Chicago Tenants Rights Pamphlets (English #1)

Chicago Tenants Rights Pamphlets (English #1 of 3)

The following is from Chicago's Metropolitan Tenants Organization
"Tenants Rights and Responsibilities" series.

[Index] [English #2] [English #3]

Building Security

Do the doors to my building and my apartment have to have locks?

Yes, certain locks are required by law. This pamphlet will tell you what kinds of locks are required.

Does my landlord have the right to keep a key to my apartment?

Yes, your landlord may keep a key to your apartment. However, if you feel that your landlord comes into your apartment unfairly you can call the MTO Tenants Rights Hotline (292-4988) for information on what steps you can take to halt illegal landlord access.

What kinds of locks must be on the front and rear doors of my building?

The front and rear entrance doors to the building should each have a DEADLATCH LOCK. This type of lock automatically locks when the door is shut, and can be opened from the outside only with a key, not with a plastic card, knife, or other object.

If my building has a vestibule or lobby, with an outside door and an inside door, which door should have the lock?

If the front entrance has two doors, then one of the doors must have a deadlatch lock. This can be either the inside door or the outside door.

What kinds of locks must be on the doors to my own apartment?

The front and rear doors to the apartment must each have a DEADBOLT LOCK. This can be a "vertical drop" type lock (see picture), or a horizontal bolt that projects at least one inch (see picture). If you are not sure what kind of locks you have, then you should ask a locksmith whether you have the right kind.

Should I be able to look out of my apartment door without opening it?

Yes, City law requires that the front door to each apartment must have a viewing device, such as a window or peephole.

Should my windows have locks on them?

If your window is within 20 feet of the ground, or within 10 feet of an adjacent roof, outside stairway, fire escape, ramp, or porch which can be reached from the ground, then the window must have a SASH LOCK (see picture). These windows must also have a lock which allows them to open four to six inches, and then lock in that position. This is called a VENTILATION LOCK.

Who must pay for putting in these locks?

The landlord must pay for locks that are required by law. If you want more security than the City law requires, then you must get permission from your landlord. Your landlord does not have to pay for the additional locks.

What about burglar bars?

You must have the consent of your landlord before installing burglar bars. Get this agreement IN WRITING. Once installed, burglar bars are the landlord's property, because they become a permanent part of the building. Landlords are not required to pay for installing bars. It is illegal to install burglar bars on the entrance or exit doors of a building or apartment. Some kinds of burglar bars are not legal, so contact the fire or police department before you install burglar bars.

What if I do not have the right kind of locks on my doors and windows?

You should tell your landlord IN WRITING, and ask to have the correct locks installed. Keep a copy of your letter. If your landlord does not take action you can contact the Department of Buildings at 744-5000. The City can then bring your landlord into Housing Court to correct the problem. In some cases you can install the locks yourself, but before you do this be sure to read this pamphlet carefully.

Can I use my rent money to have the locks installed, if my landlord refuses to put them in?

If you live in a building that is covered by the Chicago Landlord-Tenant Ordinance, then you do have the right to use rent money to have the locks installed. Your building is covered if the owner of the building does not live in the building, OR if the building is larger than 6 units. If you live in one of these types of buildings, then you do have the right to use rent money to install the correct locks. BUT, you must follow the right steps before doing this.

If you live in a building that is NOT covered by the Chicago Landlord-Tenant Ordinance, then you do not have the right to use rent money to pay for new locks, unless your landlord agrees to it in writing.

What steps do I have to follow to use rent money for installing the correct locks?

This is called "repair and deduct." Read the previous question to find out if you are allowed to do this.

First you must give your landlord written notice at least 14 days in advance. This notice should ask for the correct locks required by the law, and say that you will "repair and deduct" if the locks are not installed within 14 days. KEEP A COPY OF THIS LETTER. Then you must wait for 14 full days. After this time is up, you have the right to have the correct locks installed by a professional locksmith. You may deduct the cost from your next rent payment if you give a copy of the receipt to your landlord. REMEMBER that tenants in owner-occupied buildings of 6 or less CANNOT use this process. See "Rent Withholding & Repair and Deduct" pamphlet for more details.

How much can I spend on putting in the locks, if I "repair and deduct?"

You cannot "repair and deduct" for a cost of more than $500, or one-half (1/2) of your monthly rent, whichever is greater, but not to exceed your monthly rent.

Can I "repair and deduct" for the locks on the entrance door to my building?

You must notify all the other tenants in the building, and notify your landlord of your plan to have locks installed in the common areas. Then you must follow the steps for "repair and deduct" -- see the previous three questions.

What can we do as tenants to stop crime in our building?

If tenants work together, there are ways to fight crime in a building. One way is to organize a Crime Watch. If there is a group of tenants in your building or neighborhood that want to work together against crime, your group should call the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety, at 461-0444, and find out how to start a Crime Watch for your building or neighborhood.


Do all leases have to be written?

No. Whether or not you get the lease in writing is a matter of choice. The advantage of a written lease is that you have proof of your specific agreement, and it makes clear the duties of you and your landlord. It also gives you the right to stay in the apartment for the time the lease states.

Does the lease have to be in the language we used to make the agreement?

Yes. If you made the agreement in Spanish the lease must be in Spanish. Do not sign anything you cannot read or understand.

After I move in can the landlord change the amount of my rent?

This depends on your lease. Your landlord can put in the lease that rent can change, so read the lease very carefully. It would be best to get legal advice before you sign any lease so you know exactly what your landlord can do and what you are required to do.

What if the lease says things I do not want?

Do not sign anything that includes items you do not agree with. Once you sign the lease you will have a hard time proving you did not agree with the whole thing. You can cross out the parts you do not want. If you do this both you and the landlord must sign at every place the words are crossed out or added, so that you can show that changes were agreed to by both of you. Get a copy of the lease after you sign it. If anything was changed, make sure your copy is also changed and signed.

Is there anything a lease cannot say?

The lease cannot make you give up any of your rights under city law. The lease cannot:

  • let your landlord get an order of eviction from the court without serving you with a summons and complaint informing you of the court case (this is sometimes called a "confession of judgement clause"); or
  • allow the landlord to file an eviction case without first giving you a written 5 or 10 day notice terminating your lease; or
  • charge a late fee or give a rent discount of more than $10 for the first $500 in rent plus 5% per month for any amount of rent over $500; or
  • allow your landlord to make you responsible for the landlord's negligence; or
  • make you give up the right to a jury trial in eviction; or
  • make you pay for your landlord's lawyer's fees, unless allowed by law.

If any of these provisions are in the lease, they are illegal and cannot be enforced by the landlord. For more information on evictions, see "Evictions" pamphlet.

What if my lease has one of these illegal clauses?

If you have a lease with illegal clauses, it does not invalidate the entire lease. It just means the landlord can not legally try to enforce the illegal clauses. If the landlord tries to enforce one of these clauses, you can sue for any actual damages, two months' rent and lawyer's fees.

Can my landlord charge me for paying rent late?

Yes. But only if there is a provision in your lease for late fees, and then the landlord can only charge you $10 a month for the first $500 in monthly rent, plus 5% per month for any amount in excess of $500 in monthly rent. So, if your rent is $600 a month the landlord can charge a late fee of $15. Any agreement giving a tenant a discount or reduction in rent, if the rent is paid before a specified date, may not exceed the limits set for late fees.

What if I want to get out of my lease early?

The lease can be ended early only by agreement with your landlord, or by using your right to end the lease for certain unfair landlord actions under the Landlord-Tenant Law. If you fail to do the specific acts required by the city law, you cannot get out of your lease early. Contact a lawyer if you have this problem. For more information, see "Moving Out" pamphlet.

Can I be charged anything for moving out early?

If you move out early, your landlord must try to re-rent the apartment at a fair rent. If the landlord is successful in re-renting the apartment, then your obligation is ended. It is beneficial to both the landlord and the tenant to work out a mutually agreeable solution.

If the landlord re-rents the apartment for less than what you were paying, you will have to pay the difference between the amount the new tenant pays and your rent. For example, if you move out 3 months early and your rent is $400 a month and the landlord finds a tenant who pays only $350 a month, you may owe the difference between what you would have paid ($400) and what the next tenant is paying ($350), which is $50 each month for three months.

What if my landlord cannot re-rent the apartment?

If your landlord makes a good faith effort but cannot find someone else to rent the apartment, you will owe the amount of your rent just as if you had stayed until the end of the lease. If you paid $400 a month and you leave three months before the end of the lease, you will owe the landlord $1,200. You will also owe the landlord any reasonable amount that the landlord spent advertising the apartment.

Can I sublet the apartment?

Yes. If you want to move out early and have arranged to sublet the apartment, your landlord must accept any reasonable subtenant without charging any fees.

Remember, you are still liable to the landlord for rent if the subtenant does not pay the rent. If you plan to move and not return to the apartment, it is better to get a written agreement with your landlord to end the lease early.

What happens when my lease expires?

You have the right to move out, when your lease expires. Some landlords and tenants agree not to sign another lease, and continue with a month-to-month rental agreement. Other landlords may want you to sign a new lease when your old one expires. If the landlord requires you to sign a lease more than 90 days before your current lease expires, you can sue the landlord for one month's rent or actual damages, whichever is greater.

If your landlord does not want to have you live there after the end date of your lease, the landlord must give you a written notice at least 30 days prior to the end of the lease. If the landlord does not give you this notice 30 days before the end of the lease, you have the right to stay in the apartment 60 days from the time you do receive the notice, at the same rent and terms.


What is a lockout?

A lockout is any action your landlord or his or her employees take that prevents you from living in you apartment or that forces you to leave. For example, a lockout can be plugging, changing, adding or removing locks, blocking entrances, removing doors or windows, or turning off the utilities (gas, heat, electricity, water or telephone service). In general, a lockout is anything that makes it impossible for you to get into or out of your apartment, or anything that makes it impossible for you to live in your apartment. Your landlord cannot legally use any of the above methods, violence, or the threat of force to make you leave.

Can my landlord evict me by locking me out?

No. Your landlord can only have you evicted by asking for and getting permission from a court. After a court has granted the eviction only the Sheriff may actually remove your belongs from your apartment. See the "Evictions" pamphlet.

Can I be locked out for not paying rent?

No. Your landlord cannot lock you out even if you have not paid your rent. But your landlord can bring an eviction court case against you. For more information, see the "Evictions" pamphlet.

What can I do if my landlord locks me out?

Call the police and say that your landlord has illegally locked you out of your apartment. Then if necessary, call a lawyer, your local community group, or the Department of Human Services at 744-5829 for emergency shelter information. It is illegal for your landlord to lock you out of your apartment. Your landlord can be arrested or fined by the court between $200 and $500 for each day you were locked out.

What if the police will not help me?

Get the badge numbers of the officers who are refusing you assistance. Then call your local police station and ask to speak with the Watch Commander to report this problem. Special Order #93-12 requires the police to investigate lockouts.

Can I sue my lanldord for locking me out?

Yes. If you can prove your landlord has wrongfully locked you out, you can regain possession of your apartment or property, get money from your landlord equal to two months rent or twice the damages caused by the lockout (whichever is more) and get your lawyer's fees paid.

Can I get paid for damage caused by the lockout?

Yes. You can get money for damage caused by the lockout. For example, if you are kept away from your medicines or your children cannot go to school because they are locked away from their clothes, you can get money for that. You may also be able to get money for the place you stayed at while you were locked out.

Can my landlord take my property to evict me?

No. Only the Cook County Sheriff can remove your property to evict you. If you move out and leave property, your landlord can take it but he or she must follow the city law. For more information, see the "Moving Out" and "Evictions" pamphlets.

What is retaliatory conduct?

Retaliatory conduct is any action your landlord takes to punish you for exercising your rights under the law. For example, your landlord cannot end your lease, raise your rent, stop any service, sue or threaten to sue for eviction, refuse to renew your lease, or take any other action against you because you exercised your rights.

Can my landlord take action against me if I complain to someone about the condition of the apartment?

No. Your landlord cannot punish you for taking any action that you have a right to take.

What things can I do and still be protected?

The landlord cannot take retaliatory action against you because you:

  • complained about bad conditions or illegal landlord behavior to government agencies, elected representatives, public officials, community groups, newspapers, radio stations, or television stations; or
  • asked your landlord to make repairs required by the lease or city laws; or
  • joined a tenant union or organization; or
  • testified in court or at a hearing about the conditions of the building or about the landlord's illegal behavior; or
  • did anything within your legal rights.

What can I do if my landlord tries to evict me because I complained?

You can defend against the landlord's eviction suit. You can also counter sue your landlord to obtain a court order that requires him or her to let you remain, or to ask the court to end your lease. If the lease ends, your landlord must return any rent you do not owe and your security deposit, plus any interest owed. You should get a lawyer to help you with these matters.

Can I sue for money because my landlord seeks to evict me for complaining or joining a tenant group?

Yes. If you win the suit you can get two months' rent or twice the costs caused by the landlord's action (whichever is greater) and lawyer's fees.

How can I prove my landlord's action is because I complained or joined a tenant group, or acted in some other protected way?

If your landlord takes action against you within one year of the time you complained, organized or joined a tenant organization, testified in court, or asked for repairs, the court will require your landlord to show that the eviction is not because of your protected activity. This is another reason why it is important to make requests in writing and to keep copies of everything.

Your landlord will have to prove that the eviction court case is for a good reason other than complaining, organizing, etc. For example, your landlord might show that you have not paid rent.

Moving In

What should I get in writing from my landlord?

When you agree to rent an apartment, either by a written or oral lease, your landlord or the person making the agreement must give you: the name, address and telephone number of the owner or manager of the building, and the name of the person who is to be given notices and demands from you. You should get a written receipt for any security deposit paid. If your landlord promises to fix anything, try to get this in writing.

What if the person making the agreement does not give me the name, address and phone number of the owner or manager?

If the person making the agreement does not give you the name, address and phone number of the owner or manager, then that person is responsible for accepting any notices or messages from you. In addition, after giving 14 days written notice to the person making the agreement, if you have still not received the information you may terminate the agreement and/or sue your landlord for one month's rent and reasonable attorney's fees.

Do all leases have to be written?

No. Whether or not the lease is written is a matter of mutual choice between you and your landlord. Some landlords insist on a written lease. The advantage of a written lease is that you have proof of your specific agreement with your landlord. It also makes clear the duties of you and your landlord.

After I move in can the landlord change the amount of rent?

Your rent can only be increased if your lease allows for it. The landlord can put in the lease that rent can change, so read the lease very carefully. For more information, see pamphlet on "Leases." If you do not have a lease the landlord can increase the rent or require you to move, by giving you a thirty day written notice.

How can I know if my landlord has been sued for bad conditions of the building?

Your landlord must inform you in writing of any suits brought against the landlord in the past 12 months to enforce the housing code. This must include a list of the code violations involved and the case name and number. You can also go to the Daley Center, room 601, and look in the civil court index under your landlord's name or the building address to see if your landlord has been sued for building code violations and to find out the next court date. If your landlord does not give you this information, then you can sue for one month's rent or damages, whichever is greater, plus attorney's fees.

Should I get a summary of the Landlord-Tenant Law from my landlord?

Yes. Your landlord must give you a copy of the summary of the law prepared by the City, whether your lease is written or oral. This summary must be attached to the written lease or given to the tenant when an oral agreement is reached. The summary is to be given to you at the time of a new lease or a renewal of an old lease.

What if my landlord does not give me the summary of the Landlord-Tenant Law?

You may send your landlord a written notice requesting the summary or you may choose to end the lease or sue the landlord. If you prove that the summary was not given to you, you may sue to recover $100 plus attorney's fees. If you decide to end your lease, you must notify the landlord in writing and you must move out within 30 days of giving notice. In addition you must be able to prove that you never received the summary.

What if my landlord sells the building?

You must be informed in writing of the name, address and telephone number of the new landlord/manager or person to be given notices from the tenants. Your lease agreement, including security deposit, must be honored by the new landlord.

Can my utilities legally be turned off without my knowing?

No. Both before and during your rental agreement, if the City of Chicago or the utility company plans to turn off any of the utilities in your building such as gas, water, electricity or any other service, the landlord has to tell you in writing. The notice must tell you what services are going to be turned off, when, and what part of the building is going to be disconnected. For further information see pamphlet on "Heat and Other Utilities."

Do I have to pay a security deposit?

This depends on your agreement with your landlord. For more information, see pamphlet on "Security Deposits."

What if my landlord will not let me move in?

The landlord must let you move in if you have an agreement (oral or written) allowing you to move in on a specific date. If the landlord is keeping you out, you do not have to pay rent until you move in.

Can I sue my landlord for not letting me move in?

Yes. If you cannot move into the apartment after your landlord agreed to rent to you, there are two things you can do:

  • You can send a written notice to your landlord describing the problem and telling the landlord that the lease is cancelled. Keep a copy of your letter. If the landlord does not return your rent and security deposit, you can sue for this money; or

  • If you still want to move into the apartment, send a written notice to the landlord saying that you want to move in. Keep a copy of your letter. If the landlord does not let you in, you can sue for possession of the apartment and costs of subsitute housing.

If the landlord did not have a good reason for not letting you move in, you can sue and may get two months' rent, or twice the costs of your damages and reasonable attorney's fees.

What should I do if I think the landlord refuses to rent to me because of my sex, race, religion, etc.?

In Chicago it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because of your sex, race, religion, nationality, disability (mental or physical), parental status, marital status, age, unfavorable military discharge, sexual orientation or lawful source of income, regardless of whether the landlord lives in the building or not. Complaints of discrimination can be filed with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations 744-4111 or 744-1088 (TDD), in some cases a complaint can also be filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights or HUD. Through the complaint process or court the landlord may be ordered to rent you the apartment, pay fines, pay you damages and attorney's fees.

Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?

Federal, state and Chicago laws make it illegal for a landlord to deny someone housing based on the fact that you have children living with you. You have the same right to pursue a complaint as described above. The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing, 274-1111, provides free legal assistance for people who have suffered discrimination based on parental status.