Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Illinois, when they can’t, and if a landlord is required by Illinois law to make reasonable effort to re-rent.
Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out a lease early without penalty, it’s important to understand the notice requirements in Illinois to end a tenancy.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Illinois
In Illinois, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Tenants are required to provide notice for the following lease terms (735 ILCS 5/9-205 & 207):
- Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 7 days
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days
- Notice to terminate a yearly lease with no end date. 60 days
Delivering Notice in Illinois
A notice can be delivered using one of the following methods:
- Delivering it to the landlord;
- Delivering it to a person who is 13 years or older who is in possession of the premises;
- Mailing a copy to the landlord via certified mail or registered mail with a returned receipt; or
- Posting a copy in a conspicuous place.
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Illinois
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Illinois without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.
1. Early Termination Clause
Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e., equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e., 30 days).
If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.
2. Active Military Duty
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.
To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:
- Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty.
- Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days.
- Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.
With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. For example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st therefore, rent is still due for the month of April.
In Illinois, the term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.
3. Unit is Uninhabitable
Most states have specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Illinois is no different. Landlords must maintain the premises to protect a tenant’s safety and health. In Illinois, landlords must comply with city and county ordinances and state laws regarding housing conditions.
If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs are still not made within the allowable time period (14 days), a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted”. As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under the Illinois landlord-tenant law.
For more information on habitability laws in Illinois, click here.
4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation
If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease.
- Landlord Entry. Illinois has no statute for landlords to provide notice before entering. If a landlord repeatedly violates the tenant’s rights to privacy or removes windows or doors, turns off utilities, or changes the locks, the tenant would be considered “constructively evicted,” as described above.
- Changing the locks. In Illinois, a landlord cannot lock out a tenant.
5. Domestic Violence
Illinois provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. If the tenant is confronting a domestic violence situation (this can also be stalking), and wants to move, it is best to check with local law enforcement regarding special state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations. The following statutes are applicable in Illinois (765 ILCS 750):
- Tenant may terminate a lease early in special circumstances involving sexual assault, sexual abuse, or domestic violence.
- Landlords must change the locks if requested by a domestic violence victim.
- Landlords can ask tenants to provide proof of domestic violence status.
- Landlords must not disclose the status of the domestic violence victim to anyone.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Illinois
The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.
- They bought a house.
- They are relocating for a new job or school.
- They are upgrading or downgrading.
- They are moving in with a partner.
- They are moving to be closer to family.
Since state landlord-tenant laws vary, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate their tenancy early in other states but are not applicable in Illinois:
- Violation of the Lease Agreement. If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period).
- Illegal Contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable.
- Mandatory Disclosures. Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Disclosure laws typically impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. In rare cases, they contain penalty provisions that may allow you to break your lease.
- Senior Citizen or Health Issue. Some states offer age or health-related lease-breaking arrangements that permit early lease termination.
Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Re-rent in Illinois
Illinois state law does require landlords to take reasonable steps to re-rent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. This means that if a tenant leaves their lease early and the landlord re-rents the unit before the lease ends, then the rent received from the new tenant will apply to the tenant’s debt.
According to Illinois law, 735 ILCS 5/9-213.1, a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit instead of charging the tenant for the total remaining rent due under the lease. If a landlord re-rents the property quickly, the tenant will only be responsible for is the amount of time the unit was vacant.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Illinois
If the lease does not prohibit subletting, then a tenant might be in the clear to sublet. However, the lease might contain a clause requiring a tenant to obtain a landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get the landlord’s approval, a tenant shall send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept that a tenant has notified the landlord.
The letter should include the following information:
- Sublet term.
- Name of proposed subtenant or assignee.
- The permanent home address of proposed subtenant or assignee.
- Your reason for subletting or leaving permanently.
- Your new address during the sublease if applicable.
- The written consent of any co‑tenant.
- A copy of the proposed sublease.
If a landlord rejects the request, know that they can only refuse the proposed subtenant based on legitimate factors. The law states that a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to sublet.
For more information and to get a FREE Illinois sublease agreement click here.