Chicago Residential Landlord & Tenant Ordinance

Section 5-12-030 Definitions



Whenever used in this chapter, the following words and phrases shall have the following meanings:


(a)     "Dwelling unit" means a structure or the part of a structure that is used as a home, residence or sleeping place by one or more persons who maintain a household, together with the common areas, land and appurtenant buildings thereto, and all housing services, privileges, furnishings and facilities supplied in connection with the use or occupancy thereof, including garage and parking facilities.


(b)     "Landlord" means the owner, agent, lessor or sublessor, or the successor in interest of any of them, of a dwelling unit or the building of which it is part.


(c)     "Owner" means one or more persons, jointly or severally, in whom is vested all or part of the legal title to property, or all or part of the beneficial ownership and a right to present use and enjoyment of the premises, including a mortgagee in possession.


(d)     "Periodic tenancy" [NEW IN 2020] means a tenancy that continues for successive periods, whether month-to-month or otherwise, unless the landlord or tenant takes affirmative action to terminate the tenancy pursuant to this section.

(e)     "Person" means an individual, corporation, government, governmental subdivision or agency, business trust, estate, trust, partnership or association or any other legal or commercial entity.


(f)     "Premises" means the dwelling unit and the structure of which it is a part, and facilities and appurtenances therein, and grounds, areas and facilities held out for the use of tenants.


(g)     "Rent" means any consideration, including any payment, bonus, benefits or gratuity, demanded or received by a landlord for or in connection with the use or occupancy of a dwelling unit.


(h)     "Rental agreement" means all written or oral agreements embodying the terms and conditions concerning the use and occupancy of a dwelling unit by a tenant.


(i)      "Successor landlord" means any person who follows a landlord in ownership or control of a dwelling unit or the building of which it is a part, and shall include a lienholder who takes ownership or control either by contract, operation of law or a court order.  However, a "successor landlord" shall not include a receiver appointed pursuant to a court order. 


(j)       "Tenant" means a person entitled by written or oral agreement, subtenancy approved by the landlord or by sufferance, to occupy a dwelling unit to the exclusion of others.




The definitions section of the Chicago Municipal Code, Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, defines landlords, rent, and property very liberally.  Keep in mind that the below commentary is just one lawyer's commentary, not authoritative interpretation of the RLTO definitions section.  And it is not legal advice.


     (a) A "dwelling unit" is not limited to the apartment or condo rented by the tenant.  The common areas, gym, laundry room, parking garage, and mailboxes are all protected by the RLTO.  A landlord has a duty to make certain disclosures about code violations affecting the "dwelling unit" and common areas under RLTO § 5-12-100(a).  Because of the broad scope of "dwelling unit" under this section, a landlord's duty may extend to disclosure of code violations affecting "appurtenant buildings" to the tenant's building if those buildings are part of the same complex.


     (b) A "landlord" need not own the rental property.  Agents and successors in interest of apartment owners can be held liable as landlords under the RLTO.  This helps relieve tenants of the impossible burden of discovering undisclosed owners.  RLTO § 5-12-090 makes an agent who signs a lease for an undisclosed landlord liable as a landlord themselves.


     (c) An "owner" is also broadly defined under the RLTO to tenants' benefit.  Anyone who has just PART of the legal title to the property is an "owner," and thus liable as a "landlord."  This allows tenants to sue one of many partners or trust beneficiaries for return of the whole security deposit.


     (d) A "person" under the RLTO includes any legal entity, human or not.


     (e) The "premises" definition does not add much to the "dwelling unit" definition.  But because this term appears often in leases and other legal documents like mortgages on rental properties, the explicit definition is helpful.


     (f) "Rent" is defined as anything a landlord gets in exchange for letting the tenant stay in their apartment.  This definition is very important.  Many Chicago tenants pay only a small fraction of their monthly rent.  The remainder is paid for them by the Chicago Housing Voucher Choice Program (CHAC, Inc.).  There are sections of the RLTO that entitle tenants to damages equal to one or two months' rent.  Tenants of course want double their full monthly rent, not just double the small portion that they pay.  Because the RLTO definition of "rent" focuses on what the landlord gets, and not what the tenant gives, tenants can leverage their full contract rent when seeking one or two-months' rent damages.


     (g) A "rental agreement" does not have to be in writing.


     (h) Now a successor landlord is defined, by insertion of this paragraph in May, 2010. 


     (i) A "Tenant" means a person entitled to stay in a rental property.  Because no written lease is required, a person can be a tenant without a written lease.