Having handled hundreds of security deposit disputes in Chicago, a common question I address is how to terminate a month-to-month lease in Chicago.
Month-to-month leases come in two primary forms:
- Oral leases that were month-to-month at the outset; and
- Written leases that expire and the tenant continues to live in the unit and the landlord continues to accept rent.
Contrary to what many tenants believe, there is a proper procedure for terminating a month-to-month lease in Chicago and the timing can be complicated. The tenant cannot simply move out with no notice – doing so will often result in loss of a security deposit or even a lawsuit for unpaid rent.
Terminating a month-to-month lease requires at least 30 days written notice and a termination date that falls at the end of a rental period (usually the end of the month). Though the termination notice is commonly called a “30-day notice” this term can lead to confusion with respect to timing.
One reason for confusion is that many tenants believe that the only requirement is that there be 30 calendar days between the notice date and the termination date. This ignores the fact that the termination date must be the end of a rental period. The tenant is not allowed to give mid-month notice, pay pro-rated rent for the next month, and move out exactly 30 days after notice – unless the landlord consents in writing to this arrangement.
Confusion also arises when the final month is February. Because February does not contain 30 days, notice on January 31 is not sufficient to end a lease on February 28/29. A late-January notice can result in a termination date at the end of March.
As you can see, providing proper notice can be tricky. Below are some example scenarios that illustrate when notice must be given.
Lease Termination Examples
Tenant wishes to end lease as soon as possible
Tom is a tenant and just received notice that he is immediately being transferred to China for work. The date is March 3, 2017, Tom is on a month-to-month lease and rent is due on the first of the month.
If Tom provides notice immediately, he is responsible for March and April rent. Though 30 days from the notice date is April 2, the lease must terminate at the end of a rental period, and the end of the next rental period after 30 days has elapsed is April 30.
Tenant decides to give notice on January 31
Tom is a tenant and on January 31 decides to give notice of termination to his landlord. Tom is on a month-to-month lease and rent is due on the first of the month.
Tom is responsible for February and March rent.
In many cases the tenant thinks he has satisfied the legal requirements by giving notice in the preceding month and the lease will terminate at the end of February. However, 30 days from January 31 provides an end date in March and, because the lease does not terminate mid-rental-period it will terminate at the end of March.
Tenant’s rent is due mid-month
Tom is a tenant and wishes to end his lease as soon as possible. The date is August 10, 2016, Tom is a month-to-month tenant, and Tom’s rent is due on the 15th of each month.
If Tom provides notice immediately, he is responsible for rent for the August 15-September 14 period. Rental periods that end mid-month are rare, but I do come across them sporadically. The rules are no different, though the tenant must be aware of what the tenant’s “rental period” is.
How to Give Notice When Terminating a Month-To-Month Lease in Chicago
When terminating a month-to-month lease in Chicago, the tenant should give notice in writing. Tenants should always assume that their landlord will lie about communications when it benefits them. Accordingly, tenants should always communicate with their landlord in writing so they can prove what was said if necessary.
What constitutes written notice is always changing. With the advent of email and text messages I am seeing a lot of electronic communications. Technically, they likely do constitute “writing” but many judges are old fashioned and holding a phone up in court to show texts isn’t ideal.
For most communications with a landlord, email works well and texts are okay so long as they can be preserved and downloaded. That said, for something as important as a notice of termination, mailing a physical piece of paper is advised.
When tenants ask for my recommendation, I tell them that they should send the notice of termination in both of the following ways:
U.S. Certified Mail: This is what judges are accustomed to. Make sure to keep the receipt and a photocopy of the notice. The notice should be sent to the address the lease lists for notices. If there is no address or no lease, the tenant should use the address where rent is paid.
Email: If the tenant has an email address for the landlord, it is good to send notice this via email as well. Email has the advantage of being immediate and it is also more difficult for the landlord to deny receipt. The tenant should copy themselves on the email.
In some cases, the landlords do not disclose any address and just show up at the beginning of the month to pick up rent. If this is the case, and the tenant does not have an email address for the landlord either, the best thing to do is plan to hand the landlord written notice with the second-to-last rent check (two months in advance). If this isn’t possible, the tenant should give notice in every way possible, including text. As a side-note, landlords that provide no contact address are in violation of Chicago tenants’ rights law and tenants should avoid renting from them if possible.
Tips for Terminating a Month-To-Month Lease in Chicago
Don’t wait until the last minute: Almost all problems caused when terminating a month-to-month tenancy are the result of tenants waiting until the last minute to give notice. A tenant should give the landlord plenty of notice, 45 days is advisable. Not only does providing 45 days’ notice prevent the complications noted above, it will put the landlord in a better mood and increase the chances that your security deposit will be returned without a fight.
That said, if a tenant gives notice too early, the landlord may decide to give his own 30-day notice and end the tenancy earlier than the tenant desires. This is rare, but can happen in the fall as finding new tenants in the winter is difficult. 45 days is just right because the tenant isn’t cutting it too close and it doesn’t give the landlord time to end the lease before the tenant’s desired date.
Notify the landlord if moving out early: Generally, tenants are not bound to live in the apartment for the entire final month. They just owe the rent for the full notice period. If the tenant is moving out early, the tenant should notify the landlord that the unit will not be occupied so the landlord can keep an eye on it. If the tenant is turning over possession early, rather than just moving out, the tenant should make sure to notify the landlord and turn over the keys.
Don’t terminate utilities early: Along with the duty to pay rent for the entire final month, the tenant also has the duty to pay utilities. The tenant should not cancel any utilities early without written consent from your landlord. An early cancellation could result in a reconnection fee to the landlord or, in winter, frozen pipes and extremely expensive damage.
Summer terminations are best: If possible, tenants should try to terminate in late spring or early summer. May through August are the primary rental months in Chicago and moving during those months will provide the tenant with the best selection of units and also make the landlord happy since new tenants are plentiful.
Provide a forwarding address: When terminating a lease, it is important to provide a forwarding address so the landlord knows where to send the security deposit and any notices required by law. If the tenant does not want to provide their own address, they can use a work address or that of a friend or family member. It is also important to update the address with the postal service so the mail will be forwarded. If a tenant fails to provide a forwarding address, they may have a problem successfully challenging security deposit deductions.