What to Expect When Renting an Apartment in Chicago

The average rent for a Chicago apartment was $1,821 in the last quarter of 2020. But average rents vary from one Chicago neighborhood to the next. On Domu, the cheapest neighborhood for a 1 bedroom apartment in 2020 was Belmont Cragin on the northwest side. The most expensive neighborhood to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Chicago was River North. The majority of apartments for rent in Chicago will fall between $1,000 - $2,000. Not sure how much you can afford to pay in rent? Try this handy rent calculator.

New apartments have popped up in droves around the core downtown neighborhoods in the post-recession recovery period. These are places like Streeterville, River North, the Chicago Loop, South Loop, River West and West Loop neighborhoods. Many new Chicago apartments feature a host of enticing amenities for renters who can expect a high standard of service and fine finishes in these apartments -- but expect a higher rent to accompany all those attractive features. Popular amenities for new apartment buildings include things like fitness centers with private workout studios, swimming pools, pet grooming stations, secure package delivery, on-site dry cleaning, valet service, electric vehicle charging stations, doorman or concierge service, 24/7 maintenance and security, and other perks for renters.

Many vintage pre-WWII buildings in Chicago have returned to their original purpose as rental apartment buildings during the last decade. A spate of condo conversions swept through Chicago during the 1970s and 1980s and the apartments in these older buildings were renovated as owner-occupied residences. With the housing crash in 2008, the demand for condos in Chicago declined and renters became the driving force in Chicago’s housing market. Thus, neighborhoods with a large number of vintage apartment buildings have come back into vogue among renters. These are neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Chicago Gold Coast, the Chicago Loop and River North.

Apartment Guide to Renting in Chicago

Renting an apartment in Chicago is an experience shared among a wide variety of renters in the United States’ third-largest city. There are close to 800,000 rental homes in the Cook County area, which includes downtown Chicago plus its surrounding neighborhoods and inner ring of suburbs

Close to 200,000 people call the downtown Chicago area home according to US Census Bureau data. Nearly half of all households in the Chicago market are rentals and that number has been steadily climbing in the days since the Great Recession and subsequent recovery period. This is a time when Chicagoans are more inclined to rent their homes instead of owning them. The available inventory of apartments and homes for rent in Chicago has helped absorb the growing preference for renting.

From 2010 until the end of 2019, Chicago added an average of 5,200 new apartments to the market each year. Demand for multifamily housing was strong in the post-recession years. Will it remain strong in Chicago? With more tech jobs arriving on the scene and companies looking to recruit talent for downtown Chicago HQs it’s a safe bet that the rental market will continue to expand in the early 2020s. 

If a Landlord Asks for a Deposit to Reserve the Apartment, What Should I Do? 

Renters should typically never pay any sort of deposit on an apartment in Chicago without 1) seeing it in person and 2) signing a lease agreement. A security deposit serves as an incentive for renters to maintain the rental property in a responsible manner. A security deposit due upon lease signing is a common requirement for Chicago apartments. The deposit is something that landlords may require, or they may opt for the non-refundable move-in fee, but neither should be paid unless the renter is also signing a lease agreement and getting the keys to the unit as part of the exchange. Additionally, a landlord must provide a receipt for any security deposit along with a disclosure of the city’s interest rates for security deposits.  You can check with the City of Chicago for further information on the applicable interest rate on the city's official website.   


Should Renters Insist on Reviewing and Signing a Lease Before Sending Funds to Landlords?  

Yes. The apartment lease may end up being the renter's best friend because it spells out in clear terms the responsibilities for both the landlord and the tenant. In addition to the lease, Chicago has an entire section of the municipal code dedicated to the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, known as the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (often referred to as CRLTO). Some buildings or rental properties in Chicago will be exempt from the terms of the CRLTO, but other apartments for rent in Chicago are covered by this ordinance. Tenants might want to familiarize themselves with their rights under the ordinance before they begin their apartment search, and certainly before signing a lease. You can find a summary of the CRLTO here.   


What Types of Information Does a Landlord Collect When I Want to Rent an Apartment in Chicago? 

Landlords may ask tenants who are interested in renting the apartment to fill out an application form that acts as a pre-qualification screen of tenants to rent the apartment. Information collected may include the renter's job title and salary, references from prior landlords, and a photograph of a driver's license or other official ID.  At this pre-screening stage, a landlord may use a third-party service to conduct a credit check. Typically, this credit screening is initiated by the landlord and then the tenant receives a message via email to complete the credit screening on their own. 

Landlords might also conduct a third-party criminal background check. Due to a change in the law effective January 1, 2020 under the Just Housing Amendment, all landlords in Cook County must give an initial approval (or denial) based on the pre-qualification screen, including the credit check, before looking at an applicant’s criminal history. Your initial application should not ask you to disclose any criminal history. If a landlord shows that an applicant has a criminal conviction and refuses to rent on that basis, the landlord must provide a copy of the background check, and the applicant can dispute its accuracy. For more information on the Just Housing Amendment (sometimes referred to as the JHA), check the City of Chicago’s site. Renters may want to run a background check or credit check themselves before their apartment search to double-check that information is accurate. 
Payment for these credit screenings and background checks sometimes comes at the renter's expense. It's not unusual for landlords to cover this expense as part of the so-called “application fee” but if that cost is omitted from the apartment listing, don’t be surprised if the cost of providing the credit screening falls to the tenant. Application fees rarely are typically no more than $50 per renter for most Chicago apartments. 


Can I Sign a Lease Without Seeing an Apartment in Person? 

Proceed with caution if you cannot see the apartment in person. If scheduling an in-person showing is out of the question, then try to arrange a virtual showing or designate someone you trust as a proxy to tour the apartment. Carefully review the apartment lease before moving forward with any agreement. If you're using a proxy to tour the apartment in your place, send them a list of questions you might ask if you were seeing the apartment for yourself. These questions might include, "How close is the nearest train station or bus stop?" or "Are there many grocery stores in the neighborhood?" Renters might want to get a full download from this intermediary person before making a decision to move forward with the apartment application. 

Disclaimer: The general information that Domu provides about Chicago landlord tenant law is not a comprehensive summary and not intended as legal advice. Domu endeavors to provide accurate information, but the law is subject to change, and Domu is not a law firm or provider of legal services. Questions about your particular leasing situation should be directed to a lawyer.  All content provided here is subject to Domu’s Terms of Use, which are available here.   

Chicago's Most Expensive & Most Affordable Neighborhoods

There’s a wide range of apartment rent prices in Chicago. The high end of the rental range was $2,200 per month for 1 bedroom apartments in Chicago. The low end of the range was about $900 per month for 1 bedroom apartments. 

The Chicago neighborhoods that ranked as the most expensive for 1 bedroom rentals were Lakeshore East, River North and the West Loop. The neighborhoods where renters found the most affordable 1 bedroom rentals were South Shore, West Ridge and Rogers Park.

What makes these neighborhoods such enclaves for pricey and cheap apartments, respectively? The priciest parts of Chicago have a large concentration of new construction apartments and condo buildings. These highly amenitized properties cater to every need that renters may have, from on-site dry cleaners to 24-hour doormen and secure package delivery. They also extend the comfort quotient to include luxe social lounges and amazing rooftops with world-class views. Comprehensive fitness centers often come with the elevated monthly rent, and these new buildings also make life simpler for renters by bundling all the utility costs into the monthly apartment rent.

As for cheap apartments, there’s a host of reasons that contribute to lower rents in a particular neighborhood. The common thread for the most affordable neighborhoods on Domu is their distance to and from downtown. Renters face commutes of 10 miles or greater for the three most affordable neighborhoods on Domu. Chicago has many pockets of industry, but the city’s most robust employment sectors usually favor centrally located offices in the Loop. The fact that most jobs in Chicago are centrally located leads to a premium on apartments closer to work for most Chicagoans. Savings can be found farther out from downtown, but longer commutes come with that lower price tag.

Renters Rights

The majority of Chicago apartments are governed by the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO). Domu would encourage all renters to get familiar with this ordinance and know their rights and responsibilities under the law.

This city ordinance outlines all the legal obligations belonging to both landlords and renters in Chicago. It covers a variety of topics such as smoke detectors, lease renewal notices, damage to the apartment or rental home, lockouts, and much more.  

Getting Around Chicago

Chicago has an extensive transportation network comprised of the city’s rail service, buses, commuter trains and expressways. Most commuters in Chicago choose to drive even though there’s an ample public transportation network. Local officials are making it more costly for drivers to park in the city, however. If one were to casually survey a group of Chicagoans about the cost of street parking or garage parking, their answers would paint a picture of rising costs associated with personal vehicles in the city. From city permit stickers to a recent tax on rideshare services near downtown, the fees associated with driving in Chicago are steadily climbing.

Many apartment renters rely on the city’s rail and bus network operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to get around. The CTA, also known as the ‘L’ among locals, has seven rail lines that extend from northern suburbs to south side neighborhoods closer to the Indiana border. The ‘L’ also runs service from Chicago’s two main airports directly into downtown Chicago, a major perk for tourists and apartment renters who need affordable transportation to either O’Hare International Airport or Midway Airport.

Commuter rail service like the Metra trains are operated by another entity but they have terminals in downtown Chicago. These commuter rail networks stretch out much farther than the local CTA trains; apartment renters can ride these trains to Wisconsin or Indiana.  

Living Near the ‘L’ in Chicago

The ideal scenario for many Chicago renters is living within sight of the ‘L’ but not so close that they have to hear the train passing during rush hour. Being able to walk to the CTA station in 10 minutes or less is a highly sought-after location. For that reason, transit-oriented developments have garnered a lot of steam among both community leaders and builders in Chicago.

The winding elevated tracks of Chicago’s train system are idiosyncratic and practical at the same time. To spare residents the inconvenience of street-level train crossings, the tracks were hoisted up about two stories above grade and primarily run above commercial streets. The end result was neighborhoods that weren’t bisected by train crossings (although there are a couple exceptions where the train crosses at street level). The residential feel of side streets was preserved and the transportation was simplified from an old patchwork of streetcars, buses and trains. 

If renters look up in neighborhoods where the ‘L’ operates they will see the unmistakably Chicago scene of the train zooming overhead. But the uniquely Chicago sight of aluminum train cars snaking their way past an apartment or office building’s second floor also comes with a cautionary note: renters may not be thrilled to live right next to the tracks. Living near a stop is grand, but having only a brick wall separating the apartment from the train tracks isn’t a ton of fun.

How to Avoid Traffic in Chicago

Avoiding time spent stuck in the car isn't easy if you’re commuting in Chicago. A recent study released by Texas A&M Transportation Institute found Chicagoans were spending an average of 73 hours per year in traffic jams, placing Chicago third among major US metro areas for the amount of time its residents spend in gridlock. 

Chicago commuters once turned their radio dials into one of the frequent drive time updates from local radio stations. These reports always contain a thicket of local lingo, especially when it comes to the localized nicknames for expressways and major roads, and deciphering the broadcaster’s rapid-fire assessment of the roads took a sharp ear and good understanding of the city’s geography. Now, these reports are circumvented as many commuters turn to a smartphone app to help them navigate the roads and discover the quickest route from A to B.

The bottom line for apartment renters who want to try their level best to spend less time in traffic: live somewhere that allows you to either a) walk to work or b) ditch the car entirely and rely on the city’s public transportation network to get to work. Those aren’t always feasible options, though. The next measure is considering where in the city or suburbs that most car trips will begin and end.

Chicago has a major thoroughfare that drives like it’s a highway but looks like it’s in the middle of a scenic park. That’s the famous Lake Shore Drive, where commuters can at least stare out their car windows at the placid and peaceful scenery of Lake Michigan while they wait for traffic to inch along. This is a major highway -- eight lanes wide at some points -- that has a maximum speed limit of 40 mph...but many motorists on Lake Shore Drive tend to view that as more of a suggestion than the rule. As a word of caution to speed demons flying up and down Lake Shore: the cops like to park on the grassy median between the north- and southbound lanes, so drivers who treat this road like it’s NASCAR will likely end up paying for their speedy tendencies.

Apartments that boast about Lake Michigan views in the listing are usually located somewhere near Lake Shore Drive, and this highway actually has a decent number of high-rise apartment buildings built right up against it. The side closer to Lake Michigan is pure public park space, populated with beaches, dog parks, golf courses and more natural recreational spaces for Chicago renters to explore.

For apartment renters who frequently drive towards O’Hare Airport or beyond, living off the Kennedy (I-90) Expressway is the way to go. Apartments in Jefferson Park, Irving Park, Old Irving Park, Avondale, Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park and Portage Park are usually a short distance from the Kennedy Expressway. 

Renters who need to make the back-and-forth commute to downtown Chicago, or the Loop as it’s usually known, will want to pay close attention to apartments in neighborhoods along the Dan Ryan (I-94) Expressway, and the Kennedy eventually merges with this primary north/south highway in the city. Neighborhoods like Pullman, Chatham, Washington Park and Bronzeville hug the southern expanse of the Dan Ryan Expressway. On the far northwest side of the city, renters in Albany Park, Sauganash, Edgebrook and the Village of Skokie will have easy access to the northern stretch of I-94, which turns into the Edens Expressway as commuters move farther north into the suburbs.

Guide to Biking for Apartment Renters in Chicago

Chicago is recognized as one of the more bike-friendly cities in the nation. With more than 100 miles of protected bike lanes in place and more expected to come, Chicago’s cycling community has made significant in-roads to transforming the metropolis into a pedaler’s paradise. Apartment renters who are keen to get out and explore Chicago by bicycle will want to know which buildings have bike-centric amenities, such as bike storage rooms, bike repair on-site or convenient bike sharing stops right outside the apartment building’s entrance.

The bicycle storage room has evolved from an afterthought to a serious amenity for Chicago apartment buildings that position renters in an ideal place to pedal to work or explore the city via two wheels. Transit-oriented developments (or TODs as they’re sometimes known) receive financial assistance from taxpayers and these types of buildings qualify for subsidies because they’re in a position to let renters embrace a car-free lifestyle in the city. These developments are built with fewer parking spots but are within easy walking distance to major public transit hubs. The new apartments springing up in River West are prime examples: renters at one of these apartment buildings may struggle to find a parking spot for their cars but they’ll never need one (in theory) because they can walk a couple of minutes to the CTA Blue line station at Chicago and Milwaukee Ave.

A Big Landing Pad for Big Ten Schools

Chicago is the Midwest’s largest metropolis. Many alumni from colleges and universities in the region wind up in Chicago after graduating, and they bring their sports allegiances with them. A cursory glance around popular apartment rental neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park or Lakeview will uncover many Big Ten bars proudly flying the flag for their respective schools, offering Chicago renters a place to gather in support of their alma maters. These college-affiliated bars and restaurants give recent graduates a semblance of the college campus vibe while still feeling thoroughly Chicago thanks to their function as community taverns and neighborhood watering holes.

Just how much does the migration of Big Ten graduates impact the Chicago apartment landscape? Consider that 10% or more of the graduates from six Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin) settle in Chicago after leaving the university. In other words, Chicago may be outranked by larger American cities for the sheer number of Big Ten grads who call the metro area home, but it’s undoubtedly the highest concentration of Big Ten grads out of any major U.S. metro. Alumni from these Big Ten schools will find themselves in good company if they go for a walk in one of the neighborhoods that’s densely populated with apartments. Some renters go so far as flying the university flag from their apartment’s balcony or front porch. 

Chicago welcomes graduates from all the universities in the conference, and from schools across the country for that matter. Chicago is making a strong bid to lure grads with in-demand job skills for the city’s growing tech sector. So there’s a solid chance that, no matter where you went to school, you can find a kindred spirit or fellow alum somewhere in the city.

Chicago Apartments and Chicago Sports

The city is home to eight major professional sports teams that play in big-time arenas that are able to host thousands of fans, so the neighborhoods around these sporting hubs can be teeming with activity on game days. Some of the stadiums and arenas are the defining feature of their given neighborhoods, with the clearest example being Wrigley Field on the north side. The area surrounding the ballpark is known as Wrigleyville, a micro-neighborhood of the greater Lakeview community.

The lakefront area near the South Loop and the Museum Campus is a major hub on Chicago Bears game days, and starting in the 2020 season the historic landmark Soldier Field will host the MLS Chicago Fire squad as well. The quiet Bridgeport neighborhood surrounds the home field of the Chicago White Sox, where tailgaters arrive early to grill or hang out in the parking lot before and after games at Guaranteed Rate Field. The United Center hosts the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls, and the highly desired West Loop neighborhood has been expanding westward to brush up against the Near West Side around the United Center. 

The South Loop is also home to Wintrust Arena, one of the city’s newer sports venues where the WNBA Chicago Sky and the DePaul University men’s and women’s basketball teams play their home games. Of course, any stadium in Chicago can double as a concert venue or a convention space, so life near one of these sporting hubs can even deliver meaningful diversions for renters who are agnostic when it comes to Chicago sports. When large musical acts come to Chicago they frequently pack the crowds in to either the 23,500 seat United Center or 61,500 seats of Soldier Field.

Wrigley Field marquee main exterior on N Clark St and W Addison St in Wrigleyville
World Series monument outside of Guaranteed Rate Field at 35th St and Shields Ave in Fuller Park
Bobby Hull statue in front of United Center Chicago Near West Side
mural on side of apartment building showing MLS Chicago Fire soccer players