Among the many things landlords worry about, repairs are a top concern. Generally, repairs are the obligation of the landlord unless the lease states otherwise. However, if the cause of the damage can be easily attributed to the tenant, the landlord can charge back the work to the tenant as long as the lease is clear on this issue.

Prior to move-in, landlords should inspect the unit with their prospective tenant and complete a signed report as a rider to the lease. This report will remove questions as to the condition of the unit upon commencement of the lease. Additionally, a signed report can define any existing damage and establish expectations as to who will be responsible for various repairs.

If the tenant will be responsible for repairs needed during the lease term, those items should be clearly drafted in the lease. Accordingly, the lease should also specify who will be permitted to do the repairs. Obtaining a properly bonded, insured, and licensed contractor (approved by the landlord) is vital to avoiding additional damage if the repair is not properly addressed.

Chicago landlord take note: Regardless of what you add in the lease, the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) will trump any agreement where there is a discrepancy.

The RLTO lays out numerous landlord obligations to keep the property habitable. These obligations range from the most obvious, such as structural integrity of the building, to less intuitive issues like maintaining hall or stairway lighting. These obligations are found in section 5-12-110 of the RLTO.

Keep in mind, if a landlord violates this section of the RLTO by failing to make the required repairs, the tenant can terminate the lease and vacate the property. The tenant must first give written notice and allow time for the landlord to remedy the issue. However, if the issue is not remedied, then the tenant may terminate the lease and move out.

If the RLTO does not specifically state a particular repair or the lease is silent as to the type of repair, it would be prudent for the landlord to quickly provide the service to avoid the potential for larger damage down the road, maintain a good relationship with the tenants, and prevent code violations.

Landlords who are not familiar with the RLTO should consult with an attorney before drafting and signing a lease. The RLTO is full of penalties that can cost a landlord much more than a repair.

If you are a landlord or manager and have concerns regarding the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance, please do not hesitate to contact Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit at 855-537-0550 or visit our website at