Unlike many major metropolitan areas in the United States, apartments in Chicago aren't subject to rent control. Chicago landlords appreciate having the flexibility to adjust the rent as the market dictates. But rising rents in rapidly gentrifying areas are pushing out longtime residents and familes. In areas including Logan Square, Uptown, Rogers Park, residents and community activists have been organizing for change, and with success: a group called "Lift the Ban" collected enough signatures to get a non-binding referendum about local rent control on the November 6, 2018 ballot in three wards. 

The election results show that there is growing support in Illinois for the concept of limiting a landlord's right to increase the rent. The majority of Chicago voters who had the opportunity to express their opinion of local rent control endorsed the idea.  Perhaps more significantly, Illinois voters elected a new governor who has endorsed allowing municipalities to enact rent control if they so choose. Does this mean that Chicago landlords will soon lose the right to raise the rent at the end of a lease term? Well, not exactly, and certainly not so fast -- but the results of the referendum, as well as Governor-elect Pritzker's legislative priorities, will push the idea of rent control onto the agenda for the February aldermanic and mayoral elections in Chicago.  Here's a primer on the current state of affairs for rent controlled apartment in Chicago.

What does rent control mean for Chicago apartments? 

Many major U.S. cities have rent control—which means that local laws prohibit landlords from raising the rent in certain units, or limit how much a landlord can raise the rent at the end of a lease term.  But Chicago does not have any rent control or rent stabilization law. While Chicago’s Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance provides many protections to renters, it does not shield renters from landlords who wish to raise the rent at the termination of the lease (whether annual or month-to-month). In Chicago, a landlord can raise the rent at the end of a lease term provided that 30 days' notice is given. 

Why isn't there rent control in Chicago? 

In short, Chicago renters have no rent control protections because Illinois law prohibits it. Even if City Council and Mayor Emanuel wanted to enact rent control, they could not. Why? Because Illinois passed a law in 1997, called the Rent Control Preemption Act, that prohibits municipalities from enacting, maintaining or enforcing measures that control the amount of rent charged for leasing a residential property. Unless the State of Illinois lifts the ban on local rent control or stabllization or the law is overturned in court, Chicago’s City Council cannot enact local rent control.

Will Illinois rent control law change soon?   

Rent control law in Illinois was unlikely to change during Governor Rauner's administration because he opposed lifting the ban. But Governor-elect Pritzker campaigned on a progressive promise to repeal the Rent Control Preemption Act. There are a few bills percolating in the statehouse to repeal the ban, including a limited repeal co-sponsored by State Senator and Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul. If Governor-elect Pritzker makes this issue a legislative priority, it will gain momentum quickly and Chicago's aldermanic representatives will be pressured to take a public position on rent control (meaning a prohibition on raising the rent for certain units) or rent stablization (meaning a limitiation on the percentage that a landlord can raise the rent) in Chicago. Whether there is a political will to regulate housing in Chicago through rent control or stabilization remains to be seen, as some argue that affordable housing is best created through other means.  But as the various candidates for mayor outline their platforms, they will have to take a position, particularly if the General Assembly puts a bill before Governor-Elect Pritzker to repeal the ban after he takes office in January 2019. 

Do Chicago residents want rent control? 

In 2018, housing advocates and community groups organized under the name of "Lift the Ban" and they collected enough signatures to get a non-binding voter referendum on the ballot in three Chicago wards: the 35th, 46th, and 49th. In those wards, longtime residents have not been able to absorb the higher housing costs spurred by rapid gentrification. Overwhelmingly, on November 6, 2018, voters in those wards endorsed a concept of local rent control. Though the referendum has no practical impact on the law, it will push candidates for the upcoming aldermanic and mayoral elections to refine their positions.

Is rent control a good idea? 

Advocates for rent control including State Representative Will Guzzardi, who represents Logan Square in the General Assembly, argue that rent control is a protection against the excesses of the free market, not unlike the minimum wage. State representatives from Belmont-Cragin, Berwyn, Cicero, Urbana and Oak Park have co-sponsored legislation with Guzzardi to lift the ban.​  

Is rent control a bad idea?

Industry players like the Illinois Association of Realtors and Chicagoland Apartment Assocation oppose rent control on the ground that the policy ultimately reduces the quality and quantity of affordable housing. If landlords can't raise the rent, then they have no incentive to invest in maintenance or improvements, they argue. Industry groups who oppose lifting the ban believe that investing in more affordable housing or public housing subsidies are other methods of keeping housing accessible in gentrifying areas. 

Domu will be watching the issue as it unfolds but will not take a position on rent control. To learn more, check out the Lift the Ban Coalition or the Illinois Association of Realtor's materials.