What should I know about leases?

Did you know, every Chicago renter has a “lease”?

If you signed a written agreement with your landlord to rent your apartment for a certain amount of time (usually one year), you clearly have a lease. But what happens if you moved in without signing anything? Or what if you had a written lease, but it expired?

In both of these situations, you have a month-to-month lease. Either you or the landlord can generally end a month-to-month agreement at any time on just 30-days notice.*

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your personal situation. Which of these situations sounds more like yours?

If you are someone that wants the flexibility of being able to quickly pick up and move on 30 days notice*, a month-to-month lease may be just what you want. Some landlords actually charge more (and tenants pay more) for this flexibility.

If your family would struggle to move on a dime if your landlord told you your lease would end next month, a month-to-month lease may not be the best fit for you. Think about asking your landlord for a lease.

You might be wondering, what happens if I have a lease but I decide I want to move? You can break your lease by moving-out and returning the keys to your landlord. You’re still legally on the hook for the money for future months until your lease ends, but your landlord also has a “duty to mitigate” which means that they are required to try to re-rent the unit. You’re on the hook for the rent (and reasonable advertisement costs) through the end of your lease, minus the amount a new renter pays. You may also be able to break your lease without penalty if there are severe problems with the apartment and in a few other rare situations.

*How do you calculate the 30-day notice period? The period has to end at the end of your rental term, which is usually the last day of each month. For example, if your rent is due every month on the 1st and your landlord gives you a 30-day notice on May 20th, the soonest the lease could end is June 30th (even though this is actually 40 days).