April 23, 2014

When To Start Your Apartment Search

One of the most common questions we field here at Domu is: “When should I start my search for a new apartment?" To answer that question, we turn to Chicago’s notorious Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.

The ordinance prohibits a landlord from requiring a tenant to renew a lease more than 90 days prior to its scheduled termination.  It also allows a tenant to refuse his landlord access to the apartment for the purpose of exhibiting it to prospective renters more than 60 days before the expiration of the lease. While this technically still allows the landlord to show the property to interested renters with the tenant’s consent, in practice most landlords play it safe and refrain from showing an apartment more than 60 days before it becomes (or is scheduled to become) available. The ordinance also requires a landlord to provide at least 30 days written notice of its intention either to terminate a month-to-month tenancy or not to renew an existing lease. In other words, even if the lease naturally expires on August 31, if the landlord fails to notify the tenant, by August 1, of its intention not to renew that lease, the tenant may continue to occupy the apartment on a month-to-month basis.

So what’s the upshot of all this? Well, in simple terms, it means that the landlord may require the tenant to commit to a renewal within 90 days prior to the termination of the lease. It also means that the landlord effectively can’t show the apartment to prospective new renters until 60 days prior to the termination of the lease. And it means that the landlord must give the tenant at least 30 days notice of its intention to hike the rent (or to not renew). Generally speaking, landlords hew fairly tightly to these rules. Typically, they will send a letter setting (or, in today’s market, hiking) the rent about three months before lease expiration and asking the tenant to commit within 30 days. If at the end of that 30-day period the tenant has not committed to re-signing the lease, all bets are off, and the landlord will begin the search for new tenants and start to advertise the soon-to-be-available unit. This is the point at which renters will typically start searching for new apartments. So the ideal time for renters to begin looking for a new apartment is about two months prior to the expected move-in date. And although many landlords do not get around to advertising their units until about a month prior to the availability date, it’s best not to procrastinate. 

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