A Guide to Breaking a Lease In Illinois

Whether or not you’ll face penalties for breaking a lease early in Illinois depends on your reason(s) for leaving. Learn more here.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If you break your lease early in
, it’s possible you could still be responsible for rent over the remainder of the lease term. However, depending on your circumstances, you might be able to do so without penalty.
Most leases require renters to sign an agreement promising they’ll stay there for an entire year, but life can be unpredictable. There are many reasons you might need to break your lease early, and some are more urgent than others. Maybe you need to relocate for a job, maybe there’s been a change in what you can afford, or perhaps you’ve just found a more appealing place to live.
Whatever the reason,
, the
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If you’re renting your current home under a fixed-term lease, breaking that lease early can often come with hefty costs. However, in Illinois, state and federal laws allow you to break your lease without penalty under certain circumstances, including if:
  • The tenant is about to enter active military service as a member of the armed forces, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Guard, and the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service
  • The tenant is a victim of or at risk of domestic or sexual violence, as outlined in the
    Illinois Safe Homes Act
  • The landlord has been harassing the tenant, violating their privacy rights, like entering the rental unit without the required notice, or has constructively evicted the tenant through actions like shutting off utilities or changing locks
  • The rental unit is unlivable and violates health and safety code requirements
Before you vacate for any of these reasons, however, check to see how much written notice you’re required to give your landlord and what kinds of evidence you may legally need to provide to make your case—and seek legal counsel if you need it.
Outside these circumstances,
Illinois law
still generally requires that your landlord makes a reasonable effort to find a new tenant before requiring you to pay any remaining rent. However, a “reasonable effort” isn’t always a successful one, and they aren’t necessarily obligated to relax their previous requirements just to find a new tenant.
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MORE: What you need to know about eviction in Illinois

What are the penalties for breaking a lease in Illinois?

If you break your lease in Illinois for reasons that aren't legally protected, you might be responsible for paying the rest of the rent for the remainder of your lease term or a penalty fee. In addition, your landlord could take you to small claims court to recover those costs if they can't find a suitable replacement tenant.
The total costs that can come with breaking a lease early could be a sum of the following:
  • The remaining rent until a new tenant is found
  • Landlord costs like advertising fees for finding a new tenant
  • Any applicable penalty fees
There’s no set penalty fee associated with breaking a lease in Illinois, but you can check your lease agreement for details on whether you’ll face one and how much it might cost. It’s common for landlords to charge one or two months’ worth of rent
Paying a penalty fee could be a more appealing option if you have a significant amount of time left on your lease. In other cases, you might prefer to avoid forking over any extra cash if you don’t have to and try to find a replacement tenant.

How to break a lease without a penalty in Illinois

If you’re hoping to break your lease early in Illinois and avoid pricey penalties, a good first step is to check the details of the lease agreement you signed. This may already outline the steps your landlord wants you to take with them if you’re ending your lease early and whether or not any penalty fees will apply.
Your landlord is legally obliged to make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant before charging you for the remaining rent over the lease term. If you're living in an area where rentals are in high demand, it might not be as challenging to find that new occupant.
Here are a few ways you could lower your odds of facing penalties for breaking a lease in Illinois:
  • Check your lease agreement. Re-reading your lease terms will give you a sense of how you should proceed with your landlord and what kind of penalties you might face due to breaking your lease early
  • Give your landlord ample notice that you’ll be leaving. Giving your landlord enough notice means they should have more time to find another tenant, reducing the odds that you’ll still be on the hook for the remaining rent. Some landlords can be more cooperative than others, but negotiating a solution will work best for both of you, depending on your circumstances. If you come up with an alternative solution, it's best to put it in writing
  • Find a replacement tenant yourself. Depending on what your lease agreement allows and how you and your landlord have decided to proceed, you might be able to take matters into your own hands by subletting your apartment or
    arranging a lease transfer
Whatever your reason for leaving your rental, your best bet for avoiding costly penalties is to understand your rights and obligations as an Illinois tenant—and communicate with your landlord early on.

How to save on renters insurance in Illinois

Wiggling your way out of a lease early in Illinois can be a hassle. Luckily, finding affordable
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In most cases, it’s not likely you’ll be able to break your lease early in Illinois without penalty due to COVID-19. However, depending on your circumstances, you might be able to negotiate a plan with your landlord that works for both of you.
Not necessarily. If you’re able to pay any remaining rent and other applicable costs on time, your credit score shouldn’t take a hit for breaking a lease.
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