In certain states, tenants are allowed to withhold some or all of their rent until their landlord makes major repairs—a process called “rent withholding.” The situation isn’t as clear-cut in Illinois, however. Technically, there’s no statewide law that guarantees tenants the right to withhold rent. But there are court cases that protect tenants from eviction if they stop paying rent when their landlord has breached Illinois’ implied warranty of habitability—in essence, creating the right to withhold rent (although tenants only have the right once they’re in court, which is less ideal). One big caveat, though: there is a specific law that allows rent withholding in the city of Chicago.
Rent withholding is not technically allowed by Illinois law
There is no statute, law, or regulation in Illinois that grants tenants the right to withhold rent. The closest Illinois law gets to acknowledging this right is allowing tenants to "repair and deduct"—that is, make a repair themselves and subtract the cost from their next rent payment.1 This is not strictly a right to “withhold” rent, however, as the tenant must show they actually spent the money on repairs, and there is no expectation that the tenant will later pay the “withheld” money back to the landlord.
Tenants can still withhold rent and defend themselves against eviction
Even though rent withholding isn't explicitly allowed by statutory law, courts in Illinois have consistently ruled that if a landlord has breached the implied warranty of habitability—and the landlord then sues a tenant for failing to pay their rent—the tenant may defend themselves in court against an eviction by showing that they didn't pay rent because of the landlord’s breach.2
Basically, this means that if a tenant’s apartment contained some major problem (typically one that violates local housing code ordinances) and the landlord didn't fix the problem after being informed of it, the tenant has a right to reduce their rent to reflect the diminished value of the apartment.
The key for tenants to understand is that this “right” cannot be asserted until after a tenant has already been sued for eviction for unpaid rent. Thus, there is always a risk in withholding rent in Illinois, because it can quite easily lead to a lawsuit for eviction.
There’s no statewide, standardized process for withholding rent
Since there’s no clear state law allowing it, there’s no standard practice for withholding rent in Illinois. That said, tenants should always start by informing a landlord of any problems in their rental unit in writing and give the landlord a reasonable period of time to fix it.
Tenants can legally withhold rent in Chicago
Local laws may specifically allow rent withholding, even if state laws don’t. The most prominent example of this is the city of Chicago. Tenants are allowed to withhold rent in Chicago for two reasons: either the landlord has violated their lease agreement, or their rental unit has a problem that is a breach of Illinois’ implied warranty of habitability. The rent withholding law provides some examples of a breach of the warranty, including:4
- A failure to provide adequate heat or water
- A failure to maintain floors and stairways
- Rodent and bug infestations
- A failure to properly dispose of waste
This isn’t a complete list, however. Generally speaking, Chicago has high standards for a “habitable” apartment. Unless the tenant’s complaint is tiny (a loose doorknob or smudges on the wall) or it relates to a common area, there’s a good chance it warrants withholding rent—or at least threatening to.
There is a specific procedure for withholding rent in Chicago
Tenants in Chicago should start by writing a letter to their landlord informing them of the issue with their rental. The letter should also note that the tenant intends to withhold rent if it’s not repaired.5 If the landlord hasn’t made the repair within 14 days, the tenant may withhold an amount of rent reflecting the reduced value of the rental unit.
Chicago law also bars landlords from engaging in retaliatory evictions against tenants who correctly withheld rent.6
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.