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Whether you are a first-time tenant, or have lived off-campus for years, our helpful tips can help level the playing field between you and your landlord.
Start by finding a location that is convenient for you, and then search for a property that fits within your budget. Use our Rent Estimates and Deciphering the Classifieds flyers to help demystify the process. If you are unsure about committing to a place, do not sign a binding lease and avoid non-refundable deposits. Be sure to visit the neighborhood in person before making any committments. Review area crime statistics. Consider using a free apartment search service like Apartment People or Chicago Apartment Finders. Look up prospective apartments on Chicago's Building Violations site and in the Cook County court records to check for building code violations and lawsuits.
Carefully review your lease before signing. Basic lease terms generally include the amount due each month for rent, the amount of any security deposit, the address of the property, utilities and any related costs, the Landlord's name and contact information (important in case if you need to serve him/her with court papers), any building violations that have occurred in the past year, and a summary of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) (if the rental property is located in Chicago). If any of these elements are missing, you may be able to argue that you have a voidable lease under the RLTO.
Walk through the unit to ensure that everything is in working order. Take pictures and catalogue the current conditions using an apartment inventory. Be sure to check for rodents or pests. Verify that asmoke detector(s) and carbon monoxide detector(s) are present and working, and that all locks are fully functional. if something is broken, be sure to have the landlord put in writing that he/she will fix it before you are scheduled to move in. Also consider obtaining renter's insurance to protect your assets in the event of unforseen accidents, injuries, or property damage.
Will you have a roommate? Use our Roommate Contract to prevent sticky situations later in the year. Who will be responsible for what? What will happen if one of you leaves before the lease has ended?
Is your apartment less than ideal? You have rights!
The Chicago Residential Landlords & Tenants Ordinance (RLTO) lays out basic tenant rights & responsibilities, landlord rights & responsibilities, and prohibited conduct within the Chicago city limits.
Every residential lease has an implied warranty of habitability, meaning it is implied that the landlord is leasing a unit that has basic necessities, including heat, hot water, smoke detectors, adequate plumbing, working lights, functioning locks, and so on. You must promprtly notify your landlord of any serious issues with the unit, preferrably through certified mail or some other traceable form of communication. You must also allow a reasonable time period for them to correct the problem. However, if an issue persists or the landlord does not respond, the warranty of habitability may be broken, and your lease may be considered void. This can offer a tenant the ability to walk away from the lease and move on to a more suitable property.
If you feel that your landlord has breached their side of your lease agreement, you may be entitled to file a claim under the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (or your local equivalent) that your lease has ended. You may also claim entitlement to pre-paid rent for that month and any damages you have. If the landlord contests these claims, you might have to go to court to argue your side. Consider retaining a housing or property attorney if that's the case. A great community resource is the Lawyer's Committee for Better Housing, which provides free legal assistance to renters with housing issues. Additionally, you may meet with a CSLS attorney during our regularly scheduled drop-in hours to receive a referral to an attorney who can assist you.
Learn more about rental scams and avoid becoming a victim by reviewing these helpful tips.
From finding the perfect apartment to figuring out how to pay for it, CSLS has a form for that.