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 families. In areas including Logan Square, Uptown, Rogers Park, residents and community activists have been organizing for change. 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, and the majority of voters who saw the issue on the ballot endorsed the idea of rent control.
What is rent control?
Many major U.S. cities have rent control—which means that local laws prohibit landlords from raising the rent in specific apartments for rent 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 advance notice is given -- landlords must provide at least 120 days' notice to renters who have lived at a residence for three years or more. Still, renters with shorter tenancies are not entitled to as much advance notice before a rent increase.
Why isn't there rent control in Chicago?
Even if City Council and Mayor Lightfoot 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 stabilization or the law is overturned in court, Chicago’s City Council cannot enact local rent control. In short, Chicago renters have no rent control protections because Illinois law prohibits municipalities from enacting rent control measures.
Will Illinois rent control law change soon?
Perhaps! Governor Pritzker campaigned on a progressive promise to repeal the Rent Control Preemption Act. There is renewed interest among community outreach groups and some of Chicago's aldermen for rent control. These groups argue that adopting rent control will provide more long-term stability for renters, their families, and their communities. Since March of 2020, Governor Pritzker has focused on keeping renters in their homes during the Coronavirus pandemic by enacting an extended eviction moratorium for Illinois residents. Also, since the onset of the pandemic, Mayor Lightfoot and the City Council enacted reforms to require additional notice to residents before landlords raise the rent. Activists continue to apply pressure for more relief. Some of Chicago’s alderpersons are pushing for rent control (meaning a prohibition on raising the rent for specific units) and rent stabilization (meaning a limitation on the percentage that a landlord can raise the rent) in Chicago. Still, they likely neither can move forward until the Rent Control Preemption Act is repealed.
Do Chicago residents want rent control?
In 2018, housing advocates and community groups organized under "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 to refine their positions in upcoming elections.
Is rent control a good idea?
Advocates for rent control, including State Representative Will Guzzardi, who represents Logan Square in the General Assembly, arguing 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 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. Industry players like the Illinois Association of Realtors and the Chicagoland Apartment Association oppose rent control because the policy ultimately reduces the quality and quantity of affordable housing. If landlords can't raise the rent, they have no incentive to invest in maintenance or improvements.
Domu will be watching the issue as it unfolds but will not take a position on rent control. Check out the Lift the Ban Coalition or the Illinois Association of Realtor's materials to learn more.