Breaking a Lease Early in Illinois

Breaking a Lease Early in Illinois

Last Updated: July 13, 2023 by Phil Ahn

In Illinois, a tenant can end a fixed-term lease early, without penalty, if one of several conditions is met, such as a privacy violation by the landlord. If none of the conditions are met, the tenant is liable for all remaining rent until a new tenant is found.

1. Active Military Duty

In Illinois, as with all states, military duty allows a tenant to break a lease early, without penalty. Federal law allows active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station to break a lease early . The protection begins on the date on which the tenant enters active duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as Military Duty?

To qualify to break a lease early in Illinois for military duty, all of the following conditions must be met

  1. Servicemember Status. A tenant must be an active-duty member of the military, Reserve, National Guard (mobilized under federal orders for more than 30 consecutive days), or be a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 
  2. Deployment. The tenant must receive a permanent change of station (“PCS”) order or deployment order for a period of at least 90 days.
  3. Prior Signed Lease. A tenant must have signed the lease prior to active military service.

How to Prove or Verify Military Duty

To prove or verify military duty in Illinois, a tenant must give the landlord both of the following:

  1. A military ID (example)
  2. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders (example) OR a letter from the tenant’s commanding officer (example)

If a landlord doubts the authenticity of a tenant’s request to terminate a lease due to military duty, the landlord may submit a Record Request to obtain a report certifying the tenant’s active duty status. However, the landlord must create an account to use the Record Request.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to Military Duty

To terminate a lease early for military duty, a tenant must provide written notice and proper documentation to the landlord. The tenancy does not terminate immediately. The earliest a tenant could terminate the lease is 30 days after delivery of the notice to terminate the lease.

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.

2. Early Termination Clause

If an early termination clause exists in the lease, a tenant in Illinois may end their lease early. In Illinois, a landlord is not required to include an early termination clause in the lease.

An early termination clause allows a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for paying a penalty. Generally, an early termination clause allows a tenant to break a lease anywhere from 30-60 days after providing notice.

Early Lease Termination Agreement

If a lease does not have an early termination clause, both the landlord and the tenant may agree to a “mutual agreement” to end the lease. In this case, the landlord and tenant write down the terms of the termination agreement, sign the agreement, and comply with the agreed-upon terms to terminate the lease.

3. Domestic or Sexual Violence

Illinois law ensures that tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or sexual abuse can end their lease early, without penalty . However, to avail this protection, the tenant must be able to provide evidence of the abuse to the landlord.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as Domestic Violence?

In Illinois, for an act of domestic violence to qualify as grounds for breaking a lease, all must be true:

  1. It is committed against the tenant or child of a tenant by a household member
  2. It is intended to result in harm, injury, or sexual assault OR it reasonably places the victim in fear of imminent harm or assault

How to Prove or Verify Domestic Violence

A tenant can prove or verify domestic violence by providing the landlord with one of the following:

  • Documentation of the stalking, assault, or abuse from a licensed healthcare provider or someone who is otherwise qualified
  • A copy of a court issued:
    • Temporary injunction
    • Temporary ex parte order
    • Protective order or
    • An order of emergency protection

Court documents related to a case are not publicly available, and landlords are unable to obtain them from the court. However, the orders are signed and stamped by a judge, making them official court documents. Landlords can ensure their validity by checking the list of judges currently serving in the state.

To further verify if the court documents are legitimate, a landlord may call the court and ask the clerk to confirm the issue was ordered.

A healthcare provider or another qualified person will sign the documents if they know domestic violence has occurred. Landlords are not permitted to discuss the incidents that resulted in the documentation with the provider. However, they can verify the validity of the documents.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to Domestic Violence

To terminate a lease early for domestic violence in Illinois, a tenant must provide the landlord with the proper documentation and a reasonably timed written notice of termination. The tenant remains liable for any damage done to the rental unit as well as the rent due for the final month.

4. Uninhabitable Living Conditions

In Illinois, a tenant can break a lease early, without penalty, due to uninhabitable living conditions if all of the following are true:

  1. Certain health and safety codes are not met
  2. The tenant notifies the landlord about the issue
  3. The landlord fails to make repairs within a reasonable time period

This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as Uninhabitable Living Conditions

Illinois courts have set forth specific instances that qualify as uninhabitable living conditions. To start, a unit must fail to meet certain physical health and safety standards under the implied warranty of habitability that are not a result of the tenant’s actions or negligence.

Here are a few examples of minimum habitability requirements that a landlord must provide:

  • Adequate hot and cold water
  • Continuous utilities
  • Safe common areas
  • Proper electrical wiring
  • Extermination of infestations

Any situation that materially affects an ordinary tenant’s physical health or safety makes that rental unit uninhabitable.

To break a lease for uninhabitable conditions, the tenant must notify the landlord. The notice must be in writing and list the uninhabitable conditions. Once notified of a defective condition, the landlord has 14 days to make the repairs.

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How to Prove or Verify Uninhabitable Living Conditions

In Illinois, to prove or verify uninhabitable living conditions, a tenant must show all of the following:

  1. Proof of the issue (i.e., a photo)
  2. Proof the tenant gave notice of the issue to the landlord (i.e., certified mail)
  3. Proof the issue remains

Upon receiving notice, the landlord may verify the conditions by inspecting the property. If the tenant intends to make the repair themselves, the tenant must provide the landlord with a copy of the repair bill and receipt for the payment.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to Uninhabitable Living Conditions in Illinois

In the event of uninhabitable living conditions, a tenant may terminate their lease early by providing the landlord with a written notice. The letter should state that the tenant is terminating due to the landlord’s failure to resolve the situation and, if possible, include proof of the violation and a prior notice requesting repairs.

The tenant must also leave the premises. The tenant is entitled to a prorated refund of rent from the date of termination or the date the tenant moves out, whichever is later.

If the landlord disputes the legitimacy of the uninhabitable conditions, they may file a complaint for a “declaratory judgment” with the Illinois district court asking whether the unit is truly uninhabitable.

5. Tenant Death

In Illinois, a tenant’s estate can terminate a lease early, without penalty, if a tenant dies before the expiration of the lease.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as Tenant Death?

In Illinois, the death of a tenant who was the sole occupant over 18 years old and signed the lease will qualify as a legitimate reason to terminate the lease. In the case of minors residing with the deceased tenant, the landlord will work out the specifics with their new legal guardian(s).

How to Prove or Verify a Tenant Death

The tenant’s estate can demonstrate the tenant’s death by presenting the landlord with the death certificate. Alternatively, the landlord may obtain the tenant’s death certificate by contacting the Illinois State Department of Health.

To prove their authority as the personal representative of the deceased tenant’s estate, the individual must provide the landlord with a copy of the tenant’s will or a court order identifying this person as such.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to a Tenant Death in Illinois

To terminate a lease early due to tenant death in Illinois, a representative of the estate must provide written notice to the landlord within a reasonable time frame after the death, remove the tenant’s belongings from the property, and sign an inventory of the removed items.

Termination of the lease is not effective immediately. The tenant’s estate will have a reasonable amount of time to inform the landlord that they want to terminate the lease.

If released, the tenant’s estate will still be liable for any past-due rent and any damages to the premises that are beyond normal wear and tear. Until the lease is fully terminated, the tenant’s estate will still be responsible for rent.

6. Unenforceable or Voidable Lease

In Illinois, a tenant can break a lease early, without penalty, if there are unenforceable clauses or provisions that make the lease voidable. Specifically, a tenant can break a lease early if the lease was signed under duress, if the tenant is a minor, or if the unit is illegal.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as an Unenforceable or Voidable Lease

In Illinois, a lease would be deemed unenforceable or voidable if any of the below are true:

  • A tenant was forced to sign the lease under duress. Duress means there is coercion through physical force or an unlawful threat that eliminates one’s free will to do what they want.
  • The party signing the lease is a minor. In Illinois, a minor is someone under the age of 18. With regards to leases, anyone can sign one, including a minor. Because leases are generally viewed as contracts, and a minor cannot be bound by their contracts, the law will automatically allow the minor to void the contract, if they choose.
  • The unit is illegal. An illegal unit is one that is used for residential purposes but is not registered with the proper authorities as required by law. These are units that don’t comply with legal requirements for housing, such as too-low ceilings, no address, no dedicated gas/electric meter, or improper electric systems.

How to Prove or Verify an Unenforceable or Voidable Lease

To prove or verify that a lease was signed under duress, a tenant must demonstrate that they were not acting of their own free will when they signed it. Duress typically involves physical violence, but the tenant must also prove that those threats were the reason they signed the lease. Subsequently, the burden of proof shifts to the other party, who must prove that the tenant was not coerced into signing the lease.

To prove or verify that the party signing the lease was a minor, the easiest way will be to provide a birth certificate showing exactly when the tenant was born. Once confirmed, they will then be given the choice of whether they want to void the lease.

To prove or verify that the unit is illegal, a tenant can search public files at the local housing inspection department or agency. A tenant can search these files online by locating the “Certificate of Occupancy” document. Generally, every city or county will have a database where an individual can input the address of the property in question. Simply search “[the county or city name] + certificate of occupancy.”

How to Terminate a Lease Due to an Unenforceable Clause or Void Lease

If a lease is considered void or unenforceable, it is immediately terminated, as if the lease was never signed. Therefore, the tenant can move out immediately and no longer have to pay rent.

Furthermore, because the agreement is viewed as never in existence, any security deposits paid should be returned. The first step is asking the landlord to return the security deposit. However, if the landlord claims they do not owe you money, you may have to resort to filing a lawsuit in small claims court.

7. Landlord Harassment or Privacy

In Illinois, a tenant can terminate a lease early due to landlord harassment or privacy violations. However, a court must determine whether landlord harassment occurred before a tenant can break the lease.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as Landlord Harassment

In Illinois, the following behavior qualifies as landlord harassment:

  • Landlord Entry. In Illinois, landlords are required to provide notice (generally 48 hours) before entering a tenant’s home. Repeatedly entering a tenant’s home without notice qualifies as landlord harassment.
  • Constructive Eviction. A landlord cannot remove exterior windows or doors, turn off utilities or change the locks without prior tenant permission under Illinois law. This type of behavior constitutes constructive eviction and qualifies as landlord harassment under Illinois law.
  • Refusing to Make Necessary Repairs or Maintain the Property. Under the implied warranty of habitability, landlords cannot simply refuse to make repairs or intentionally delay maintenance needs. Doing so opens up the possibility of landlord harassment compensation.
  • Engaging in Discrimination. Under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord may not discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, national origin, and gender. This type of behavior qualifies as landlord harassment. The Illinois Fair Housing Act extends protections against discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, marital and family status, military status, domestic violence victims, and pregnancy. It also adds protections for perceived members of the disabled, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and individuals who are associated with disabled persons.

How to Prove or Verify Landlord Harassment

A tenant may prove or verify landlord harassment by keeping written records of any harassment or taking photos, if possible. At the hearing, a landlord may be able to counter this with similar evidence.

For example, a tenant may provide a court with pictures of an exterior door with no locks. In turn, the landlord may present evidence that the landlord was required to change the locks and show the court a receipt from a locksmith with an installation date for a new lock.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to Landlord Harassment

To terminate a lease for landlord harassment, a tenant must get court permission. The tenant must file a complaint with the Illinois District Court. The court will then schedule a show-cause hearing, where the tenant will provide facts on why there should be a complaint filed against the landlord.

If the clerk issues a complaint, a court date will be set. On the court date, it will be determined whether landlord harassment occurred and if the lease should be terminated.

8. Mental or Physical Disability

In Illinois, as with all other states, a tenant can break a lease early, without penalty, because of a physical or mental disability.

Practically speaking, a tenant with a disability could request to terminate the lease if they can no longer function in a regular rental unit and need specialized care.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable. However, ot all physical and mental disabilities may meet the requirements for terminating a lease.

What Qualifies as a Physical or Mental Disability?

Individuals with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations under both the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Reasonable accommodations are changes, modifications, or exceptions made to policies, practices, or services to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to housing opportunities and can enjoy their living space on an equal basis.

An individual is recognized as having a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially restricts one or more major life activities. To qualify there must be documentation of the impairment, such as hospitalization records and documented absences from work due to the disability.

A physical or mental impairment includes diseases and conditions such as:

  • Visual, speech, or hearing impairments
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism
  • Epilepsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • HIV

How to Prove or Verify Physical or Mental Disability

When proving or verifying disabilities, there are two methods by which to do so:

  1. The disability is obvious and apparent. If a person’s disability and need for the requested accommodation is obvious and readily apparent, then the landlord may not request any additional information. These would most likely be physical impairments that one could easily identify as being limiting to the tenant.
  2. Request verification of disability. If the disability and the need for the requested accommodation is not so obvious and readily apparent, the landlord can only request information that is necessary to evaluate the disability. Provided information will generally be from a medical professional or reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability. These disabilities would usually encompass some sort of mental disability.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to a Physical or Mental Disability

A tenant with a qualified disability may request early termination of their lease as a reasonable accommodation under the federal FHA or ADA. If the landlord receives this request, they must grant it by terminating the lease.

However, if the landlord refuses to do so, the tenant may have to file a Fair Housing complaint or take legal action to enforce their rights.

9. Landlord Retaliation

In Illinois, a tenant can break a lease early, without penalty, if a landlord retaliates against the tenant . Illinois law does not allow a landlord to retaliate against a tenant for exercising their rights under the law.


This right cannot be waived. Any lease clause attempting to is unenforceable.

What Qualifies as Landlord Retaliation?

Illinois law sets forth specific instances that qualify as landlord retaliation. First, a tenant must have done one of the following:

  • Exercise or attempt to exercise their rights under the law
  • Report to the Board of Health a suspected violation of any health or building code
  • Withhold rent due to the landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs or provide services
  • Complain to any board that regulates residential premises about a violation with the property

After a tenant exercises these rights, any of the following actions may qualify as landlord retaliation:

  • Filing an eviction proceeding
  • Depriving the tenant use of the premises, except for reasons authorized by law
  • Decreasing services to the tenant
  • Increasing rent or substantially altering the terms of the tenancy
  • Purposefully interfering with the tenant’s rights under the lease

How to Prove or Verify Landlord Retaliation

In Illinois, a tenant can establish a claim of landlord retaliation by providing documentation of the rights they exercised under the law. This could include a copy of a complaint filed with a governmental agency or evidence of an altered lease or eviction proceeding.

However, the landlord will not be held liable if they can prove that the action was not taken as retaliation. To do so, the landlord must provide evidence that they intended to take the same actions prior to the tenant’s actions.

A landlord may also show that they exercised certain lawful rights through any of the following:

  • Increasing rent under an escalation clause in a written lease for utilities, taxes, or insurance
  • Increasing rent or reducing services as part of a pattern of rent increases or service reductions for an entire multi-unit building
  • An otherwise valid eviction or lease termination because the tenant is delinquent in rent, intentionally damages property, or materially breaches the lease

Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Job Relocation in Illinois?

A tenant cannot break a lease early due to a job relocation in Illinois. No laws exist in Illinois to allow a tenant to automatically break a lease for a new job.

However, some leases contain a “transfer clause” which may allow a tenant to end a lease early if they are relocating for a new job.

Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Backing Out of a Lease After Signing?

In Illinois, a tenant cannot break a lease early after signing the lease but before moving in. However, a tenant may terminate the lease under an early termination clause, if the lease contains one.

Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Buying a House in Illinois?

In Illinois, a tenant cannot break a lease early due to buying a house unless the lease contains a clause allowing the tenant to terminate the lease early because of a new home purchase.

What Happens if a Tenant Cannot Break a Lease Early?

If there is no legal justification for breaking a lease early, then the tenant will be responsible for the remaining rent due for the lease.

Illinois does not have a law limiting the amount a tenant owes a landlord when breaking a lease early. A tenant could be liable for paying the remaining rent through the life of a lease. However, a landlord must mitigate damages and seek to replace the tenant.

Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages in Illinois

In Illinois, a landlord has the duty to mitigate damages, which requires that a landlord make reasonable efforts to re-rent the premises rather than charging the tenant for the remaining lease . When the premises is rented out, the tenant will only be responsible for the amount of time the unit was vacant.

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Illinois

Illinois state law does not grant tenants, by default, the right to sublease. Instead, they must have explicit, written consent from the landlord to do so. If a tenant is able to sublet the premises, they will not be liable for the total remaining rent due under the lease.

Consequences for Moving Out in Illinois

In Illinois, tenants will be held liable for all remaining rent and property damage unless the landlord found a new tenant.

If not, potential consequences include:

  • The landlord keeping the security deposit
  • The landlord suing the tenant for damages
  • A lower credit score
  • A potential bad reference in the future