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I’m renting an apartment for the first time- what are my rights?

Renting an apartment or condo in any major city can often be overwhelming. Should you find a space that is close to public transit or do you opt in to be near the best foodie restaurants instead? There are many grounds to cover as far as preferences go, but how do you make sure that you’re getting into a lease that is fair to you as well as the landlord?

Fortunately, the City of Chicago passed the Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance (“RLTO”) in 1986 that sets uncompromising expectations and responsibilities for both landlords and residents entering a lease. The ordinance is strict in favor of tenants and is designed to help them make sure that they are receiving fair treatment under their lease. As a matter of fact, if tenants do not receive a copy of a summary of the ordinance when signing a lease, they can terminate their agreement based on that omission.

Knowing your rights as a tenant in the City of Chicago is essential to the renting process and we are here to ensure that you are well equipped before signing your name on the dotted line.

Security deposits vs. move in fees

It is becoming less common for landlords to request a security deposit due to the risk associated with mishandling the money in violation of the RLTO. Landlords are required to hold security deposits in a separate account in which they must pay interest (set by the City Comptroller) to the tenant within 45 days from the date the tenant vacates the unit. It is possible for renters to receive the entire security deposit back, regardless of damage, if the landlord does not pay back the interest in the required period of time. In situations like this, tenants are eligible to request the entire security deposit or up to double the amount.

To avoid the possibility of any previously mentioned situation, landlords have shifted to requiring a move-in fee, which can cost up to a few hundred dollars. Unlike a security deposit, the move-in fee does not get returned. Landlords are opting for this option more and more so that they do not have to subject themselves to security deposit rules and regulations. If a move-in free is quite large and about the same amount as the security deposit without being treated like one, seek assistance, because the landlord may be trying to take advantage of you.


Moving out of an apartment before the lease is up is often unavoidable, but never impossible. According to the ordinance, a landlord must accept a reasonable subtenant offered by the tenant without charging additional fees. Additionally, the landlord must make a good faith effort to find a new tenant at a fair rent. If the search for a subtenant is unsuccessful on either party, the tenant remains liable for rent under the rental agreement, as well as covering the cost of advertising.


It is illegal for a landlord to lock out a tenant, change locks, or remove doors of a rental unit. Additionally, it is unlawful for a landlord to cut off heat, utility, or water service to interfere with the tenant’s use of the apartment. If you find yourself in this situation as a tenant, you may call the Police Department, who is responsible for the enforcement against such activity. Often times, the landlord will be required to pay a fine of $200 - $500 for each day the lockout occurs or continues. As a tenant, you may also sue the landlord to recover possession of the unit and twice the actual damages sustained or excuse yourself of two months’ rent, depending on whichever amount is greater.

The Residential Tenant Landlord Ordinance of the City of Chicago includes many different elements that affect the relationship between landlord and tenant. To learn more about the ordinance, or to receive legal assistance on your current situation, contact Kershner Sledziewski Law today.

The Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law and the certificate, award or recognition is not a requirement to practice law in Illinois. The information on this website and blog is for general purposes only and should not be interpreted to indicate a certain result will occur in your specific legal situation. The information on this website is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

1 Comment

Mar 10, 2023

Tenant can change the door locks by contacting a locksmith, landlord can't change or replace the door locks of the apartment without intimating the tenant. This thing must be known to those who are going to rent a property.

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