Prairie State Legal Services

Renter's Handbook

Rent a Place You Can Afford

Rent a Place You Can Afford
A Checklist for Finding the Right Apartment For You
Be sure that you ...
Getting Repairs Done
If the Repairs Are Not Done
Housing Code
Rent Settlements
Repair and Deduct
Rent Withholding
Moving Out
Warranty of Habitability

Rent A Place You Can Afford

Whether you are on a fixed income or have a steady job, you must consider the amount you will be required to pay for rent. To know whether or not you will be able to afford a certain home or apartment, you must look at your budget.

First, figure out the lease rent and then the total rent. The lease rent is the amount of money that your lease or your landlord states you will pay. Total rent is the total amount it will take to live in your house or apartment. Total rent includes:

  1. the cost of utilities like heat, electricity, water, or garbage hauling if your landlord is not paying them;
  2. phone bill;
  3. any additional costs for pets or parking; and
  4. furniture if the unit is not furnished.
Adding all of these together will give you the total rent.

Next, decide whether you can afford this amount. Usually, about one-fourth of your income is spent on rent. But if you are on a limited income such as Social Security, AFDC, etc., it will be impossible for you to spend only one-fourth of your income on rent. Usually one-third, one-half or more of your fixed income goes for rent.

Either way, you must learn to budget. To see how much you can afford, take into account the following when budgeting:

Monthly Expenses       Monthly Amount
Groceries       $
Clothes       $
Medicine       $
Transportation       $
Leisure Activities       $
Other       $
TOTAL       $

Now check to see what you have left from your income. If you do not have enough to pay rent, you might want to cut back in other areas.

Most important is that you must pay your rent so you have a roof over your head, but be reasonable. If you do not have enough for food for the month after paying your rent, you cannot afford the place. Renting an apartment or a house is a big responsibility and involves a lot of money, so make sure you can afford it.

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A Checklist On Finding The Right Apartment For You

Before you decide to rent, the following tips can be helpful:

  1. Read the sections in this handbook on leases and security deposits very carefully.
  2. Check how close the rental unit is to supermarkets, laundry facilities, transportation and your place of employment or school.
  3. Check with the neighbors in the area for their opinions on the location, the landlord, the safety of the building and the neighborhood.
  4. Bring the housing code violation checklist with you and check the unit thoroughly. See the "Housing Code Checklist" section of this handbook.
  5. Find out if you are responsible to pay for utilities and garbage collection. If you are, check with former tenants about the amount of the bills.
  6. If you will be sharing the unit with other people, be sure to go together when possible.
  7. Make a list of all furnishings and anything else that has been promised. Have the landlord sign this list. Check the condition of all furniture.
  8. Check the security of the building.
  9. If parking is to be provided, make sure you know where it is and that it meets your needs. Make sure that you get a guaranteed space as stated in the lease, especially if you have to pay an extra charge for it.
  10. Find out who is expected to take care of the grounds, halls and sidewalks.
  11. Check for fire exits.
  12. Beware of basement apartments. These are more likely to have bugs, floods and burglars.
  13. Turn on water taps, flush the toilet and check the working condition of all appliances.
  14. Check the baseboards and around radiators for holes that may indicate the presence of mice or bugs or air leaks. Check cupboards and dark corners of the kitchen and bathroom for any evidence of insects. Ask about extermination. Is it done on a regular basis? Is this guaranteed in the lease?
  15. Check to see if the electrical wiring is safe. Are there enough outlets?
  16. Find out if there are enough windows to provide adequate light and air. Do the windows and locks operate properly? Does the landlord provide screens and storm windows?

Be sure that you ...

  • Get all agreements and promises in writing.
  • Do not pay any money unless you know exactly what it is for.
  • Do not put down a deposit if you are not sure you want the place unless you are guaranteed IN WRITING that it is refundable.
  • Get a receipt for all money paid.
  • Are able to afford the rent and want to live there.
  • Know and trust the people you will be living with.
  • Know the landlord's business and home phone number and address.
  • Know the manager of your building and her/his business and home phone number and address.

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Getting Repairs Done

Whenever you have a problem with your apartment or house, you should report it to your landlord. This is why it is so important that you have her/his phone number and address. Your landlord cannot be expected to know all the problems that arise once you move in, so it is your responsibility to inform her/him of any problems. Hopefully, once the landlord or manager is made aware of the problem, it can be taken care of quickly.

Generally, it is a good idea to report all problems in writing and keep a copy of the letter. That way, your landlord is less likely to forget your request and hopefully will take you more seriously. Also, in some instances, you may have to prove later when you reported a problem. (For example, a broken furnace which causes a lack of heat and makes pipes freeze and burst could be considered your fault if you did not report the broken furnace to the landlord within a reasonable time.)

If you want immediate action, it is best to call your landlord or talk to him in person and tell him exactly what is wrong. Then, follow-up the call with a polite letter which is signed and dated. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

Your landlord should make repairs in a reasonable amount of time. In deciding what is a reasonable amount of time, try to be fair. A broken furnace in the middle of winter or a toilet that does not flush should receive immediate attention. A broken garbage disposal or loose floor tiles are not as important, especially if other tenants are having more serious problems.

If the landlord is just taking too long to make needed repairs, be persistent so that your landlord would rather make the repairs than listen to you. In some cases, neither politeness nor persistence will get the repairs done. You will then have to contact an attorney or the proper agency. See the "Housing Code Checklist" section of this handbook. Make sure that you have been firm with your landlord and asked for the repairs more than once before contacting an attorney or agency.

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If the Repairs Are Not Done

If you have made requests for repairs and have been persistent and your landlord still refuses or fails to make repairs, there are several things that can be done.

Housing Code

Some problems which you have may be violations of the Housing Code in your city. The Housing Code is a law passed by a city that sets rules for buildings in which people live. Each city has different rules. You may find out what rules exist in your city by calling the Housing Code Enforcement Department. Generally, major things such as heat, water facilities, bugs, mice, rats, etc. are covered by Housing Codes. See the "Housing Code Checklist" section of this handbook.

If your landlord has been slow to make needed repairs and you believe the problem is a violation of the City Housing Code, contact the Housing Code Enforcement Department to inspect your dwelling. An inspector will usually be able to respond to your complaint within a few days. If a violation of the Housing Code is found, the landlord will be notified by the city and given a specific amount of time during which he or she must make repairs. If the landlord fails to make repairs after this, the city may sue her/him, fine her/him or prohibit the re-renting of the premises, depending on how serious the needed repairs are. State law prohibits a landlord from evicting a tenant because the tenant called in the Housing Code Enforcement Department. The landlord may still evict the tenant for not paying rent or for breaking the lease, but he may not evict the tenant solely for calling in the authorities.

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Rent Settlements

A return of some rent or a rent reduction may be a possibility whenever there are problems which make the premises or any part of it not useful or inconvenient. Remember you are paying rent for a livable unit with certain services. If you are not getting a livable unit, you are not getting what the landlord promised and some sort of adjustment or payment is only fair.

For example, if the roof leaks consistently and in several places and the landlord can not or will not fix it, you are not getting the livable unit you are paying rent for. In cases such as this, you are entitled to a reduction in your rent or some payment for the inconvenience. Suggest some type of arrangement to your landlord. If your landlord refuses, it may be possible to sue him to get a reduction or refund. See a lawyer.

If your landlord does agree to a reduction or refund, make sure you get it in writing. Have the landlord sign and date a written statement clearly explaining that you may deduct a certain stated amount of dollars from your next rent payments. If you do not get such a written statement, you may find yourself facing an eviction for non-payment of rent because your landlord has changed her/his mind about the refund.

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Repair and Deduct

Many times people feel that if their landlord refuses to make repairs, they can make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost of those repairs from the rent. You have no right under Illinois law to do this. If you do go ahead and do this, you may be faced with an eviction suit for non-payment of rent. It is best to pursue other methods to get repairs done. However, if you have no choice, or if you insist on doing a repair and deduct, follow these guidelines and you may be able to convince a judge not to evict you if you are sued by the landlord:

  • Be sure you have made both an oral and a written request to your land lord for repairs. Have a copy of the written request for repairs on hand.
  • Only do repairs essential to the livability of the premises such as repairs involving heat, electricity, plumbing, water or security.
  • Keep track of everything spent to make the repair and have receipts for every expense.
  • Give your landlord a written statement, signed by you and dated, listing all expenses, what they were for, and that you have deducted these expenses from the rent when you pay the rent. Keep a copy of this statement for yourself.
  • As a rule of thumb, do not spend more than one month's rent making repairs. If repairs will cost more than this, you should definitely consider other action.

Once again, you have no right under Illinois law to do repair and deduct. If you decide to do so, you are at your own risk and may be subject to eviction for non-payment of rent.

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Rent Withholding

Many times people feel that if their landlord refuses to make repairs or if the place they live in is "bad enough", they do not have to pay rent. Often tenants are misinformed by social workers, case workers and other authorities that this is true. No matter who tells you that you do not have to pay rent, they are wrong. Under Illinois law, you have no right to withhold or refuse to pay rent no matter how "bad" the place is. There may be a local ordinance that allows you to withhold rent. Check with an attorney in your area to see if such an ordinance applies to you.

Moving Out

  • Cancel your utilities. This is explained in the Utilities Section of this handbook.
  • Leave an address where you can be reached with the post office, utility companies and your landlord.
  • Clean your apartment. Check the lease and/or additional rules to determine if you must shampoo the carpet, defrost the refrigerator, clean the stove, etc. Don't try to be a nice guy and leave food in the refrigerator - Your landlord may charge you for cleaning up what you leave behind.
  • Arrange for a time for you and your landlord to check the conditions of the apartment together, if at all possible. Be sure to have the apartment's condition put in writing before you leave. Use the Move-In/Move-Out Checklist in this handbook. Have it signed and dated by the landlord or some witness, preferably someone uninterested, that is, not a relative or close friend. Take pictures if you are worried about getting your damage deposit back or afraid of being held liable for damages to the apartment which you did not cause.
  • Return all keys to the doors, mailbox and storage area. This will avoid having money subtracted from your deposit as well as protecting the security and safety of the next tenants who will move into your apartment.

Warranty of Habitability

In all agreements to rent real property, whether oral or written, the Illinois courts will find apromise from the landlord to the tenant that the premises will be kept in a livable condition. Generally, this means that the unit you are renting should be free from housing code violations. If you are living in an area that does not have a housing or building code, the unit you are renting should at least have heat, hot and cold water, no leaks in the roof, a solid structure, be free from bugs, rats and mice, and safe.

If there are conditions, or housing code violations, that unfavorably affect living in the premises, you may be able to break your lease and/or sue your landlord for damages and/or sue your landlord to make repairs. If you feel your landlord has violated his promise to provide you with a livable dwelling and you are unable to correct the problems, see an attorney.

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