A sublet (or “sublease,” as it’s also called) is an agreement where a current tenant rents out their apartment to another person, who becomes their subtenant. Across most of Illinois, a tenant’s right to sublet depends heavily on their lease. Tenants in Chicago, however, have an explicit right to sublet their rental unit—even if they signed a lease that says otherwise.
A tenant's right to sublet depends on the lease
Illinois state law contains no explicit rights for a tenant to sublet. Courts have stepped in to clarify that the lease a tenant has with a landlord governs whether that tenant can sublease:1
- If a lease says subletting is allowed, or does not address subletting at all, a tenant is free to sublet their unit to someone else.
- If a lease prohibits subletting, that provision is valid, and the tenant may not sublease their home.
If a lease says subletting is allowed only with landlord approval, a tenant must get their landlord’s permission to enter into a sublet agreement.
Illinois landlords can't "unreasonably" reject a request to sublet
Courts have also ruled that a landlord cannot “unreasonably” withhold approval if the lease requires a tenant to get permission before subletting.2 To reasonably reject a potential subletter, a landlord generally must have business-related concerns—for instance, the candidate has terrible credit or a history of evictions. According to Illinois court cases, a tenant should be able to prove to the landlord that the proposed subtenant is a financially responsible person who’s “ready, willing, and able” to immediately begin a sublease.1 If they can’t, then a landlord can legally turn them down.
Chicago tenants have an absolute right to sublet, however
Unlike Illinois state law, Chicago city law specifically grants tenants the right to sublease a rental unit.3 This law overrides anything in a lease that says otherwise. If a tenant signed a lease that bans subletting, that clause is illegal and unenforceable. If a lease says that a tenant may sublet, but only with a landlord’s permission, that clause is likely enforceable—however, if a tenant presents a landlord with a “reasonable” sublease proposal (as explained below), it’s probably illegal for them to deny it.
The Chicago law states that a sublease must be “reasonable” in nature. In practice, as long as the tenant follows the rules of the original lease and finds a subtenant who will do the same and pay the rent, the tenant’s sublease is most likely legal.
State law doesn’t address the approval process for sublets
Neither Illinois nor Chicago law describe the process tenants should use to get their landlord’s approval to sublease. In practice, the key is giving a landlord notice—the landlord shouldn’t feel like the tenant was trying to hide the sublet, or didn’t give them enough notice to review the potential subletter.
As with all legal issues, tenants would be wise to make the request in writing. Tenants should mail a letter to their landlord, detailing the proposed sublease (including the identity of the proposed subtenant and the length of the sublease). This should be done at least 30 days before the sublease begins.
Remember: these are not laws, so tenants who don’t follow them are not acting illegally. But they are best practice—and provide tenants with a measure of security, in case the landlord claims to have denied permission to sublet later on.
Tenants are still responsible for rent, even while subletting
Finding a subletter doesn’t release the original tenant from the terms of their lease.4 If a subtenant stops paying rent to the tenant, for example, the tenant has no legal excuse to stop paying the landlord. If they did, the landlord could sue the tenant for unpaid rent or for eviction. The landlord would also have the option of suing the subtenant for rent, if they wanted to.5 But the point still stands—tenants are responsible for ensuring that their subtenants pay rent and respect the terms of the original lease.
It’s a good idea for tenants to enter into written subleases with their subtenants. That way, a tenant could sue a subtenant if they don’t abide by the terms of the agreement—by skipping out on rent, for instance, or adopting a dog even though the original lease prohibits pets.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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