A Guide to Renting Chicago Apartments with Roommates

Almost all tenants know about their responsibility to pay the apartment rent on time and in full, and if the landlord presented them with a copy of Domu's model Chicago apartment lease, it's actually the first term of their lease agreement. Now, with the economic uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic hitting renters especially hard, some renters have broached the subject of delaying or even skipping rent payment with their landlords. In these unusual circumstances, it’s likely that many renters have at least looked into renting with roommates to defray the cost of renting an apartment in Chicago.

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But what exactly is a roommate? Under the provisions of the lease agreement, there’s technically no such thing as a roommate in a Chicago apartment; anyone living in a dwelling is either an owner, landlord, tenant, sub-lessor, sub-lessee...but there's actually no distinction for the casual term "roommate."

Each of the parties listed above is protected and defined under the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO), but merely labeling another occupant of the apartment as a roommate doesn't give them the same protections under the CRLTO. 

Take the hypothetical example of a pair of renters who are currently renting a nice 2 bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Both renters signed the apartment lease as co-tenants and lived in the apartment for a year without incident. At the end of the term, one of the tenants moved out. But the other tenant liked the location and wanted to keep renting the same apartment for another year. So they signed a new lease as the sole tenant and put down a new security deposit, then set about finding a new roommate to help keep costs down. If that holdover renter finds someone else to help pay the rent and occupy the spare bedroom, sounds like a win-win for both the current and prospective renter, right? Not so fast. If a new roommate moves into a Chicago apartment without signing a revised apartment lease, they are NOT provided the same protections as tenants are under the CRLTO.

Chicago apartment renters may already know about their responsibilities in following the terms of the apartment lease agreement, especially with regard to issues like safety, noise, and cleaning up after themselves. Running afoul of these terms could result in consequences ranging from the loss of the apartment security deposit to the unfortunate scenario of the landlord filing eviction proceedings. That’s why it’s important that renters and landlords know who needs to sign the lease before an informal agreement is made between roommates. 

It’s better to nail down all the little details before there's even the slightest whiff of a legal tussle. Don’t believe it could ever happen? There are real-world examples of renters who ended up with legal fees because of an informal arrangement among roommates.

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