only if your unit is covered by the RLTO. Under Section 5-12-150 of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance a landlord is not allowed to increase rent in retaliation for the following protected tenant activities as long as the tenant’s unit is covered by the RLTO. The following activities are considered protected under Chicago law.
- Complaining of code violations to a competent governmental agency, elected representative, or public official charged with enforcing a building, housing, health, or similar code;
- Complaining to a community organization or the news media regarding a building, housing, health, or similar code violation or an illegal landlord practice;
- Seeking the assistance of a community organization or the news media to remedy a code violation or illegal landlord practice;
- Requesting the landlord make repairs to the unit as required by building code, health ordinance, other regulation, or the lease;
- Joining a tenant’s union or similar organization;
- Testifying in any court or administrative proceeding concerning the condition of the premises; or
- Exercising any right or remedy provided by law.
If a landlord attempts to increase rent within 12 months after a tenant engages in a protected activity, it is presumed the increase was retaliatory absent the landlord proving that the increase was for a non-retaliatory reason.
If a landlord attempts a retaliatory rent increase, the tenant may file suit against the landlord and claim the greater of two months’ rent or twice actual monetary harm suffered as well as attorney’s fees and case costs.
When Can a Chicago Landlord Increase My Rent: Summary
In sum, a Chicago landlord can increase a tenant’s rent under the following conditions:
- The landlord and tenant are not currently bound by a written lease for a specific time period unless the written lease provides the right to increase rent during its term;
- The landlord gives sufficient written notice pursuant to the Chicago Fair Notice Ordinance; and
- The rent increase is not in retaliation for protected activity under Section 5-12-150 of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.
If your landlord tries to increase rent in a prohibited situation, the increase will be ineffective or delayed and you may be able to bring a claim against the landlord in court.