Chicago Tenants Rights Pamphlets (English #3 of 3)

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

[Index] [English #1] [English #2]

Heat and Other Utilities

Who pays for the utilities in my apartment?

This depends upon your lease and agreement with your landlord. You should always agree on this before you rent. Remember, a written lease can act as proof of your agreement, if you later need it.

What if the landlord is supposed to pay for the utilities, but does not?

First, give the landlord prior written notice specifiying the problem. You must send the notice to the address stated in the lease or specified by the landlord as the address at which notices are to be delivered. If the landlord has not given you an address, then you may send it to the landlord's last known address or use other reasonable means to give the landlord notice (such as giving the notice to the janitor). Once you have notified the landlord of the problem, you can begin to take action. Be specific about the action(s) you intend to take.

Second, you may:

  • pay the bill for the utilities, repair the problem, or get subsitute service (such as space heaters), and deduct the money from the next month's rent; or
  • sue your landlord for the damages for having no utilities; or
  • move out until the utilities are turned back on if you cannot live in the apartment.

In addition, you may also

  • withhold a reasonable amount of rent if the landlord fails to correct the problem within 24 hours of receiving your notice; or
  • end the lease if your landlord fails to correct the problem within 72 hours of receiving your notice; you must then move out within 30 days or the lease goes back into effect.

Note -- you cannot withhold rent or end the lease if the problem was caused by the inability of the utility company to provide service.

What if I must move out because of no utilities?

If the lack of utilities makes the apartment impossible to live in (like no heat in the winter), you can move out and live somewhere else until the utilities are restored. If you move out, you do not have to pay rent for that time. You can also sue your landlord and get paid for the amount it cost you, up to your monthly rent, to live somewhere else. You may also be able to get lawyer's fees.

What if I just sue my landlord for not providing utilities?

You can sue for the amount of rent that reasonably reflects the reduced value of the apartment because the landlord is not supplying utilities as agreed to by both tenant and landlord, and for lawyer's fees.

Must my landlord tell me if the utilities are going to be shut off?

Yes. Your landlord must tell you if the City of Chicago or any utility company plans to turn off any of the utilities because the landlord has not paid the bill. The landlord must give you a notice in writing before the utilities are turned off. Your landlord also has to tell you what service is going to be turned off, when, and what part of the building will be disconnected.

What if my landlord does not give me notice of a threatened utility shut off?

If your landlord does not give you notice of a threatened shut off, you can give your landlord a written notice giving the landlord 14 days to comply or you will end your lease in the same manner described above.

One reason for using this provision of the law is that if you have a written notice from your landlord, you could use it as evidence in court. In all situations, it is important to keep copies of everything you receive from the landlord and everything you send to the landlord.

Should my landlord let me know how much my heating bills are likely to run?

Yes. Whether you pay your heat bill to Com Ed or Peoples Gas, the landlord must supply you, as part of the lease agreement, an estimate of utility costs based on the prior tenant's usage. The landlord must supply a copy of a completed Heating Cost Disclosure Form for the apartment prior to making a rental agreement with you or accepting any money.

If the landlord has not given you an estimate for the heating bill call the Chicago Department of Consumer Services at 744-9400, which is responsible for enforcement of the law.

Can I get help paying the utility bills that are my responsibility?

Often your local community organization may know of an available fund to help you with your utility bills. Call them and ask about the Low Income Energy Assistance Program. Remember, there never is enough money to go around so get your application in early.

If my utilities are shut off can I break my lease?

Yes, if the utility service is the landlord's responsibility. See the question "What if the landlord is supposed to pay for the utilities, but does not?" for the steps you need to take before you can legally break your lease. If you correctly follow the notice procedure, the landlord must return all pre-paid rent, security deposits and interest.

Can my landlord shut off my utilities to make me move out?

No. This is considered a lockout and it is illegal. If this happens call the police and say that the landlord has illegally locked you out of your apartment. Then call a lawyer, your local community group, or for emergency shelter information contact the Department of Human Services at 744-5829. For more information, see pamphlet on "Lockouts and Retaliation."

What if I do not get enough heat in the winter?

If your apartment is too cold, you should keep careful records of the temperature of your apartment. Do this three times a day every day. If your landlord is responsible for heating your apartment, and the heat is usually below the City code regulations, they you should notify your landlord in writing that the landlord must bring the heat up to the City's regulations. The Chicago Housing Code states that between September 15 and June 1 the temperature in your apartment should be at least:

  • 65 degrees at 7:30 a.m.
  • 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • 63 degrees from 10:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.

If your landlord does not respond to your notice you should contact the City's Heat Hotline at 744-5000, your local community group and a lawyer. Follow the steps described above to give a notice to your landlord and exercise your rights to remedy the problem.

Moving Out

Do I have to tell my landlord I am moving?

If you have a month-to-month tenancy, you must give your landlord 30 days notice that you are moving out, or you could get charged for the rent to the end of the next month. You have a month-to-month tenancy if you do not have a lease with a specified end date and pay rent monthly. If you have a lease that states a specific length of time for you to live in the apartment, you cannot break that lease agreement by simply telling your landlord you are going to move. If your written lease has an expiration date, you do not have to tell the landlord you are moving out on that date. For more information see the "Leases" pamphlet.

Can I live out my security deposit?

No. Your landlord does not have to let you use your security deposit for the last month's rent. If you do not pay your last month's rent, your landlord can sue you to get the money. You may be able to get your landlord's permission to use your security deposit for rent, but make sure you get this agreement in writing. For more information see the "Security Deposits" pamphlet.

Is there anything I can do before I move to make sure I get my security deposit back?

You should leave the apartment in the same general condition it was when you moved in. If a landlord illegally keeps your deposit the only way to get it back is to sue the landlord. In court you will want proof that the apartment was not damaged, so it is a good idea to take pictures of the apartment to verify its condition. You should also request the landlord to walk through the apartment with you when you are moving out and sign a statement to its condition. This kind of check list is also good to do with the landlord when you first move in. Don't forget to turn in the keys as soon as you are moved out.

Can the landlord lock me out of my apartment?

No. Your landlord cannot lock you out of your apartment to make you move or interfere with your apartment in any way, such as removing your doors, cutting off your utility services, or removing your property. For more information see the "Lockouts and Retaliation" pamphlet.

Can my landlord rent my apartment to someone else if I am not living in it?

As long as the rent is paid up, the apartment belongs to you. Your landlord can determine that you do not live in your apartment any longer if:

  • you tell your landlord you are not returning; or
  • all the people entitled to live in the apartment have been gone for 32 days and the rent is not paid; or
  • most of your property has been moved out, and all of the people entitled to live in the apartment have been gone for 21 days (or one rental period if rent is paid more than once a month) and rent is not paid.

What if I leave my property in my apartment?

If you move out of the apartment or the lease runs out and you leave personal property there, the landlord must leave the property in the apartment or store it somewhere safe for 7 days. If the property is not worth the cost or storage or if the property would spoil, the landlord can throw it away immediately.

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

The lease can be ended only by agreement with your landlord or by using your right to end the lease for certain illegal landlord actions under the Landlord-Tenant Law. The law requires you to follow certain procedures before the lease can be ended. If you fail to follow these procedures your lease will not end early and you will still be required to pay rent.

If you fail to give proper notice when terminating your lease or if you abandon the apartment, the landlord must make a good faith effort to find another tenant at a fair rent. If the landlord finds another tenant, you may still owe the landlord some rent that was due on your lease. If the landlord cannot find another tenant, you will owe the landlord all the rent required to the end of your lease plus the landlord's reasonable advertising costs. For more information see "Leases" pamphlet.

Can I be charged for moving out early?

If you move out early, your landlord must try to rerent the apartment. If the landlord rerents 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, 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 rerent 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 lease would have ended. If you paid $400 a month and you leave three months before the end of your lease, you will owe the landlord $1200. You will also owe the landlord any reasonable amount that the landlord spent advertising the apartment.

Can I sublet my 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.

If the landlord refuses to accept a suitable subtenant, you cannot be held liable for the rent past the time when the potential subtenant was willing to assume the lease. For example, you find someone who meets all the criteria the landlord required of you prior to moving in and the landlord decides not to rent to this person for no legitimate reason. You should be able to contact this person so if the landlord claims you owe rent, you can produce this person who will state that they were willing to pay rent.

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 to my security deposit when I sublet?

The landlord may hold your security deposit until the end of the lease. You should either get the landlord to collect a security deposit from the subtenant and return yours or collect a security deposit from the subtenant yourself. The landlord cannot keep a deposit from you and the subtenant if the total amount exceeds the amount listed on the lease.