A lease is a legal arrangement between you and a landlord that outlines all the details of your relationship and responsibilities to each other. The lease can be written or oral.
If you and your landlord make an agreement, but do not write it down, you have an oral lease. The rental period begins on the day your rent is due. You are not bound for a certain amount of time after this period. An oral lease on a month-to-month unit allows you to move out with just a one month's notice. An oral lease also allows the landlord to refuse to continue to rent to you with one month notice. Additionally, a landlord can increase the rent with a written letter giving you a full rental period's notice. The landlord may also add rules that you may not like. Many tenants feel that they have a lot less power if they do not have a written lease. You are probably more stable in your housing if you have a written lease.
Written leases clearly state the policies to which you and your landlord agree. You can take the lease home with you and have a knowledgeable person look it over for you. You can also negotiate the terms of the lease with the landlord. Make sure that both you and the landlord initial any changes made to the lease.
Make sure that:
- Both you and the landlord sign the lease and are in agreement as to the current conditions and damages in the apartment. If your landlord agreed to repair any damages, include a completion date.
- You don't leave any blank spaces on the lease. If an item does not apply to you, write "not applicable" or "NA" in the blank space.
- Gas and electric service is described in the lease. Under Illinois law, a tenant is only responsible for gas and electric service inside their own apartment, unless otherwise specified on the lease. If the landlord tells you verbally that gas or electricity is included in the rent, it must say that on your lease for your protection. Likewise, the landlord cannot expect you to pay for gas or electricity for the common areas or for other units in the building unless it is written into your lease with your consent.
- List everyone living in the unit in the lease.
- The lease clearly states joint responsibilities (if you are living with a roommate) including rental fees for each person.
- Insist that your landlord give you a final signed copy of the lease.
If you have a dispute with your landlord your lease is still in effect. You may feel that you have cause to stop paying rent, but don't (unless you have been advised to stop by an attorney). If you believe you have reason to withhold rent, talk to a lawyer.