The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) is the preeminent source of tenants’ rights law for those that live in the City of Chicago. To download a full copy of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance, click here. For a more user-friendly version of Chicago tenant rights, keep reading.
Applicability of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance applies to almost all residential apartments in within the official Chicago city limits. There are, however, some units excluded from the ordinance’s protection. If your apartment is subject to one of the exceptions listed below, please reference our guide on Illinois Tenants Rights.
- Units in suburban Cook County are not within the city limits of Chicago and are not protected by the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance;
- Commercial and industrial tenants are not protected by the RLTO;
- Owner occupied buildings that have 6 units or less receive no protection except for the prohibition against unlawful lockouts (but consult a lawyer to determine who the owner is, it is often someone other than the person you were told owns the building);
- Rooms in hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, rooming houses, and boarding houses are not subject to the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance unless the tenant stays 32 or more consecutive days and pays monthly rent;.
- Hospitals, convents, monasteries, extended care facilities, shelters, not-for-profit homes for the aged, dormitories and similar establishments are not regulated by the RLTO;
- Properties occupied pursuant to a real estate purchase contract;
- Employee housing; and
- Co-op units occupied by the holder of a proprietary lease.
Tenant Responsibilities under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
Though the RLTO is often thought of as a tenants’ rights statute, it does impose some burdens on the tenants as well. Under the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordnance, tenants must:
- Comply with the Chicago Bedbug Ordinance;
- Keep the premises safe;
- Dispose of garbage and waste;
- Keep plumbing clean;
- Use utilities and fixtures reasonably;
- Not destroy or deface the premises; and
- Refrain from disturbing the neighbors.
Right of Access under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
The RLTO regulates the right of the landlord to access the premises, the right of the tenant to refuse access, and the penalties for violating the Ordinance.
Proper purposes for accessing the unit under the RLTO
The Landlord may only access the unit for a proper purpose and must not do so for reasons or in a manner to harass the tenant. The proper purposes to access the unit are:
- To make improvements or repairs that are necessary or agreed upon;
- To supply services;
- To conduct inspections authorized or required by a government agency;
- To exhibit the unit to prospective purchasers, mortgagees, workmen or contractors;
- To exhibit the unit to prospective tenants within 60 days of the lease termination date;
- When repairs necessary elsewhere in the building require access;
- To determine tenant’s compliance with the rental agreement;
- In case of emergency.
Procedure for accessing the unit
A landlord may not abuse the right of access or use the right of access to harass the tenant. the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance sets out the procedure for access:
- A landlord may access the unit with consent of the tenant. However, the tenant may refuse consent if the access is not for a proper purpose, at a proper time and with proper notice.
- Except in a case of emergency or necessity when repairs to another part of the building unexpectedly requires access to the unit, the landlord must give 48 hours notice to the tenant.Notice to the tenant must be by mail, telephone, or other reasonable means designed in good faith to provide notice to the tenant.
- Access must be made at reasonable times (except in case of emergency), Access between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. or at any other time requested by the tenant is presumed reasonable.
- In case of emergency of necessity when repairs to another part of the building unexpectedly requires access to the unit, the landlord must give notice of the entry within two days after the entry.
Penalty for unlawful access under the RLTO
If a landlord makes unlawful entry, lawful entry in an unreasonable manner, or makes repeated unreasonable demand for entry, the tenant may:
- Obtain an injunction against the landlord;
- Terminate the rental agreement;
- Recover one month of rent or twice the damage sustained, whichever is greater;
- Recover attorney fees and costs.
Regulation of Security Deposits under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
Chicago regulates security deposits in myriad of ways. As such, we have a whole article devoted to Chicago security deposit law. If you are concerned about the treatment of your deposit, read that article or contact us for a consultation and an evaluation of your specific situation. Your landlord should never get away with stealing your deposit.
Identification of Owners and Agents under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
Many landlords like to attempt to be anonymous, figuring that if their tenants can’t find them, or even contact them, they can shirk their responsibilities. In some areas of the city, we have found that tenants have no written lease, no idea who their landlord is, and just pay cash to some guy named Sam who shows up every month.
Landlords are not permitted to hide. The RLTO mandates that the following be disclosed in writing to the tenant:
- The name, address, and phone number of the owner or person authorized to manage the premises; and
- The name address and phone number of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner for the purpose of service of process and for the purpose of receiving notices and demands.
If the landlord does not make the proper disclosures, the tenant may terminate the lease and, if the landlord does not comply with a written demand for disclosure within 14 days, the tenant may recover one months rent or actual damages, plus attorney fees and costs.
Notification of a Foreclosure Action is Required under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
Under the RLTO, tenants have a right to be notified that their building/unit is in foreclosure within 7 days of the landlord being served with summons. If the unit is in foreclosure prior to the tenant signing the lease, the proper notification must be given before the tenant enters into the agreement.
The notification required is very specific and must identify the court, case name, and case number. The notice must also have the following language:
“This is not a notice to vacate the premise. This notice does not mean ownership of the building has changed. All tenants are still responsible for payment of rent and other obligations under the rental agreement. The owner or landlord is still responsible for their obligations under the rental agreement. You shall receive additional notice if there is a change in owner.”
If the notification is not given, the tenant may terminate the lease and recover $200,00 plus attorney fees and court costs.
Notification of Code and Utility Violations is Required under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
Before entering into a lease, a landlord must disclose to the tenant, in writing, the following:
- Code violations cited by the City of Chicago relating to the unit or common areas within the past 12 months as well as the case number of any code enforcement litigation; and
- Any notice of intent by the City of Chicago or a utility provider to terminate a utility to the dwelling or common area.
If the landlord violates this provision, the tenant may terminate the lease and, if the landlord does not comply with a written demand for disclosure within 14 days, the tenant may recover one months rent or actual damages, plus attorney fees and costs.
The RLTO Requires that the Landlord Provide a Bed Bug Brochure
The recently enacted Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance requires that landlords provide tenants with a bed bug brochure that outlines the responsibilities of a landlord and tenant when bedbugs are detected.
The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance Requires that the Landlord Maintain the Property
The RLTO requires that the landlord maintain the property in accordance with the municipal code. The ordinance goes on offer remedies for the following deficiencies:
- Failure to maintain the structural integrity of the building or structure or parts thereof;
- Failure to maintain floors in compliance with the safe load-bearing requirements of the municipal code;
- Failure to comply with applicable requirements of the municipal code for the number, width, construction, location or accessibility of exits;
- Failure to maintain exit, stairway, fire escape or directional signs where required by the municipal code;
- Failure to provide smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, fire alarm systems, automatic fire detectors or fire extinguishers where required by the municipal code;
- Failure to maintain elevators in compliance with applicable provisions of the municipal code;
- Failure to provide or maintain in good working order a flush water closet, lavatory basin, bathtub or shower, or kitchen sink;
- Failure to maintain heating facilities or gas-fired appliances in compliance with the requirements of the municipal code;
- Failure to provide heat or hot water in such amounts and at such levels and times as required by the municipal code;
- Failure to provide hot and cold running water as required by the municipal code;
- Failure to provide adequate hall or stairway lighting as required by the municipal code;
- Failure to maintain the foundation, exterior walls or exterior roof in sound condition and repair, substantially watertight and protected against rodents;
- Failure to maintain floors, interior walls or ceilings in sound condition and good repair;
- Failure to maintain windows, exterior doors or basement hatchways in sound condition and repair and substantially tight and to provide locks or security devices as required by the municipal code, including deadlatch locks, deadbolt locks, sash or ventilation locks, and front door windows or peepholes;
- Failure to supply screens where required by the municipal code;
- Failure to maintain stairways or porches in safe condition and sound repair;
- Failure to maintain the basement or cellar in a safe and sanitary condition;
- Failure to maintain facilities, equipment or chimneys in safe and sound working condition;
- Failure to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water;
- Failure to exterminate insects, rodents or other pests;
- Failure to supply or maintain facilities for refuse disposal;
- Failure to prevent the accumulation of garbage, trash, refuse or debris as required by the municipal code;
- Failure to provide adequate light or ventilation as required by the municipal code;
- Failure to maintain plumbing facilities, piping, fixtures, appurtenances and appliances in good operating condition and repair;
- Failure to provide or maintain electrical systems, circuits, receptacles and devices as required by the municipal code;
- Failure to maintain and repair any equipment which the landlord supplies or is required to supply; or
- Failure to maintain the dwelling unit and common areas in a fit and habitable condition.
- Give notice and terminate. If a landlord does not comply with the Ordinance or the rental agreement, the tenant may give written notice that the lease will terminate if the landlord does not fix the deficiency within 14 days. The tenant is then given 30 days after the lease terminates to vacate the premises.
- Repair and deduct. If a needed repair will cost less than the greater of $500 and 1/2 monthly rent, the tenant may give a 14 day notice after which the tenant may hire a professional to make the repair, provide receipts to the landlord, and deduct that amount from the rent.
- Withhold a portion of rent. If the landlord fails to repair the defect within 14 days after proper notice, the tenant may deduct rent to the extent that it reasonably reflects the reduction in rental value of the unit.
- Injunctive relief. File a lawsuit in court for an injunction and any damages that the tenant has suffered.
Remedies for failure to provide essential services
- Procure services. The tenant may procure a reasonable amount of the needed essential service and then present receipts and deduct that amount from rent.
- Recover damages. Sue the landlord for damages in an amount equal to the reduction in the fair rental value of the apartment.
- Procure substitute housing. Obtain temporary housing and be excused from paying rent during the period of non-compliance. The tenant may deduct from rent the amount the reasonable housing cost up to the prorated monthly rent.
- Withhold rent. After 24 hours notice, if the condition is not corrected, the tenant may withhold an amount that reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises due to the non-compliance.
- Terminate after notice. If the deficiency is not remedied within 72 hours of notice, the tenant may terminate the lease and tender possession within 30 days.
Casualty Damage under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
- Terminate. Immediately vacate and notify the landlord within 14 days that you are terminating.
- Reduce rent. Vacate part of the premises that is damaged and reduce rent by the reduction in the fair rental value of the unit.
Failure to Deliver Possession under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
- Terminate. Terminate the rental agreement upon written notice.
- Demand Performance. Sue for possession of the dwelling against the landlord and any person withholding possession and recover damages. If a person is willfully failing to deliver possession, the aggrieved party may recover two months rent or twice actual damages, whichever is greater.
Subleasing under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
A Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
Landlords must mitigate their damages. This means that if a tenant breaks the lease without legal justification, the landlord must try to find a new tenant. If the landlord does find a new tenant, the old tenant is only liable for the period of time that there was no tenant as well as reasonable advertising costs. If the landlord reasonably tries, but fails to find a new tenant, the old tenant is responsible for all the unpaid rent, plus the advertising costs incurred by the landlord.
Lease Terms Barred under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
- Waiver of rights, remedies or obligations contained in the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance;
- Authorization to confess judgment;
- Agreement to limit liability of the landlord or tenant;
- Agreement to waive written termination notice or manner of service as provided in the RLTO;
- Agreement to waive right to trial by jury;
- Agreement that the tenant will pay the landlord’s attorney fees;
- Agreement that a party may cancel or terminate the rental agreement at a different or shorter time period than the other party unless that provision is disclosed in a separate written notice;
- Late charges in excess of $10 for the first $500 in rent and 5% of any amount in excess of $500 in rent.
If a landlord attempts to enforce any illegal provision, the tenant is entitled to 2 months rent and attorney fees and case costs.
Retaliation is Barred under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
There is a long history of landlords retaliating against tenants who take action in an attempt to protect their rights under the law. To combat this, the RLTO provides penalties against landlords who retaliate against their tenants for participating in protected activities. The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance considers the following acts retaliation:
- Terminating a tenancy;
- Increasing rent;
- Decreasing services;
- Bringing or threatening to bring a lawsuit for possession; and
- Refusing to renew a tenancy.
The protected activities a tenant may engage in without retaliation are:
- Complaining of code violations to a government agency, elected representative, or relevant public official;
- Complaining of building, housing, health or similar code violations or illegal landlord practice to a community organization or news media;
- Seeking assistance of community organization or news media to remedy a code violation or illegal landlord practice;
- Requesting that the landlord make repairs required by the building code, health ordinance, other regulation or rental agreement;
- Becoming a member of a tenant’s union or similar organization;
- Testified in court or administrative proceeding concerning the condition of the premises; or
- Exercised any right or remedy provided by law.
If the landlord violates this section of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance, the tenant has the following remedies:
- A defense to any retaliatory action against him, including an eviction action;
- Right to recover possession of the premises;
- Right to terminate the lease;
- Sue for the greater of 2 months rent or actual damages, whichever is greater, plus attorney fees and costs
Moreover, the RLTO presumes that conduct was retaliatory if taken within a year after the tenant engaged in protected activity.
Unlawful Evictions are Banned under the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance
The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance bans landlords from self-help evictions. In fact, Illinois law generally does not allow a landlord to evict someone without a court order. The following acts if taken or threatened are considered illegal evictions:
- Plugging, changing, adding, or removing any lock;
- Blocking the entrance to the unit;
- Removing a door or window from the unit;
- Interfering with utility services;
- Removing tenant’s personal property;
- Removing or incapacitating appliances or fixtures;
- Use or threat of force or violence against the tenant’s person or property; or
- Rendering the dwelling unit uninhabitable.
If the landlord violates this provision, the tenant may call the police, which will subject the landlord to a fine. The tenant may also sue to recover possession of the unit and/or an amount equal to two months rent or twice the actual damages sustained, plus attorney fees and case costs.
The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance Requires Attachment of the RLTO Summary
The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance requires that landlords attach the RLTO summary to each lease and each renewal of the lease. If the landlord fails to attach the RLTO summary, the tenant may terminate the lease and recover $100.00 in damages, plus attorney fees and case costs.