What happens if a tenant tries to move out of the rental property before the lease expires? Depending on the case, that could come with several different problems for the landlord, including lost money.

Thankfully, Illinois law has certain guidelines in place for these scenarios. This page will cover everything you should know and expect if a tenant tries to break a lease early.

Notice Requirements

Tenants in Illinois must provide appropriate notice depending on the lease term. Here are the lease termination notice requirements:

  • Weekly Lease - Seven days of notice.
  • Monthly Lease - 30 days of notice.
  • Yearly Lease (with no end date) - 60 days of notice.

On the other hand, Illinois tenants don't need to provide written notice to their landlord if they have a fixed-term lease.

There are different methods the tenant can consider to send the notice letter to their landlord. Landlords are free to choose the method they prefer to get a notice letter and point it out in the lease agreement.

The most common methods used to deliver a notice letter include:

  • Delivering the letter in person.
  • Delivering the letter to a person who is currently in possession of the unit. The person should be at least 13 years old.
  • Posting the letter in an approved place.
  • Mailing the copy via registered or certified mail.

Can Illinois Tenants Break a Lease Early?

Tenants may be able to break a lease for any reason, as long as they provide proper notice. However, they may have to pay a few penalty fees to mitigate the landlord's financial damages.

There are some cases where the tenant may be able to end the lease without paying penalties. We'll explain each of those cases below:

Early Termination Clause

An "Early Termination Clause" outlines every agreed-upon term surrounding ending the lease before it expires. In most cases, the landlord will charge their tenant a penalty fee if they decide to leave early; the penalty will vary depending on the case.

If the lease already has one of these clauses, both parties must review it thoroughly before taking any action, as this could help prevent any misunderstandings in the future.

Uninhabitable Unit

Landlords in Illinois must comply with certain safety and health codes to avoid legal consequences. In other words, the landlord must always keep their premises in good and safe working order. If the tenant ever finds a health or safety hazard in the property, they can request repairs.

However, if the landlord violates the lease's terms by not fixing the problem in time, the tenant will be considered "constructively evicted," meaning they would no longer have a duty to comply with the lease's terms.

Privacy Violation or Landlord Harassment

Tenants may use harassment and privacy violations as a justification for breaking the lease early. If the landlord repeatedly violates the tenant's privacy, they could face legal consequences.

Here are two common scenarios considered harassment:

  • Changing the locks without the tenant's consent or permission.
  • Turning off utilities, removing windows and doors, or entering the property repeatedly without notice.

Even though Illinois law doesn't say anything about notice periods for entering a property, it's considered appropriate to at least send 24 hours of notice to avoid problems.

Active Military Duty

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) offers protection for those entering active military service for at least 90 days. If the tenant is getting relocated because of deployment or a change of station, they may be able to break the lease without any penalties.

Overall, tenants must send written notice to their landlord, as well as an attached copy of the deployment orders. Moreover, the tenant must prove that they signed the lease before they entered military service.

The SCRA protects members and commissioned corps of the:

  • Armed Forces
  • Public Health Service
  • Activated National Guard
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Domestic Violence

Tenants who are victims of domestic or sexual violence are protected by the state. In some cases, the tenant may request to get their locks changed by their landlord. However, others may decide to move out of the property for their safety.

In the latter case, the tenant must provide their landlord with proof of their domestic violence status. Furthermore, the landlord can't share that information with anyone.

Other Reasons Tenants May Use to Break Their Rental Lease

There are other reasons tenants may use to break their lease early. In this case, they would have to get a court's approval before executing them. Otherwise, they may be liable for penalties:

Repeated violations of the lease agreement

  • Using an illegal contract.
  • Not being able to provide mandatory disclosures required by law.
  • Not being able to offer reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Fair Housing Act.

Unjustifiable Reasons to Terminate a Lease in Illinois

Not all arguments will give the tenant legal protection against penalties when breaking a lease. If the tenant tries to break a rental lease for any of these reasons, they may not be able to avoid penalties:

  • Moving to be closer to a partner, close friend, or family member.
  • Relocating for a new job or school.
  • Moving out because of a divorce or separation.
  • Downsizing or upsizing.
  • Buying a new house.

Not getting a court's approval before breaking a lease early under these arguments can create several problems for the tenant. Typically, tenants try to negotiate with their landlord before breaking a lease to see if they can come up with a mutual termination agreement.

In any way, the tenant must give their landlord written notice within a reasonable amount of time. The sooner they do it, the more likely the landlord will be to negotiate.

Getting Compensation for an Early Lease Termination in Illinois

Landlords can get compensation if a tenant tries to break their lease for an apartment or rental unit. If the tenant doesn't comply with the lease's terms or uses an invalid reason for ending the lease in Illinois, the landlord may be able to enforce penalties to mitigate damages.

First, the landlord may ask their tenant to keep paying rent until the lease expires. Other people decide to keep the security deposit or file a lawsuit to get the money they're owed.

If you want to ensure you get the money you deserve for your lease term, make sure you include an "Early Termination Clause" in your agreement. It will explain everything a tenant can expect if they want to break the lease early, including general consequences and penalties.

Now, tenants may try to negotiate with their landlord to reduce the number of fees they have to pay. Some common negotiations include helping them find a new tenant fast, for example.

Even though the landlord is free to negotiate with their tenant if they want to break a lease early, they can just enforce the penalties if they were clear enough with the lease's terms.

Tenants who decide to help their landlord find a replacement tenant may still get charged with advertising expenses or screening costs.

About Re-renting Units in Illinois

Landlords in Illinois must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant if the old one breaks a lease for any reason. Illinois law requires this as a way to "mitigate damages."

If the landlord is successful in finding a new tenant, the old one may only be liable for unpaid rent during the time the rental unit was vacant. However, if the landlord isn't able to find a replacement, the tenant will still be liable for paying all the money they own.

It's important to note that landlords don't need to lower their rental standards to find a new tenant fast. Moreover, the landlord isn't required by Illinois law to rent the unit for less than the fair market value.

Finally, even if the landlord is willing to find a new tenant as soon as possible, they may still charge their tenant for any advertisement expenses.

Can Tenants Sublet the Rental Unit?

Yes, tenants may sublet the rental unit in an effort to cover the owed rent if their landlord allows it. Overall, the tenant must review the original lease to see if there are any "Subletting Clauses" there. These clauses explain all the conditions the tenant needs to meet to rent the property to someone else.

If there isn't any subletting clause in the lease, there's one more thing the tenant can do. They can send a letter to their landlord explaining the situation and requesting to sublet the property. The landlord can review the terms and either refuse or accept the request.

If the landlord is planning on refusing the subletting request, they can only do it under an appropriate reason.


Understanding the landlord-tenant laws in your local state is essential whenever you're renting an apartment or rental unit. Once everyone understands the consequences of breaking a lease in Illinois, they will be more likely to follow appropriate steps to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.


What Happens If a Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent When They Move Out Early?

If the landlord included language in the lease that establishes tenants must pay rent for the entire duration of the lease term, and the tenant decides to refuse, the landlord may take legal action.

What Consequences Can a Tenant Experience If They Break Their Lease Without a Valid Reason?

Tenants may get charged penalty fees that will be used to cover advertisement costs, owed rent, and more.

Can Landlords Keep the Security Deposit as a Penalty?

Yes. Landlords can keep a security deposit as a penalty. However, if the deposit amount isn't enough to cover the owed rent, the landlord may file a case with a small claims court.

Can Tenants in Illinois Break a Lease for Any Reason?

Technically, tenants can break a lease in Illinois for any reason. If they try to end the lease agreement without a valid reason, however, they may have to pay penalties.

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David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!