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Implied Warranty of Habitability in Illinois

In Illinois, a violation of the local building code is generally considered a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

Every state has some version of an implied warranty of habitability, which guarantees a renter the right to things like functioning plumbing and heat—basically, everything necessary to keep a residence habitable. However, each state interprets the warranty somewhat differently. In Illinois, it’s based on case law rather than state statutes and relies heavily on local housing codes.

Illinois’s implied warranty of habitability is based on case law

Unlike some other states, Illinois doesn’t have an actual law on the books that establishes the warranty of habitability. Instead, a tenant’s right to a habitable rental was created by a 1972 ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court.1 According to the decision, all residential lease agreements in the state contain an implied warranty of habitability. This is true whether or not it's explicitly mentioned in the lease—which is why it is "implied."

Another case, this one in 1985, helped further define the scope of the warranty.2 Rental units in Illinois must be"habitable and fit for living" and remain that way for the entirety of the lease. There can't be any problems with the facilities necessary for both a) the use of the dwelling for residential purposes and b) the life, health, and safety of the tenant. The warranty also applies to common areas of a building.3

A housing code violation can be considered a breach of the warranty

In Illinois, a substantial violation of the local building code is considered a breach of the warranty of habitability.4 (Minor code violations that don’t affect habitability are not considered breaches, however.)

For instance, Chicago’s housing ordinance5 relies on the city's municipal code to determine whether a rental unit is livable. Aside from the most general requirements for habitability, the city puts these additional responsibilities on landlords:

  • From September 15th through June 1st, the temperature inside must be at least 68 degrees during the day (8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and at least 66 degrees at night (10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.)
  • Basements and cellars must be kept safe and sanitary
  • Elevators must be maintained if the building is 10 stories or higher
  • Every apartment must have a safe and unobstructed means of escape to the ground floor
  • Interior walls and ceilings must be kept in sound condition and free of loose paint or plaster
  • Floors must not have rotting floorboards
  • No lead-based paint
  • Screens must be provided to all apartments on or below the fourth floor between April 15th and November 15th
  • Landlords must supply and maintain deadbolt locks and viewing devices on each apartment door
  • Landlords must supply and maintain window locks for windows within 20 feet of ground level or 10 feet from an adjacent roof or fire escape
  • Every entrance to the building must be secured by a door with a deadbolt lock
  • All yards, courtyards, passageways and other portions of the building must be kept free of stagnant water

For more, read through Chicago's complete municipal code.6 Tenants and landlords in other cities should check their local building code to figure out which specific issues are covered by the warranty where they rent.

Habitability is determined differently if there is no housing code

However, if the rental unit is located in an area with no building code, habitability is determined using what the court called “community standards.”7 This takes into account:

  • The nature of the deficiency in the rental unit
  • The effect of the defect on habitability
  • The legitimate expectations of the tenant
  • The age of the building
  • The amount of rent
  • The area in which the property is located
  • The length of the time the defect has persisted
  • Whether any unusual or abnormal activities by the tenant contributed to the creation or severity of the defect
  • Whether the tenant waived the defects
  • The steps taken by the landlord to fix the defect

In the case cited above, the tenants were awarded damages even though the issues weren’t specifically in violation of local housing codes (since the town had none). The problems were serious, though: the tenants had, at various times, dealt with a lack of heat in the winter, sewage leaking through the ceilings, overflowing toilets due to plumbing issues, sewage in the yard, roach and rodent infestations, and a hole in the decaying back porch.

As the court noted in the decision, in order "to constitute a breach of the implied warranty of habitability, the defect must be of such substantial nature as to render the premises unsafe or unsanitary, and thus unfit for occupancy. A landlord is not required to ensure that the dwelling is in a perfect or aesthetically pleasing condition."

[1] Jack Spring, Inc. v Little (1972) 50 Ill 2d 351, 280 NE2d 208

[2] Glasoe v Trinkle (1985) 107 Ill 2d 1, 88 Ill Dec 895, 479 NE2d 915

[3] Jarrell v Hartman (1977, 4th Dist) 48 Ill App 3d 985, 6 Ill Dec 812, 363 NE2d 626

[4] Jack Spring, Inc. v Little (1972)

[5] Municipal Code of Chicago § 5-12-110

[6] Chicago Building Code: Title 13 Chapter 196

[7] Glasoe v Trinkle (1985)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.