What happens when you need to move before your lease is up? While you can sometimes break a lease without paying a penalty, there are very few circumstances that allow you to legally break a lease in Illinois without consequences. You may face at least some financial responsibility for the rent for the remaining term of the lease, but there may be options to limit your liability.
Here is what you should know about breaking a lease and legal reasons to break a rental lease in Illinois.
When Do You Have to Give Notice to End an Illinois Rental Agreement?
Under 735 ILCS § 5/9-207 and § 5/9-205, you must give the following amount of notice to end a lease:
- 7 days for week-to-week leases
- 30 days for month-to-month leases
- 60 days for yearly leases without an end date
If the lease has a fixed end date, you do not need to give notice.
It’s considered breaking a rental lease in Illinois to move out before your lease expires or you give proper notice. In this case, you can be held liable for unpaid rent, potentially to the end of your lease term.
Legal Reasons to Break a Rental Lease in Illinois
Can you get out of an apartment lease early in Illinois without having to pay extra rent? There are only a handful of situations that grant a tenant rights to break a lease in Illinois. Here is when you can legally break a lease.
You Have Been the Victim of Domestic Violence or Sexual Violence
765 ILCS §750/15, also known as the Safe Homes Act, is an Illinois law that allows victims of sexual or domestic violence to break a lease without owing rent for the remaining term. This is one of the most crucial Illinois lease laws for victims of crime as it is designed to protect your emotional well-being and safety.
This law gives you an affirmative defense to avoid liability for additional rent if the court determines that:
- At the time you broke your lease, you or a member of your household such as a child was under an imminent threat of sexual or domestic violence at the home, and
- You gave written notice to the landlord before you left or within three days of leaving stating the reason for leaving the home.
This law protects you if you have been or face the imminent and credible risk of being the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual abuse, or stalking. To use the Safe Homes Act for breaking a lease in Illinois, you must inform your landlord or property manager in writing of the threat within three days of leaving the unit, either before or after.
You are not required to show additional proof to your landlord and the landlord cannot keep your security deposit because you exercised this right.
Your Rental Unit Is Unsafe or Violates Health or Safety Code
Illinois law requires rental properties to meet state and local housing codes. If your unit is unsafe or violates serious health or safety codes that your landlord does not address, it is considered “constructive eviction.” You are not legally obligated to pay rent for an unsafe property considered uninhabitable.
Note that the violations or issues must be serious and cause a reasonable person to consider the unit uninhabitable. It must render the property unsanitary or unsafe. Common habitability issues can include:
- Hot and cold running water
- Working heating and air conditioning systems
- Functioning windows and doors
- Waterproofed roof and walls
- Working plumbing and electricity
- Working kitchen appliances
When a property violates the implied warranty of habitability of your lease, you have the right to break your lease. You can also stop paying rent until the issue is solved or repair it yourself and charge the landlord for the cost.
Your Landlord Has Harassed You or Violated Your Privacy
Unlike many states, Illinois landlord-tenant law does not specify how much notice a landlord must give to enter rental properties. However, if your right to privacy is repeatedly violated, it can be considered constructive eviction in Illinois. Constructive eviction can also occur if your landlord does things such as:
- Changing your locks
- Turning off utilities
- Removing doors
- Failing to make repairs as required under your lease
If your landlord constructively evicts you through harassment, privacy violation, or making the property unusable, breaking your lease in Illinois is legal. You may also have a civil claim against your landlord for compensatory damages.
You Are Entering Active Military Service
While Illinois rental laws for breaking lease agreements doesn’t protect military members, federal law does. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is designed to improve national defense by giving military members protection in some civil actions. Breaking a rental lease in Illinois is legal if you are part of the uniformed services which includes armed forces, activated National Guard, and commissioned corps of the NOAA or Public Health Service.
To exercise this right, you must give your landlord written notice of intent to terminate your lease for military reasons. Your lease must have been signed before you entered active duty and you must provide proof you will remain on active duty for at least 90 days. Your tenancy is legally terminated 30 days after the next date that rent is due once the notice is delivered or mailed, regardless of when your lease expires.
You Have an Early Termination Clause
Your lease may contain a clause that lets you end the lease early by paying an early termination fee. If the lease has a fixed end date, you may be able to pay a specific fee such as two months’ rent as long as you give a specific amount of notice such as one month. However, this option does require paying the penalty fee.
If you meet any of the four conditions above, they can be used instead of the early termination clause to avoid a penalty.
Situations That Do Not Allow You to Legally Break a Lease in Illinois
Illinois law only offers four justifications for breaking a lease without being obligated for remaining rent or paying a penalty. You do not have any legal protection if you want to break a lease because you want to move in with a partner, bought a house, or need to relocate for school or work.
In some states, the following may be justification to break a lease. However, these situations almost never allow you to legally break your lease in Illinois:
- Illegal lease with terms that are not enforceable or illegal.
- The landlord violated the terms of your lease.
- Your landlord did not provide mandatory disclosures.
- You need to break a lease for medical reasons or, as a senior, to move into assisted living or a long-term nursing facility.
What Happens if You Break a Lease in Illinois?
The consequences of breaking a lease in Illinois depend on whether you have sufficient cause for legally breaking a lease in Illinois and whether your landlord was given proper notice.
If your landlord sues you for rent due after you moved out, you have an affirmative defense in the above situations including harassment and being the victim of domestic violence as long as you followed the necessary steps.
Breaking an Illinois rental agreement without an affirmative defense entitles your landlord to pursue you for all rent due for the remaining term under your lease. However, your landlord has a legal duty to find a new tenant, no matter why you left, as soon as reasonably possible.
735 ICS § 5/9-213.1 mandates that landlords have a duty to mitigate damages they can recover against a tenant who defaults on a lease.
Your landlord cannot simply leave the apartment empty, fail to attempt to re-rent it, then sue you for the total lost rent. They must attempt to rent the apartment again with reasonable effort, although they are not required to lessen their standards or rent the property for less than its fair market value. Once the property is rented to a new tenant, they can then pursue you for the amount of rent they lost while the apartment was vacant.
You never plan to break a lease, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The good news is Illinois law requires landlords to mitigate damages so you are hopefully not on the hook for the full rent due for the remaining term, even in the worst-case scenario. You may even be able to get out of your lease in Illinois without substantial costs if your landlord agrees to allow you to sublet the apartment for the remaining term or let you off the hook if you can help find a new, qualified tenant.