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From security deposits to eviction notices, it’s important to know your rights as a landlord or tenant. Each year, new laws come into effect that may impact your living situation. In this article, we provide an overview of current Illinois landlord-tenant laws and explain recent changes in these laws.

Key Takeaways


From security deposits to eviction notices, it’s important to know your rights as a landlord or tenant. Each year, new laws come into effect that may impact your living situation. In this article, we provide an overview of current Illinois landlord-tenant laws and explain recent changes in these laws.  

What is Landlord-Tenant law in Illinois?

A lease is a contract for renting the real property between the landlord and tenant. It describes the relationship between the landlord, the real property, and the tenant. The landlord owns the property that is leased to the tenant. A lease can be written or a verbal contract. It is suggested that leases be memorialized to avoid any confusion of the lease terms.    

The lease terms should include several essential terms—the start date of the lease and when the lease expires. The duration of the lease should also be listed to avoid any confusion—basic information such as the landlord’s address and the tenant’s address and description of the property. The lease should include the amount of rent due each month and where to direct these fees. If any late fees are assessed to the tenant, the landlord must add this clause to the lease. Illinois limits the number of late fees charged must not be greater than $20.00 or 20% of the rent amount.    

The lease agreement should also have a clause concerning a security deposit. A security deposit can be for any amount that the landlord deems reasonable. Landlords generally use the security deposit to repair damages done by the tenant during the rental period that exceed normal “wear and tear” usage.

What are My Rights If the Landlord Refuses to Return the Security Deposit?

If the repairs to the rental property are excessive of the standard “wear and tear” or there remains unpaid rent, the landlord can legally withhold the security deposit. However, suppose neither of the situations is true. In that case, the landlord must return the security deposit to the tenants within 45 days after vacating the rental property. Suppose the landlord decides they will keep part of the security deposit. In that case, the landlord must send a carefully itemized list of damages the tenant has caused. This list must be sent to the tenant within thirty days of leaving the rental property.  

The landlord must use the withheld portion of the security deposit to make the needed repairs within thirty days. Suppose the landlord does not make the necessary repairs. In that case, the landlord must return the withheld portion within forty-five days of the tenant moving from the rental property. Also, note that the Chicago RLTO has additional requirements to the Illinois Security Deposit Act.  

What are Landlords’ Responsibilities?

There are no specific laws that dictate exactly what a landlord must do. However, the landlord is responsible for following local housing codes local housing ordinances and providing a rental unit in habitable condition. Find out what your rights are as a tenant in Tenant Rights 101

What is the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance?

The Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, or the “RLTO,” is a Chicago law that imposes additional restrictions on landlords and grants further protection for tenants.  

How do I know if the RLTO applies to me?

If you live in Chicago, the RLTO covers most apartments except for apartment units of six or less, and the landlord occupies it.    

What are the added duties to landlords and tenants under the RLTO?

Under the RTLO, tenants and landlords are expected to comply with specific duties. Some of these are listed below:

  • If the tenant notifies a landlord of needed repairs to the rental unit and the landlord fails to make the needed repairs, the tenant can submit the requested repairs in writing to the landlord;  
  • Late fees are capped at $10.00 for the first $500 of rent and then only 5% on the remainder of the rent.  
  • A landlord cannot include a clause that prohibits subletting. The sub-tenant, however, must meet the exact requirements as set forth for the tenants to rent the property.  
  • A landlord cannot add a clause to the rental agreement waiving the tenant’s right to a jury trial. A tenant in Chicago (and suburban Cook County, which will be discussed later) will always have the option of a jury trial.  
  • Terminating a tenant’s lease in Chicago will depend on the length of period the tenant has resided in the rental property.  
  • Landlords must provide at least 60-day notice if the tenant has lived in the property for more than six months but less than three years.  
  • The landlord requires one hundred twenty-day notice to terminate a lease for three years or greater.    
  • Terminating a month-to-month tenancy under the RLTO also has different procedures.  
  • The landlord must serve the tenant with a written 30-day notice, and the termination of the lease must fall at the end of the rental period.  
  • Landlords are required to attach specific notices to the rental agreement. The most important one is a copy of the RLTO. Suppose a landlord does not attach a copy of the RLTO. In that case, a tenant has the right to terminate the rental agreement upon giving the landlord notice.    

What if I don’t pay rent and my landlord changes the locks to my rental property?

Public policy dating from the English law to 2022 in Illinois discouraged landlords from taking such self-help remedies as it promoted a peace disturbance. In this situation, the landlord did an illegal lockout, and such actions are not permitted in Illinois, with the RLTO having heightened tenant protection. The Illinois Evictions Act, which is the statute that dictates how evictions are to proceed, is also rooted in common law from medieval England. For a landlord to evict, they must follow the Evictions Act. Only the sheriff can physically remove tenants from the rental property.  

How does the eviction process work in Illinois?

The Evictions Act lists eight statutory circumstances that qualify for the eviction process. According to the statute, they are:  

  1. When a forcible entry is made on real estate;  
  1. When a peaceable entry is made on real estate and possession is withheld;  
  1. When an entry is made into vacant or unoccupied land with right or title;  
  1. When a lessee (tenant) or anyone holding under a lessee hold possession without right after the lease term or tenancy ends by its terms or after notice to quit;  
  1. When a vendee (purchaser) under a contract remains in possession after a breach of the contract and demands possession;  
  1. When a grantor remains in possession after-sale or an owner stays in possession after a court-ordered sale or after a sale pursuant to a mortgage or trust deed and the time redemption has expired, both after the demand for a possession;  
  1. When a condominium owner fails to pay assessments or fines; and  
  1. When a unit owner in a common interest community fails to pay assessments for the maintenance and repair of common areas.  

The next step in the evictions process is for a landlord to serve written notice upon tenants. The type of notice and duration of the notice period depends on the circumstances. If a tenant has failed to pay rent, a five-day notice is required unless the lease agreement has a clause for more than five days. If a tenant has violated the terms of the lease, such as playing loud music all night, the tenant will receive ten days' notice. The RLTO has additional steps for a ten-day notice, which is essential to note. If a landlord does not want to renew a year-to-year lease, sixty-day notice is required that must be given four months before the sixty-day notice is issued. If a condo owner fails to pay assessments, a thirty-day notice is required.    

Service of the notice may be accomplished by the following methods:  

  • Notice may be delivered personally to the tenant; or  
  • Or it was delivered to a person 13 years or older who resides or is in possession of the property. Note that this is not the same as the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, which has more stringent requirements.  
  • The notice can be mailed by certified mail or registered mail with a valid return receipt (the “green card”).  

Once service has been achieved, the next step is the service of the complaint and summons. An eviction complaint is either a “single-action” for possession only or a “joint-action” for money damages, such as past-due rent, attorneys’ fees, and court costs. The complaint only requires a few allegations: the landlord “is entitled to possession” of the property, the premises must be described with reasonable certainty, and the tenant is “unlawfully withholds the possession” of the property. 735 ILCS 5/9-106. The summons is the document that informs the tenant when to appear in court for trial and is a relatively short time period depending on the court’s dockets.    

Eviction proceedings are summary in nature and very narrow in scope. The only issue to be determined is who has the greater right of possession. Assuming the service of the complaint and summons is successful, the case will be set for trial. Thus, the pace of an evictions case will move around faster than a case in the Chancery Division.    

On the first day of court, if the defendants appear and do not have an attorney, the judge will grant a short continuance for the defendants to obtain counsel. Even if the defendants opt to appear pro se (without an attorney) and did not acquire counsel on the next court date, they should be prepared to go to trial.    

For more specific questions about eviction in Illinois such as evicting a tenant without a lease, read another one of our eviction articles.

What should I expect from an Evictions Trial?

As mentioned above, an evictions proceeding is a summary procedure. In a typical residential case, prolonged discovery is strongly disfavored, and other traditional litigation tactics delay the trial. An eviction trial in front of a judge (a bench trial) will usually only last a few minutes. The judge will ask the plaintiff, who has the burden of proof, to “prove-up” his or her case, and then the judge will usually ask a few questions to the defendants, under oath. The judge will then make a decision after hearing both parties’ testimonies. If the judge ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, an Eviction Order would be entered with a stay date (how long the plaintiff must wait before filing the order with the sheriff) that gives possession to the plaintiff.    


Once the stay date expires, the plaintiff will place the Eviction Order with the local sheriff. Depending on the county, the sheriff can take several weeks or months to physically remove the person, and in some counties, the property of the occupants, from the rental property. This serves as a brief overview of the eviction process and is not meant to be exhaustive.   For an extensive review of the eviction process, check out our article on The Eviction Process Explained

Have Landlord and Tenant Laws Changed?

There have been some developments in Landlord-Tenant Laws in 2023 in Illinois, although most of the changes went into effect in late 2021.    

One of the most noteworthy changes in Illinois Landlord-Tenant Laws is the creation of the Cook County Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance, or the CCRLTO. It includes all of Cook County, except Chicago, Evanston, and Mount Prospect, which have their own local ordinances. The CCRLTO took effect in June 2021. The CCRLTO mirrors the Chicago RLTO with the added tenant protections and landlord responsibilities.    

The other sweeping change to impact Landlord-Tenant Laws in Illinois is the impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic. In March 2020, in response to the pandemic, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a moratorium on residential evictions. The moratorium was extended several months until it was effectively lifted in October of 2021.    

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way the courts conducted their affairs. Many counties pivoted to remote hearings via Zoom. Cook County and the Collar Counties have mostly remained on Zoom; however, some counties do not permit remote appearances, and if you have a court date, it would be wise to call the clerk to verify if an in-person appearance is required.    

Another change due to the Covid-19 pandemic is the new courtroom procedures for Evictions Court in the First Municipal District of Cook County at the Daley Center. Pre-pandemic, there were five evictions courtrooms and additional courtrooms for jury trials. Now the procedure has changed. Cook County, a free mediation program called the Early Resolution Program, or “ERP,” was initiated. Now when an evictions case is filed in Cook County, First Municipal District, cases will all begin in courtroom 1302. In 1302, the judge will often grant a defendant who does not appear a week-long continuance in order to appear in court.  

If that defendant appears on the next court date, it will be continued for another week so that the defendant can consult with the free legal services provided by the ERP program. If the defendant does appear on the first court date, a continuance for a week will usually be granted so the defendant can review his or her case with the ERP attorney. The goal is for the ERP to provide a resolution for the plaintiff and landlord. DuPage County also has a similar mediation program established pursuant to Article 14 of the DuPage County Local Rules.    

If you need help with eviction or Landlord-Tenant Laws, please contact one of our experienced Landlord-Tenant attorneys at 630-324-6666 or fill out our confidential contact form and a member of our team will be in touch.

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