Breaking a Lease in Chicago

When You’ve Gotta Go…

Lease breaks happen. Landlords hate them and often get really grumpy when their tenants don’t honor the full term of their lease agreements. They’re totally justified in being dour about it, especially if the tenant takes off in the middle of the winter. It’s an inconvenience, a hit to the wallet, a bad time for a vacancy, not to mention a broken promise. However, it’s important to remember that tenants, especially with home prices as low as they are here in late 2012, are renting for a reason. They know they can’t commit to a long-term home ownership situation. They know they may have to cut out early. They are renting because they are trying to be responsible about their large-scale purchases. The whole point of renting is that it allows for a much easier “out.”

I’d say that about 30-40% of the 1200+ leases that I have worked on since 2005 have wound up with the tenant leaving in the middle of a contract term. They may stay for a year, renew the lease, and then leave halfway through the second year, they may bolt in the middle of their first month, or they may even stay for 10 years and then suddenly have to depart. No matter what, it’s still means a broken lease and the potential for some very bad blood between the landlord and their departing tenant.

In Chicago, there’s two standard routes that a responsible tenant can take to break a lease. One is subleasing and the other is rerenting. They are often confused and somewhat murky. So, in the interest of making everything very clear, I’ve gone ahead and made a twee pink infographic for you, available after the jump.

Click image to view in all its 1024 x 1328 glory.

That’s right, darling piggies, I’m doing infographics now. $#!& just got real.

The Five Options.

So there’s really five options, but the two that I outlined in the graphic are most common and easily confused.

1. Subleasing. The CRLTO mandates that a landlord must allow a tenant to enter into a sublease and cannot charge the outgoing tenant to do so. The master lease between the landlord and original tenant continues all the way through. The sublease is drawn up between the original tenant and his/her replacement. All three names stay on the lease until the original document expires. The original tenant remains just as liable as their replacement for unpaid rent and damages.

Once the original lease ends, the replacement (sublessee) can sign a new lease with the landlord directly. The original tenant can get their deposit back and the apartment can get turned over, cleaned and painted as if a new tenant were moving in.

2. Rerental.  A lot of tenants don’t like being liable for the behavior of strangers. They want to end their lease early and have the replacement start a brand new lease. That’s fine and dandy, but it isn’t a sublease. As soon as you’re out of the realm of subleasing, the protection of the CRLTO mandate no longer applies and the landlord can charge the original tenant for the privilege of an early lease termination.

Just like getting out of any other contract, there is a cost. Generally the amount that a landlord will charge for rerental will be outlined in the lease. If not, the landlord may still be able to deduct actual costs incurred, such as agency commissions, from the original tenant’s security deposit provided they can show receipts.

It should also be noted that the landlord is required by the CRLTO to start looking for a replacement as soon as the old tenant says they’re leaving.

In both of the cases above, the outbound tenant remains liable for rent until the day someone else starts paying it instead. These two options are favored because they pretty fairly divide the responsibility and liability amongst the parties involved. However, some tenants don’t like the idea of having to pay for months and months of rent after they’ve left while the landlord tries to find a replacement. That leads us to the two less fairly-balanced options.

3. Immediate Termination. Not every landlord offers this. Not every landlord should. And definitely no Chicago landlord should do so in the middle of winter unless they’ve got a replacement tenant already lined up.

If the landlord is convinced that they can find a new tenant before they wind up in the red, they can offer the outgoing tenant the option of paying a higher fee to totally terminate their lease immediately, with no ongoing liability.

This option is still kind of fair, provided that the landlord sets the termination fee high enough. Basically it’s putting the entire burden of finding a new tenant onto the landlord, no matter how long it takes. However, the landlord retains some amount of control over the situation in that they can set the termination fee as high as necessary to offset the expected downtime.

4. Cut and Run.  The prior three options were all viable for responsible tenants. Of course, this fourth one is also always on the table too, and hovers in the background of every series of lease break negotiations. I should also mention that for newbie tenants and landlords this is often the expected exit method. Tenants assume that the cost of a broken lease will be their security deposit, and surmise that the landlord will notice that they’re gone when the rent goes unpaid for a couple of months.

Of course, tenants who engage in such behavior risk the landlord taking them to collections, or obtaining a judgment for unpaid rent which will follow them around on their credit report for years. Cutting and running without notice is totally unfair to the landlord. However, the landlord must remember that while they can theoretically sue for lost income, there is a fine line between collections (legal) and retaliation (illegal), and the courts are quite aware of the difference.

Landlords would do well to remember that no matter how forthright and proper an outgoing tenant is about her intent to leave early, if you drag on the negotiations or the rerental process for too long, this will become the outbound tenant’s preferred choice. Your cash flow is not their problem. If you want your apartment to remain occupied you need to stay in communication with your tenant, remain aware of their plans, clearly communicate your lease break policies, and work efficiently to find a new tenant if they give notice of an early departure.

Oh yes, and there’s one more method that involves a lot of dirty pool, but as I do promise the unvarnished truth here at StrawStickStone, I’m including it for good measure.

5. Invoke the Tenants’ Union. Full disclosure here: I offered to volunteer as a staffer on the hotline for one of the Chicago-area Tenants’ Unions and they refused my assistance. According to their volunteer coordinator, since I was unable to unequivocally state that I could endorse the tenant’s side of a dispute in every situation regardless of what the law stated, I was a poor fit for their business model.

Chicago has at least two organizations who claim to represent renters and call themselves “tenants’ unions.” They offer a myriad of dispute-resolution services. They also offer to assist tenants with breaking their leases when the landlord is likely to retaliate. There are provisions in the law for tenants to terminate their lease when their property is in bad shape or the landlord is doing illegal things. It’s called “constructive eviction” and a tenant can do it themselves without the unions’ assistance. The union just makes it easier.

For a few hundred dollars, the union will send a pack of letters to the offending landlord on behalf of the tenant. These letters accuse the landlord of breaking a large number of laws in hopes that at least one of the accusations is true. Included are such gems as:

  • Failure to disclose the name and address of the bank where the deposit is held.
  • Failure to disclose all violations and utility shut off notices within the past 12 months prior to the start of the lease.
  • Lapsed fire extinguisher inspection tags.
  • Keeping fire doors propped open.
  • Failure to disclose estimated utility costs for tenant-heated apartments.

If the landlord chooses to push back against the tenants’ union, the next stage is the courthouse. Landlords are welcome to fight these letters. I personally wish that more of them would. However, it’s annoying and expensive to do so, and given the state of the courts in Cook County when it comes to landlord-tenant matters your chances of winning are slim. The accusations run on for pages. Chances are at least one of them will be true, and if so, you’ve lost your case.

There are certainly bad apartments and bad landlords who endanger their tenants. I do not begrudge tenants the right to get out of a dangerous situation. Constructive evictions are a very necessary part of landlord-tenant law. What I do not like is the current practice of using these letters as a “get out of jail free” card: tenants will use them against any landlord regardless of circumstance. And I definitely do not like the unions’ strategy from a few years back of contacting tenants who are listing their apartments for sublease on Craigslist and offering these letters as an alternative.

So what have we learned today?

Broken leases are an unavoidable aspect of being in the apartment business. They’re one of the things that make renting attractive to tenants, no matter how much they damage the landlord’s bottom line. In my opinion it’s better for the landlord to focus your energy on controlling the variables that are within reach, rather than wasting stress on the ones that you can’t affect. Rather than bringing anger back to the tenant, learn to take it in stride. Expect broken leases, work them into your risk profile, and know how to handle them efficiently when they occur.

Both sides have many choices available to them when it comes to breaking the promise of a long-term occupancy. Both can avoid all of this by going month-to-month exclusively, but as that heightens the chances of a wintertime vacancy and eliminates the protection of a written lease, it’s a devil’s bargain. I’d personally rather have the written lease and know that over half of the tenant population will honor it, another good chunk will at least try to do so, and plan accordingly for the scant handful of irresponsible jerks who leave without notice.

If anyone reading is unclear on the differences between subleasing and rerenting, let me know in the comments. Otherwise please share with anyone you know who might need some help understanding their options.

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43 Responses so far.

  1. mark says:

    and, it might be worth mentioning that there are sections of the rlto that let a tenant terminate early, expressly, while other ones you mentioned (like failure to disclose the bank name) do not permit the tenant to break the lease, but just collect money damages.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Very good point, Mark. In this article I was addressing convenience lease breaks more than constructive ones, but I’m glad you mentioned the latter. The CRLTO does indeed specify multiple situations where a tenant can break their lease without finding a replacement or subleasing. For example, severe damage to the property, major health concerns like no heat or no running water all allow a tenant to end the lease if the situations aren’t fixed within a specific timeframe.

  2. PotentialTenantUnionMember says:

    Great post! You seem to have a lot of information on this blog that is otherwise hard-to-find or not readily available on the Internet. Given that…

    Short of calling a tenants’ union, can you point to any resources that might have more information on their methodology? I’m in a situation where I would like to get out of a lease (buying a house), and the landlord is being extremely inflexible. I’ve just submitted our first potential sub-tenant, but want to have a “Plan B” in place if it comes to it.

    Your description of constructive eviction/tenants’ union strategy sounds to me like using a “shotgun approach” to finding a loophole that effectively gives the tenant a “get out of jail free” card. What is the likelihood of getting a legal and clean (no lawsuits, credit dings, etc) lease break using the tenant unions? What are the chances of this backfiring and making things dramatically worse for the tenant? I’m sure the answer is “it depends”, but I’m just looking for more information so that I might be able to get a feel for the answer myself (or at least decide if I should have a consultation with a tenant union).

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi PTUM. Sorry to hear your landlord is being ridiculous. Make no mistake about it, the tenants union is the second to last stop for the truly desperate, after which your only remaining option is to lawyer up and head to court. In fact, if you’re dealing with an individual landlord, then one may lead to the other whether you like it or not. I called it “dirty pool” in the article and that’s pretty much what it is.

      I can’t speak to their precise methods in getting from your first call to their sending the letters. I’ve only seen the output. It takes a very experienced landlord to handle lease breaks without putting up a stink. Having seen the letters, I can say that there’s probably a 50% chance of them making the situation worse, and a 100% chance of ensuring that you do not part as “friends.”

      If your landlord is the type to seem comfortable with legal language then you can give the union letters a shot. If not, then I would go for the “high road” approach and rely on natural human laziness to protect you from a lawsuit.

      Make sure that everything regarding the lease break is in writing and personally delivered to the landlord by you. Give them at least 45 and ideally 60 days notice of your intent to leave. Find at least one good sublessee – sounds like you’ve already done so. Offer a lease break fee of one months rent if the subletter is not approved. Provide your forwarding address when you move out. Search Craigslist to make sure your landlord is marketing your apartment – they are legally bound to do so. Basically, make every effort to get out on the up and up and keep records of doing so.

      Chances are, if your landlord is not the type to respond well to union letters, he/she is also not the type to know how to go about suing YOU or dinging your credit, nor will they want to spend the time doing either. If they do, you’ll have the documentation to support your side of the case. If not, the worst they can do is give a poor landlord reference to your next landlord, but since you’re buying a place that shouldn’t bother you.

      Let me know if you need something more precise.

  3. Tenant Unions / Legally Breaking a Lease - City-Data Forum says:

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  4. DJ O'Donnell says:

    I am trying to break my lease and leave my apartment. The landlord has someone who wants to rent it for the remaining period I had the placed leased for ( the end of April) but my landlord is refusing to retent the apartment for less than 12 months. The landlord insists this will be a sublet, not a rerent and that I will still be liable for any rent the new tenant does not pay. Oh, I should mention the landlord already charged me a “break lease administrative fee” of $250.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Many landlords also do not understand the difference between subleasing and rerenting. If you’re in Chicago you may want to slide a copy of this article over your landlord to make sure you’re all talking about the same thing. If he/she has charged you an administrative lease break fee and is carrying the new occupant’s term beyond the expiration date of your current contract, that is not a sublease. In a sublease nothing is “broken.”

  5. Chris says:

    Hi Kay,

    I appreciate these articles, they’re helpful. Hopefully you can help me out with this one a bit…

    My original issues began in August when I noticed that I’m paying for a good chunk of my neighbors electrical bills because of lazy electrical wiring within my three-flat, this is undoubtedly a violation of the Chicago Building Code (though after a good amount of scouring I can’t find it). I work in the construction industry and have spoken with several experts who have confirmed this is indeed the case. I’ve written 3 e-mails of my landlord first requesting that they fix the issue to suggesting rent abatement, all of which have gone un-responded to. It should be noted that all e-mails between myself and the landlord typically have an hour to two hour response time.

    I’ve also recently had new neighbors recently move in who are incredibly disrespectful and enjoy smoking a wide variety of substances in the apartment. I’m at my breaking point. Any suggestions?

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi Chris and welcome to StrawStickStone! Sorry to hear you’re having such trouble.

      Regarding the wiring situation, the Chicago Existing Buildings Code is a great place to start but it’s also a truly mammoth document and it may not be your quickest means of resolution. From the sounds of it the state of Illinois may have your back on this through something called the Rental Property Utility Service Act, effective since 2005. If what you say is true you may be able to sue your landlord for damages for failing to disclose the wiring situation. Sections 1.2 and 1.3 are the most pertinent in your case. Obviously you should check with a lawyer before pursuing any type of lawsuit, but at least you’ve got a little leverage.

      Unfortunately the law does not allow for lease termination as a possible option as a result of this situation. However, if faced with a potential lawsuit a lot of landlord will roll over and let you out.

      Now, when I hear wiring + neighbor substance abuse problems in the same basket, two piggyback issues come to mind. First off, if they’re growing anything downstairs you’re going to see a huge spike in those electric bills pretty quickly. I used to handle one building where we had to provide electric cost estimates to new tenants, which meant fresh requests to ComEd twice a year for every apartment in the building. We could always spot the growers due to their over the top power bills. Secondly, if they’re tweaking down there they could be putting not only you at risk, but the landlord’s property.

      However, much like the utility situation, smoking on the property is not grounds for breaking a lease. A police report that clearly indicates a risk to you could be helpful, and if the landlord gets a copy it could be enough to get him to remove the downstairs tenants. Even so, an eviction would take several months and if you don’t want to get the cops involved then you’re back to square one.

      Breaking a lease in Chicago at this time of year is going to be difficult. We’re into the offseason and it will take much longer to find a replacement. In your situation you’re going to be a little stuck on a sublease too, since you’ll have to disclose the electric situation and be stuck in the middle for any complaints that may come up from your sublessee over the remainder of the lease.

      The questions you should be asking yourself are:
      1. How much is it worth to me to get out of this lease? Is it worth a lease break fee? A lawsuit? A police visit and the awkward situation that may ensue between then and your move date?
      2. Is there a way you can explain your situation to the downstairs folks that will get them to see how their actions (power use and other) are affecting you?
      3. Is there a way you can collaborate with the 3rd neighbor to complain about the downstairs neighbors together? No sane landlord would want to lose 2 good tenants in favor of 1 bad group, especially at this time of year.
      4. Regarding the wiring, could you give a timed request to the landlord stating that if they do not fix the problem by a certain date, you will take care of the issue yourself and bill him for the repair cost?
      5. Have you spoken to the landlord about your desire to leave?
      6. Given that the market is in the slow season, are you sure that there is a better location that you could move to?

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have further questions.

  6. Chris says:

    Thanks Kay, the RPUSA is a great find, I appreciate that. Here are the other responses, hopefully you can provide further incite off of that. If not, hopefully it’ll help others in the future reading this with similar issues.

    1. How much is it worth to me to get out of this lease? Is it worth a lease break fee? A lawsuit? A police visit and the awkward situation that may ensue between then and your move date? – Probably would be worth encurring a fee to a certain amount. A lawsuit would be easy for me, I have a few very good friends who are lawyers, one of which is slowly, slowly helping me out now. A police visit however would not be worth it; especially if I’m stuck in the apartment until my lease is up.
    2. Is there a way you can explain your situation to the downstairs folks that will get them to see how their actions (power use and other) are affecting you? – This is something I’ll explore if I’m stuck in the apartment.
    3. Is there a way you can collaborate with the 3rd neighbor to complain about the downstairs neighbors together? No sane landlord would want to lose 2 good tenants in favor of 1 bad group, especially at this time of year. – Other neighbor enjoys the same “recreational” activities.
    4. Regarding the wiring, could you give a timed request to the landlord stating that if they do not fix the problem by a certain date, you will take care of the issue yourself and bill him for the repair cost? – This is what one of my lawyer friends have been slowly, slowly helping me out with. As the repairs are above 30-days he has sent a letter to the effect that this needs to be fixed in 14-days, otherwise I’ll have the rights to move out.
    5. Have you spoken to the landlord about your desire to leave?
    I have not; nor have I spoken with him directly about the issue. Since I haven’t been well educated on the issue and the laws until quite recently, I didn’t want to get myself in a conversation that would require immediate answers, knowledge and possibly immediate action. Now that I know what I do now, I am curious if you think it’d be worth me picking up the phone and asking him if he’d consider a clean break now. This would give him time to rent for November and myself an opportunity as well. Thoughts on this?
    6. Given that the market is in the slow season, are you sure that there is a better location that you could move to? – An alternate location in Roscoe Village has already been spotted!

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Sorry for the long delay in response.

      I think in general that you should open communications with your landlord as soon as a lease break becomes a likely option. The only possible exception I could see would be if the landlord is putting you or your property in immediate danger, e.g. stalking, theft or violence. When it comes to landlord-tenant issues AND tenant-tenant issues, I always prefer to try good-faith communications with a goal of finding a mutually solid solution with all involved parties before resorting to a confrontational style or legal backup.

  7. Moving For Job says:

    hi there – just found your website, and would love to get your insight on our rental situation. My husband was offered a dream job out of state with a very stable company with contract (which he doesn’t currently have with his company here and being the sole breadwinner – that is scary). We let our landlord know with an almost 2 month lead time that we would be moving in January and offered to do everything we possibly could to make the transition as painless as possible for everyone. Needless to say the landlord has not been at all understanding, helpful, professional or ethical. We offered to do showings ourselves and put up the unit on all the rental websites we possibly could (including one that we are paying for out of pocket). We have been showing the unit now for a week and have had lots of interest and have had 10 people want to put in applications. When we check the status with our landlord, we were told that they only wanted to meet with three of them (maybe due to credit/rental history, but we weren’t given details) and that they only “liked” one of the applicants and the landlord wanted to keep looking for a “better” tenant. (Is that even ethical/legal?) In our lease it states that we have to have written agreement from the landlord for a sublease, and it will not be unreasonably with held. When we told her we were moving the landlord said we could not sublease, so we have been looking for people to sign a new lease starting in January. We have brought the landlord 10 possible new tenants, and four of them to date (with a few pending we haven’t heard about as the landlord is not communicating with us unless we directly ask for details) have passed the credit check/rental check portion of the application, but the landlord is not accepting them. Is there any way we can get out of this due to the fact that we have had suitable replacements? We are at a loss and trying to do everything humanly possible to make this right – we are doing what is best for our family. Any information or thoughts would be helpful. Thanks

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi! Sorry you’re having a hard time getting out of your lease. It sound like you’ve gone way above and beyond what is necessary for finding a new tenant!

      Standard disclaimer applies here: I am not a lawyer, just a Realtor with a bunch of rental experience. Your issues are definitely getting into the turf where some legal advice would be good. However, I can mention a few talking points that you might want to check into before you move forward.

      Firstly, you didn’t mention whether or not your landlord shares a building with you. This is pretty crucial as it determines which landlord-tenant laws apply to your situation. If you’re living in a building with 6 or fewer units and your landlord lives there too, you’re only covered by the Illinois ordinance which makes no provision for breaking leases. However, if your landlord does not live on site or the building has at least 7 units, you’re covered by Chicago’s ordinance which is pretty specific about these situation. Provided you’re covered by the CRLTO, here are some red flags I’m seeing in your description.

      1. Your landlord is required to allow you to sublease, although he does have the right to approve the sublessee.
      2. I don’t see any mention here of your landlord making efforts to market the apartment too. He is required to market the apartment at a fair market rent once he has written notice from you that you are leaving.
      3. There are really only two acceptable lease forms that have been designed to avoid conflict with the CRLTO. The phrasing “right to sublease shall not be unreasonably withheld” does not currently appear in either of them, which tells me your landlord may well be using one of the free/cheap leases available for purchase online. It’s not a good idea for Chicago landlords to use these forms, as they frequently do conflict with the CRLTO and a judge would throw out any conflicting clauses should the matter make it to a courtroom. While the sublease clause is in line (even if your landlord’s practices are not) there may be other blatant conflicts.

      Beyond the CRLTO issues, there is a greater issue that I’m seeing here in how the landlord is handling the screening of applicants. This applies regardless of whether your under Chicago or Illinois laws. I’ve screened a bunch of tenants over the past 8 years and I can safely say that over half of them would pass basic criteria for renting an apartment. For him to reject 10 applicants tells me there may be a fair housing violation occurring here.

      Now given that you have 10 applicants at the slowest time of the year, I’m thinking you’re either in a popular neighborhood or your rent is really cheap. Either way you definitely have an inexperienced landlord on your hands. I’d reckon that at least 1/3 of all leases end prematurely. Experienced landlords plan for this. It’s only the greenhorns that freak out and try to wriggle out of the matter like your guy is doing. I’m sure he’s panicking to be confronted with an off-season vacancy. If it’s a cheap rent he is probably just barely breaking even and cannot afford a vacancy. It is completely unreasonable for him to expect you guys to pay rent on an empty apartment for the remainder of your lease. However, his behavior is making it seem like he thinks this could really occur.

      As for your next steps, I’m thinking that firstly you should speak with your landlord about the criteria he’d want to see in a replacement renter. Get a specific list from him. Now, don’t couch it in terms that would make him worry that you’re gearing up for a fair housing lawsuit! Just say something like, “we don’t want to put you through the work of all these credit checks” or “we don’t want to ding these people’s credit scores unnecessarily.” He really should have consistent criteria that he’s applying to everyone. If you actually get a list and it has any possible fair housing violations on it, ignore them and adhere to the rest. This could include mention of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, occupation, religion, section 8 status, political affiliations, or familial status. You don’t want to be circling the discrimination drain with him.

      Document everything you’ve done so far with tangible proof – printouts of ads, your showing calendars, the applications you submitted, receipts for the ads you posted. Try and find a copy of your landlord’s ads for your place too. (If you can’t find any, ask to see how he’s advertising the place – again, do it on his terms, like you “want to crib off of a pro” or “don’t want to advertise the wrong thing.”)

      Thirdly, if the CRLTO applies to you make sure you point out the relevant sections to him. Many new landlords are totally unaware of this document – or don’t think their tenants are.

      Also figure out how far your landlord is likely to go to get at you when you leave and counter-prepare accordingly. If you head out after making all of this effort and no replacement has been found, his options will be to either put a collection on your credit report for the remainder of the rent due, or to sue you. Be ready with a game plan for how you’ll react in either case. All that documentation will be your best friend should it come to this.

      If you are moving to an apartment elsewhere, make sure you warn your new prospective landlords of the situation so they don’t call for a rental reference and get surprised when he gives them an earful.

      Finally (and probably most important) do not let on that you are thinking of taking this in a legal direction unless you are ready to back it up with an actual lawsuit. Remember that once you are out of state it will be very difficult for either of you to wrap up anything huge.

  8. Moving out-of-state says:

    Hi Kay,

    I am moving out-of-state at the end of November, and I notified my landlord approximately 30 days ahead of time that I would need to sublease. He stated that it was perfect timing for him, because he needed a place and he would just move in. Today, he notified me that he could no longer move in and that I would need to find someone to sublease, otherwise I would be liable for December rent. I am leaving the premises on Friday and do not think I will be able to find someone to take over in that short amount of time. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      This one’s a little beyond me, but I’m consulting with some of my colleagues to find out how much notice is required to un-cancel a lease. Does your landlord live in the building now? Do you have a termed lease or are you month-to-month?

  9. Moving out-of-state says:

    I have a termed lease, ending 03/31/14. The frustrating part is that I had tenants lined up to take over when I first told my landlord I was planning on subleasing, but I told them to forget about it when he stated that he would just move in.

  10. Moving out-of-state says:

    and no, my landlord does not live in the building.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Ok I heard back from my quickie legal consult (thanks, Rich Magnone) and he said this would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. This is the type of situation that’s really best left to the lawyers to figure out.

      However, before you wind up in a courtroom it’s always best to open lines of communication and hammer out a solution together. Do you have anything in writing from him about these matters that specifies the date he would move in and that you were free and clear of rerenting responsibility? Is there anything in the lease that addresses reletting costs?

      It sounds to me like the guy is trying to wiggle out of allowing a sublease by delaying past the point where a sublease would be possible. I may be overthinking it though.

      I’d say to take a similar approach to the one I suggested above. Talk to an attorney with experience in Chicago landlord-tenant issues, document everything, and give some thought on the chances of this landlord actually pursuing you for that month of rent.

  11. Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

    Your landlord seems to have a peculiar idea of how property marketing works. I see several logic faults the landlord’s reasoning and given their protestations I’m not sure where their priorities lie – do they want to have the property occupied, or do they want to sell it?

    There’s no way to guarantee that a property for sale will be on the market for more or less than six months. Additionally a lease runs with the property, not with the owner. It would be better to grant the new tenants either a month to month lease or a full year lease with a kickout clause that allows the new owner to terminate the lease given a specific time period worth of notice, e.g., 60 days.

    While the above route will expand the pool of potential occupants it still will not satisfy the issue of keeping the property accessible for showings while the new tenant is in there. In my opinion it would be unfair to market the rental without full disclosure on this matter, so you (or your landlord) will need to find someone who is willing to live with the proverbial axe hanging over their heads for the duration of the lease. This can be ameliorated by negotiating specific dates and times when showings are acceptable. I would suggest at least 3 weekday times and 2 weekend times of at least 4 hours per window. (I will often do this when tenants have unruly pets too, to ensure that the showings do not become focused on the animal instead of the building.)

    You are liable for the remainder of the lease, so it is in your best interest to find someone. Although the landlord is required to make a good faith effort to market the apartment on their own, and given the unique specs that they’re looking for this is probably going to be the more likely route for a new tenant, you should still stay on it until you absolutely cannot anymore. Now, the January market is slow as molasses anywhere in Chicago, so you’re dealing with a shrunken tenant pool on top of your landlord’s demand for a needle in a haystack. So you should consider who is likely to want a 4 month lease in January and market the property accordingly.

    When you’re seeking a short term rental, chances are you are only going to be in town for the duration of the lease. Folks looking for something like this in January are likely to be either corporate consultants or university folk. Either way, the bulk of them will not have furniture, so marketing the apartment as a furnished unit will help immensely. Secondly, most of those folks are going to be looking on websites dedicated to either short-term rentals or subleases. These are the venues you should be utilizing to get your listing in front of the people most likely to want what you have to offer.

    Another thing to consider would be connecting with some insurance providers and building contractors. Folks who are temporarily displaced due to fire or renovations may need a short-term arrangement. I have often been contacted about my rental listings by insurance companies who are offering to pay the rent as part of the claim. Or, as sad as it is to consider, if the property is close to a hospital or hospice facility you might also want to advertise there for family members who want to be near an ailing loved one.

    Hope this helps, let me know if you need more specifics in any direction.

  12. Ashley Montalvo says:

    Hi there, was hoping you could provide some insight on our current situation. We bought a house and therefore needed to get out of our lease. We gave our landlord more than 45 days notice and offered to find the replacement tenants and they gave us the go ahead. We were clear from the get go that we wanted to re-rent and not sublease. We found the tenants and as far as I know they signed a new lease a couple days ago. Just received an email from our landlord asking whether we intended on subleasing for a $100 fee OR releasing us from the lease which would be $4,000! The new tenants are moving in the same month we are moving out. Unsure why they would want to charge us so much, it doesn’t sound legal. It just doesn’t make sense they would charge so month when we have found new tenants.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi Ashley – sorry for the delay in response. Been flooded with spam comments lately (seriously, over 100 a day) and yours got caught up in the dragnet until now. I’m sure at this point the matter has been resolved but I wanted to respond on a few points.

      1. Chicago landlords cannot charge you or your replacement to sublease. They can charge a background fee to your replacement as long as it’s on the level with what they’d charge a normal tenant, but that’s it.
      2. If you choose to terminate your contract instead of finding a subletter, Chicago landlords can charge anything they want as a reletting/lease break fee up to the full amount of rent remaining on your lease, plus turnover costs. If they charge less, they’re being nice. Remember that even though lease breaks happen all the time, you are technically violating the terms of a legal contract. They’re entitled to hold you to your agreement.

      The amount they intend to charge is often stated in the lease. If it says “reletting fee $4000” or “4 months rent” or what-have-you in the lease, that’s what you’re bound to. If it says “actual cost,” you’re bound to that even if the landlord spends way too much to find a replacement – this is where lawsuits happen. Tenants, if you do not see a specified reletting fee in the lease, make sure to agree on something in writing before you sign anything.
      3. Expect Chicago landlords to be more stringent about breaking a lease between October and March. This is the slow off-season and a landlord with any experience in the market will know that they’re likely to be stuck with an empty unit until spring. If you’re going to break a lease in Chicago, doing so in the winter is absolutely the worst thing to do to your landlord and will make it more difficult to find a sublessee if you’re going it alone.

      Personally I’m surprised I don’t see more landlords setting a variable lease break fee that increases during the winter just to hammer home how bad it is to vacate in the off-season.

  13. Drew Varner says:

    I’d like to mention another option, applicable in a few cases. The Soldier and Sailors Relief Act and Illinois Landlord Tenant Act (765 ILCS 705/16) allow service members spending over 29 consecutive days of active duty to break their lease with a copy of the orders and 30 days notice (depending on when rent is due).

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Good point, Drew. And I should note that the Soldier and Sailors Relief Act (also called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) is federal law, so this particular point goes way beyond the bounds of the state of Illinois. National defense is one of those things that trumps civilian business contracts.

  14. Tony says:

    I have a delicate situation with my roommates and need help understanding what i can and cannot do with my lease.
    in a nutshell, my lease would have to be renewed this coming june, my roommates don’t want me to renew it with them and they’re acting in a way that leads me to feel the same way. i have a friend i can go live with starting august. i have nowhere to live for june/july but the place where i am at right now.
    should i renew the lease for a year and just leave in august? i don’t know what my options are in this situation, please inform me.
    thank you

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      If everyone is on the lease, renew but warn the landlord that you’ll likely be leaving in a couple of months. Warn them now, as your roommates may not meet the landlord’s income criteria (or other criteria) without you there. If they’re going to need to replace you everyone will want to know this now. If they already have a replacement lined up, make sure the landlord knows who the replacement is. The landlord probably has some set criteria for new tenants and they’ll need to screen the new guy/gal to stay within the bounds of the law.

      Tenants add and remove roommates all the time. Sometimes it’s a sublease situation, sometimes it’s a new partner or a breakup, sometimes it’s even a child who turns 18 while living in the apartment and must be added as an adult dependent. Most landlords would rather know about changes to their buildings’ rent rolls than have roommates sneak in unannounced. It’s also far easier for a landlord to change names than it is to turn over an entire apartment. Therefore they tend to make it easy to add/remove people in the middle of a lease.

      If your roommates are NOT on the lease you’ve a far more complicated situation on your hands. Let me know if this is the case and I can go into further depth on your options.

  15. Ms. Girl says:

    My landlord has been a nightmare. My basement has been flooding and I have been mopping water since the day I moved in 10 months ago. They came to try to fix it took the wall out for 2 months when it was 10 below raising my gas bill sky high the workers found buried sockets which were covered back up and are still there. His workers ring my bell and ask to date me. Ive gotten scared to go to the door because I live alone. The workers store gas in a tank in my backyard and they are hopping my fence on a daily basis to get the gas for their tools and when I told them they cant just come on my property that Im paying for as they please I was told to mind my own business. He is so shady that I refuse to speak to him on the phone so I only text them so that I can have proof of what they say. I have read your articles but I am still unsure of how to break my lease outside of just moving out….HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      If you moved in 10 months ago, you’ve probably got 2 months left on your lease. Either that or you’re month-to-month. This means that worst case scenario you’ve got 60 days left in that hellhole. Here are your options.

      1. Move when your lease is up. Just tell your landlord you will not be renewing and depart when the lease ends. If you really want to get out early you can find a new lease that starts one month from now and pay for two places for a month. It would cost you a month’s rent, but so would pretty much every other option except subleasing.
      2. Sublease for 2 months. Not recommended. You’d have to find the subletter and convince them that you’ve got a good place for them to live in. Given your experiences I think that would be pushing the boundaries of how much any reasonable human can fake it. It usually takes 1-2 weeks to find a subletter and get them approved, which would put you at just 6 weeks of occupancy before the lease expires. There aren’t many people looking to stay in an apartment for just 6 weeks. Additionally, based on your description I doubt this landlord has any clue on how to actually do a sublease.
      3. Find a replacement tenant for a full year lease. Not recommended. This has many of the same issues as subleasing plus you’d probably have to pay a fee to the landlord to terminate your contract early.
      4. Just ditch. Your landlord can easily come after you by sending your account to collections if you do this. You will have no say in the matter.
      5. Build a case and sue. You can find info on this process at Illinois Legal Aid. Look for “constructive eviction.” You’ll need a good attorney and this may drag out the issue long after your lease would naturally end, but if you really want to sock it to this guy for being a moron then this is the way to go.

      In any case this landlord should be reported to the housing inspector for the buried sockets and the flooding issues. Chicago inspections have to be requested online. Here’s the form.

  16. Yosef says:

    I had a clause that I could break my lease for 2 months rent. I broke it with no notice due to a death in the family. They have my deposit and I was out prior to the end of the month. Would my deposit count toard the 2 months? Or do I still owe 2 additional months? No way I’m paying 5 months rent for a place I was in for 2 months.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      In Chicago your deposit cannot be applied to anything until 45 days after you leave. At that point it can be applied to damages beyond standard wear and tear and unpaid rent. The deposit can be applied to that fee if the following things are true:

      1. No other deductions for damages can be taken.
      2. No other debts are on the books for your account.
      3. There is a clause in your lease that states that lease break fees are assessed as additional rent or something to that end.
      4. The landlord must have found a replacement immediately with no interruption in rent.
      5. No specific advance notice time period is specified as part of that lease break clause.

      If deductions were taken for damages or other unpaid rent then you may owe the balance. If it took your landlord more than a month to find a replacement and your lease specified one month’s notice required, then you may owe one month.

  17. Savanah Stevens says:

    Hi Kay,
    I have been on my lease going on 6 months, I have received a job offer back home. I was curious how would I go about breaking my lease effectively with out any bad blood?

    I’ve never been in this situation, so I am at a loss on how to handle this appropriately.

    Any advice would be most beneficial.

    Thank you

  18. Looking for help says:

    I need some help. I have been in my apartment for about 6 months. There has been one problem after another from a steady stream of roaches, to standing water downstairs in the garage, (my daughter has been getting headaches everytime she comes home from what i think is mold), larvae continue to show up on the ceiling of my apartment, the A/c does not work well and was never serviced, the stove and drier to do not work well, etc., etc. The landlord lives in SF and the building manager is pretty much a nit wit so nothing is getting fixed or resolved.

    So about two weeks ago I mentioned to my landlord that the problems are just way too much and that we would be moving out in 60 days. He drove a very hard line and said that I have to pay the remainder of the rent or 6 more months. I have contacted the renter’s union and I have also contacted a lawyer but have not met with them yet.

    My problem is basically this; i am trying to sublet the unit. The problem is that i have had a few people come to see the unit and when they see the standing water or other problems they start asking me one question after another about the problems. I do not feel comfortable lying so i just tell them the truth about all the problems and they of course say no thanks. So, I do not see how i can sub-let this place because i am not about to lie to the prospective tenants. Given the problems it seems to me the landlord should be more reasonable.

    I would like to come to an amicable resolution about this with my landlord. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom?

    Thank you,
    Looking for help!

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      I see from your email address (hidden from public view) that you’re in Ohio. I can’t really speak to how things work outside of Chicago. If the apartment were in Chicago though, I would start by calling the city inspector and having them come out to take a look at the property. If things are as bad as you say, chances are the inspector will find enough problems to wind the landlord up in housing court, or at least get you an itemized list of building code violations. You could then use those violations to mount what is called a “constructive eviction” lawsuit. Constructive evictions work backwards from the normal evictions that you hear about. Both seek a termination to the lease due to breach of contract. However, in a constructive eviction the tenant is the one doing the suing, usually due to severe maintenance problems.

      Obviously this would be a worst case scenario, and you’d want to talk with an experienced local attorney before following this route. However, if faced with the choice of cutting losses or dealing with a lawsuit from halfway across the country, I’d bet the landlord will give up on his request for that six months of rent.

  19. JenRomo says:

    Great website. My husband and our 9 month old son live in a condo (owner by a family) but managed by a rental company. This summer we had a massive flood in the basement of our duplex down, which also happens to be where both of the bedrooms are located. After dragging their feet, they eventually put all new carpet in. As they put it in, they laid it over visible mold in the floor and baseboards.

    We just bought a house and plan to move in January but our lease technically ends April 30th. My question is whether I may have some right to get out of the lease due to mold conditions (esp bad for a young baby.) I realize you are not a lawyer but wondering if the tenant rules of Chicago may be in my favor. We would only be leaving 3 months early on our lease. Also, the owner of the unit wants to sell it in the spring anyway. I’m just wondering if I need to play dirty and mention the mold to an expert in order to get out of lease.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi! Glad you like the site.

      I would start by trying to negotiate a lease break without mentioning the mold. The landlord knows you had flooding problems, after all, they had to pay for new carpet. No need to beat them about the head with it. Better to talk about how easy it will be to stage & show for sale with you guys out of there.

      The problem with visible mold is that if it’s too small of a patch (less than 10 sq ft), the only recommendation an “expert” could make would be for the owner to clean it up themselves with detergent or bleach. Patches of mold less than 10 sq ft are recommended as DIY cleanup jobs by the CDC, and with a federal group like that calling the shots there’s nothing any inspector worth their salt would say to the contrary. Some mold remediation services might take on the project to make a buck or two but the honest ones would say that their services are not necessary for small areas like that.

      You need to break the lease regardless of the mold, so your best bet would be to try and forget about the mold until after you’re gone and do your best to find a replacement tenant. It’s the off-season so the tenant pool is much smaller than it would be in warmer months. I know it’s making you feel icky and it’s bad for your infant, but if you keep dwelling on it you’re going to wind up slipping and mentioning it to your prospective replacements and making your job tougher.

      If you can’t get the mold off your mind and you can get that carpet up, you can always try the DIY cleanup route yourself. Here’s a PDF Guide from the CDC on how to do it.

  20. Brandi says:

    Hi. My name is Brandi. I moved to Chicago in September, I have until Srotember on my lease. My brother went to the hospital and my mother needs my help, at home! I emailed the company and am now trying to be pro active and prepared for the email I am going to receive back from them. May I have all the pointers you have to make this the fastest easiest transition? Do I put my apartment on a website? Do I go to the company that showed me the website? I am un sure of what to do?

    Thank you so much.

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi Brandi.

      Here’s what I would do to get ready:
      – Draft up the advertisement text so you can drop in your landlord’s policies and go as soon as you hear back.
      – Make sure you know what the landlord charges for application fees, security deposits, etc. as well as their policies for maximum occupancy and pets.
      – Remember that they have to let you sublease and they cannot charge you to do so. They can charge you to completely terminate your lease when you leave, though.
      – Take pictures of your place. Make sure you clean up first and hide any valuables. Take the photos on a sunny day with the blinds open and all the lights on. If you’re able, I recommend slightly overexposing your white walls, otherwise they will come out looking yellow and dingy in your photos.
      – Talk to a friend who lives in the area and see if they’d be willing to chaperone your showings so you’re not alone in the house with strangers.

      Once you get the “all clear” from your landlord, I’d recommend starting with the free apartment listing websites that are out there. It is the slow season right now but there’s still some folks looking for good places, especially those on the smaller side. You can post your ad to Craigslist, Trulia, Hotpads and LiveLovely for free. Try blasting to those sites first, and then give it a few days to gauge response. If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough interest, the next step is to try listing at They charges a small fee but they have decent exposure. The other sites that charge you to list (,, the Reader, etc.) are not worth the high cost in my opinion.

      Don’t forget the value of working your personal network, too! Post to your social media sites and spread the word. Chances are at least 20% of your friends know someone who’s currently in the process of moving.

      If you absolutely have to hit the road before you can find a replacement, you can either go back to the rental service that helped you find the place in September, or you can see if your landlord will let you buy out your lease. Go with whichever option is cheaper, bearing in mind that anything other than a complete buyout of the lease leaves you on the hook for rent until a new person moves in.

      Hope this helps!

  21. Teresa says:

    Hello. Can a landlord “require” you to pay realtor fees to find someone to sublease ($1600, she claims)? She will not allow us to find subleasers ourselves. If we do pay this outrageous realtor fee, she won’t even let us terminate the lease (aka do a re-rent). There is nothing at all in our lease about subleasing or terminating the lease early. Thank you in advance!

    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      Hi. I’m writing this to Chicago law, so if you’re somewhere else it will not be valid.

      No, the landlord cannot do that in Chicago. A sublessee someone you (the tenant) find on your own. The landlord can require a background check at the same cost they charge all other applicants for background checking. They can require a replacement security deposit from the sublessee so you can get yours back promptly. However, they cannot charge you a fee to sublease, which is exactly what they’re doing here. What they are doing is rerenting your apartment. Contact a landlord-tenant attorney or the tenants union ASAP, you need representation.

  22. Pitz says:

    Hi Kay,

    Please help me with this. I have informed our landlord about us moving out before our contract ends. We have tried to look for sublets but he said he prefers another year lease. His agent found a new tenant that will moved in a day after we moved out. They are charging me for an early termination because they have to pay the agent so soon. We are just 2 months short before our contract ends. Do I really have to pay for it? If yes, what’s the reasonable amount?


    • Kay Cleaves Kay Cleaves says:

      It’s very common for landlords to dislike subletters, as they don’t get to meet them until they move in. Plus the whole subletter thing is just as confusing for landlords as it is for tenants.

      Once you told your landlord you were leaving, he had to make an immediate and demonstrable effort to find a replacement regardless of what your plans were to sublease. That’s the law. If you had found a subletter before he found a replacement on a relet, then he would have had to consider the subletter and he could not have charged you to do so. That’s also the law. It sounds like you don’t have a viable alternative to offer him as a subletter. So yes, you do need to pay the fee.

      If your lease does not specify an early termination fee, then the reasonable amount you should expect to pay for the reletting is the landlord’s actual cost, i.e., the agent’s commission.

  23. Sarah says:


    My boyfriend and I are on a lease with one other person. My boyfriend and I share a room so we split the rent in half with our roommate. I got a new job, so we have to leave with 2 months left on the lease. Our roommate wants to stay for the remainder but can’t afford it on her own.

    To make matters more complicated, our landlord is selling the building. When I found out about my new job, I asked the landlord about subletting for the 2 months left on the lease, and he said that our lease provides for a $1750 fee to sublet, and although he didn’t say we couldn’t sublease, he did say that it would be really inconvenient because he was putting the building on the market. Our lease provides for a $1750 re-letting fee, and states “Tenant may only assign this Lease or sublet the Premises if all of the following conditions are met . . . (3) Tenant upon demand pays, in advance, . . . (b) all permissible expenses of landlord on account of such assignment or subletting, if any, including, but not limited to, decorating, repairs, replacements, commissions and or administrative fees for performing the details attendant to such a transaction in the about set forth above as the ‘Reletting Charge.'” My boyfriend and I decided not to bother with the sublet because $1750 is around what we would pay in rent for two months anyway, so just paying the remainder of what we owe on the lease would cost the same as paying the fee to sublease.

    Now we’re moving out, and I took a look at the CRLTO and realized that he isn’t allowed to charge us a fee to sublease. The whole reason we didn’t pursue subletting is because he told us he’d charge us to do it. I’m upset that I’m out 2 months rent, and I’m wondering if I have any grounds to refuse to pay it. Of course, this isn’t a matter of just breaking the lease, since the roommate is still living in the apartment and we don’t want to stick her with the whole rent. At this point, we’re moving now so it would be kind of impossible to get a subletter for the whole 2-month period.


  24. Anonymous says:

    Hi, I need assistance I have been in my apartment since February is this year and it is now the end of May around April I started seeing traces of mice I’ve contacted management numerous times left messages requesting that they take of the problem and the building engineer came in and plugged a few holes but the mice are a constant problem and I am so uncomfortable in my living space. The hallways are always smelly and I live in a courtyard building where my section doesn’t have a secured door after the security gate that often doesn’t close behind each person. Although I have voiced these concerns numerous times it doesn’t seem like they are doing a very good job resolving the situation, I have already found somewhere to move to but I signed a year lease and I don’t want to be sued for leaving. What advice do you have for me?

  25. Melissa says:

    Good day,

    I am an international student graduating in fall 2017. I signed a lease with a roommate for a studio apartment. My roommate is causing me severe emotional distress and has made me really uncomfortable to live there. I spoke to her about it and told her I would like to leave and would be searching for someone to relet as the leasing office informed me that sublease would not be an option due to the fact that she has no desire to leave. I’ve been actively posting the apt as available for relet on Craigslist and other platforms, doing my part to ensure a smooth transition for all. However, in a follow up conversation with my roommate I expressed that I have a lineup of interested persons but I would need her to fill out the application form and sign off on the relet. She is refusing to sign anything that would allow me to depart and is essentially holding me hostage via the lease. I informed the leasing office of this and they said they can’t do anything about it.

    What can I do to get out of it? I am really stressed out by this situation and just want to leave. I have seeked the advice of Metropolitan Tenants Org in Chicago and they informed me that I should write a letter giving an overview of the conclusion of the 2 conversations held with roommate and that I have been doing my part to find someone to replace me but she has chosen not to sign the necessary document. – do this and cc the leasing office and just pack up and leave.

    I’m worried…. would this be on my record? Electricity bill is in my name, how do I deal with that? Can the landlord or roommate come after me with claims?

    NB I cannot afford the buy out option which requires 2 months rent.

Hi! Please note that I'm no longer a licensed Realtor and I don't check the comments very often anymore. You're welcome to leave questions but be aware that it may be a few months before I see it. For faster response, please use the Contact page to email me your questions.

-Kay C.

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