Applying for an apartment
Landlords ask people to fill out a rental application form and pay an application fee when applying for an apartment. This form asks for general information from the tenant and the family. The information includes peoples' rental, employment, credit, and criminal histories.
When renting an apartment, everyone must be treated the same. Housing discrimination is illegal.
Types of leases
A lease is an agreement to rent between the owner of the property (known as the landlord) and the person renting the property (known as the tenant).
Leases can be written or oral:
- Oral lease: The landlord and tenant make an agreement, but do not write it down. An oral lease is usually month-to-month so the lease renews every month unless the landlord or tenant choose to end it. This type of lease can end with 30 days notice; and
- Written lease: It is better to have a written lease stating the agreement between the landlord and tenant. The lease should state the following details:
- Rent amount, and how it should be paid
- Date of the agreement
- How long the lease will last
- How to renew the lease
- Amount of security deposit or move-in fee
- Fees for late rent
- How the lease should end
- Who is responsible for repairs
- When the landlord can enter the apartment
- Contact information for the landlord
- Any other promises made by the landlord or tenant.
A lease should not include terms that:
- Say the landlord is not responsible for damages or injuries to people or property caused by the landlord
- Discriminate against people
- Are banned by local laws
You can find sample documents at an office supply store or you can use this Sample Residential Lease.
Security deposits and move-in fees
A landlord can make a tenant pay money before moving into the unit. The landlord can use this to pay for repairs or unpaid rent after the tenant moves out. This is called a security deposit.
A security deposit is different from a move-in fee. A move-in fee is non-refundable and does not go towards the cost of repairs or unpaid rent.
Learn more about Getting a security deposit back.
A landlord and tenant should do a walkthrough of the unit before the tenant's move-in date. The purpose of a walkthrough is to make sure the landlord and tenant agree on the condition of the unit. A walkthrough should help prevent arguments later about who is responsible for the condition of the unit.
You can use this Move-in/Move-out Checklist to help you do a walk through.
Increases in rent
Rent increases depend on the type of lease:
- Written lease: The landlord may not increase rent until after the lease expires unless the lease says rent can be increased;
- No written lease: The landlord can increase rent by giving the tenant a 30-day notice stating the new rent amount and the date the increase starts; and
- Mobile home parks: The landlord has to give written notice 90 days before any rent increase. Landlords in mobile home parks must also offer 24-month written leases. Landlords of mobile home parks can also put in the lease a rent increase between the first and second year of this 24-month lease. The tenant does not have to accept a 24-month lease. This means that the landlord and tenant can create a one-year lease or a month-to-month lease as long as the landlord has offered the 24-month lease in writing.
- Subsidized housing: Subsidized housing includes Section 8 and public housing. The tenant pays rent based on their income, and must report any change in income. Learn more about Rent changes in subsidized housing.
Illinois does not have a law that limits how much a landlord can increase rent, but landlords cannot use rent increases to punish or discriminate against tenants.
When there are several tenants living together each tenant that signed the lease is responsible for the full amount of rent, not just their share. If one roommate doesn’t pay their share, the landlord may serve a 5-day notice and then file for eviction against all of the tenants for that roommate’s portion.
Example: Two roommates rent an apartment with a monthly rent of $1,000. They agree with each other that each roommate will pay $500 toward the rent. One roommate moves out of the unit before the lease is over. A landlord can sue either one or both roommates for any unpaid rent.
Late fees must be agreed to in a written lease.
Illinois does not have a limit on how much landlords can charge for late payment fees. Late fees cannot be used to punish tenants who pay late. This means that they can only cover interest charges and the landlord’s administrative costs. Any amount more than 5% of monthly rent is probably too much.
In Chicago, the late fee amount is limited to $10 for the first $500 of rent and 5% on the rest.
Landlords do not have to give a grace period for the tenant to pay rent after the due date. There is an exception for mobile home parks. A landlord must offer a 5-day grace period for tenants in mobile home parks.
If areas outside a unit are included in the utility meter, a landlord may only put the utility in the tenant’s name if they:
- Notify the tenant in writing that areas outside the unit are on the meter;
- Give the tenant copies of that meter’s last 12 months of bills; and
- Propose in writing how much the tenant's rent will be decreased for paying a utility bill that includes more than their unit.
If a landlord agrees to pay for utility services but does not pay them, the tenant can pay the utility company directly to avoid a shut-off. The tenant can do this for utilities in a common area in the apartment building too. The tenant can then let the landlord know of the payments they made and their plan to subtract the amount they paid from their rent payment. If the building has 3 or more apartments, the utility company cannot cut off service without giving notice to the tenants.
Working for rent
A tenant can pay rent by working on the building. An agreement between the landlord and tenant must be made before work is done. Otherwise, a court will assume the work was a gift to the landlord.
If work is being done in exchange for rent reductions, the landlord and tenant should agree in writing how much rent is being reduced and what work is being done. Oral agreements can be valid, but it is difficult to prove their terms. Without written proof of what was agreed, it ends up being an argument between the tenant and landlord.
The property was sold to a new landlord
When a new landlord purchases rental property, all existing oral or written leases are still valid. They cannot kick anybody out just because they are the new owner. They also cannot force the tenants to sign a new lease or pay a different rent.
The new owner must notify the tenants in writing that they are the new landlord within 10 days of the purchase.
The old landlord must give the new landlord:
- Copies of all leases
- Security deposits with interest, if interest is required to be given
- Records of rent payments
- All other documentation about the tenants
Also, both the new and old landlords are responsible for the tenant's security deposit. If a tenant moves out of the unit, the new landlord cannot claim they do not have to pay the deposit. This is true even if the new landlord did not get the tenant’s security deposit from the old landlord.
Ending the lease
Neither the tenant nor the landlord can change their mind and get out of the lease before it ends. Both sides can agree to change or end the lease.
If they do not agree, the tenant must pay rent for the full lease term, even if they move out. A tenant may break the lease for serious problems with the property that make living there impossible. The tenant should consult with a lawyer before attempting to break the lease and moving early.
There is a rare exception for tenants in the armed services. They can end a lease if they receive a permanent change of station or a deployment order that will last at least 90 days.
Written leases usually do not automatically renew, so the tenant needs to move out by the end of the lease. If a tenant does not move at the end of the lease, the landlord has the right to evict the tenant.
If the landlord continues to accept the usual rent payment every month from the tenant, the landlord and tenant now have a lease that renews monthly. The same lease terms apply.
Tenants in a month-to-month lease who want to move should give at least 30 days notice before their next rent payment is due. Rent payments due within 30 days of the notice still need to be paid in full, even if the tenant will not live in the apartment for the entire month.
It is important for the tenant to communicate with the landlord directly to resolve any problems before contacting or involving other people. Involving other people before talking to the landlord can escalate the issue. Most problems can be resolved by communicating and exploring possible solutions. The tenant should always tell the landlord immediately of any problems or issues with the property, even if they seem small. Small problems can turn into big problems if they are not addressed in time.