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Illinois Laws About Breaking a Lease

It's not easy to terminate a lease in Illinois, but there are specific situations in which a tenant can break their lease early without a penalty.

A lease is a binding contract, and, like any contract, it is not designed to be easily tossed aside. Illinois is a bit stricter than many other states, and only allows tenants to end a lease early in very specific circumstances. However, tenants may always negotiate the early termination of a lease with their landlord—and in severe circumstances where housing is dangerous or even unlivable, a tenant may effectively be forced to end a lease early.

Leases can always be ended by mutual agreement

Before Illinois tenants involve the court system in trying to break a lease, the best move may be to simply speak to the landlord. While leases are binding contracts, they can be dissolved at any time by mutual agreement of the parties. A tenant who needs to move and is willing to work with a landlord to find a replacement may be able to negotiate an early end to the lease.

Leases can include fees for early termination

Some leases may contain provisions that deal with early termination—including what fees, if any, are applicable. Illinois law doesn't ban lease break fees. Tenants should check their leases to see if they outline the process for breaking a lease early, including any associated costs.

Tenants can break their lease if the rental is uninhabitable

As in other states, Illinois tenants are protected by a concept known as the “implied warranty of habitability,” which guarantees them the right to a livable rental unit.1 If something happens that make it dangerous or uninhabitable—often, a landlord's refusal to repair a major problem with the unit—the warranty of habitability has been breached.2 In Illinois, violations of major housing code laws are often considered breaches of the warranty.3

If a tenant is living in a unit that is unsafe or uninhabitable, and vacates the unit as a result, they may have been “constructively evicted.” In essence, this means that the landlord’s actions (or inaction) has forced the tenant to abandon the unit. Tenants must actually move out of the rental unit to be able to claim constructive eviction in Illinois. Once they have done so, they may be able to stop paying rent—in effect, terminating their lease.

Illegal leases can’t be enforced in court

Illegal leases cannot be enforced in court. Usually, this means a landlord has rented out a commercial space for residential use (or even rented a condemned property). Leases for these properties are invalid. A tenant isn’t required to “break” the lease to leave the unit, since the lease itself is not a proper legal document.

Victims of domestic violence and other crimes can terminate a lease

Illinois law provides certain specific protections to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.5 If a tenant is under threat of imminent harm of domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse, or stalking at their rental unit, that tenant can break their lease and move out without their landlord's agreement—as long as they've informed their landlord in writing within three days of leaving the rental unit.

In situations where harm is not imminent, but the tenant has been a previous victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse, or stalking on the premises, the process is similar—except the tenant must also include paperwork showing evidence of the incident (along with written notice that they're moving out). Acceptable paperwork includes medical records, court records, or a statement from a victim advocate or rape crisis center. The incident in question must have happened no more than 60 days prior to the tenant giving notice.

If the tenant follows these procedures, they will not be responsible for any rent owed after the date they vacated the residence.

Illinois landlords have a duty to mitigate damages

Illinois law recognizes a so-called “duty to mitigate.”6 This means that if a tenant terminates a lease early and vacates a rental unit, the landlord has a duty to try and rent out that unit to a new tenant. If the landlord doesn’t attempt to find a replacement tenant for the unit, they can’t sue the old tenant for lost rent. Note that a landlord doesn’t have a duty to actually find a new tenant—only to perform a diligent and actual search for one.

Chicago specifically defines when a unit has been "abandoned"

A landlord can re-rent a unit once the unit has been abandoned. Illinois has no statewide law specifying when a rental unit is considered “abandoned”—a landlord needs to make that judgment, if they have not received explicit notice from a tenant. In Chicago, a rental unit is considered abandoned when a tenant informs the landlord of an intention to end a lease, or when a tenant has been absent for 32 or more days, and not paid rent during that time.7

[1] Board of Directors of Bloomfield Club Recreation Ass'n v. Hoffman Group, Inc., Supreme Court of Illinois

[2] Glasoe v. Trinle, 107 Ill.2d 1 (1985)

[3] Jack Spring v. Emma Little, 50 Ill.2d 351 (1972)

[4] Dell'Armi Builders, Inc. v. Johnston, 526 N.E.2d 409 (Ill. App. Ct. 1988)

[5] 765 ILCS 750

[6] 735 ILCS 5/9-213.1

[7] Chicago Municipal Ordinance 5-12-130

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