Off-Campus Community Living University of Illinois Off-Campus Community Living Student Affairs

Breaking Your Lease

It is almost impossible to break your lease, no matter how bad your living situation. If you think you have legal grounds for breaking the contract, consult with an attorney at law. Don't just ask a friend to ask a friend who is a lawyer for an opinion. Consult with the attorney who will represent you in court when your landlord sues you for the balance of rent due.

In most cases, you cannot break your lease. If you do not want to pay the balance of rent due, you'll have to sublet to someone who will pay the rent. Depending on the circumstances, the landlord might agree to release you from the lease.

The Tenant Union has forms that you can use for lease release, if the landlord will agree to release you from your obligation. Do not settle for an oral agreement to break your lease. In the heat of the moment, your landlord might say, "go ahead and move out," but s/he does not really mean that you are released. If you do not want to face a lawsuit for the balance of rent due under the lease, plus late fees, court costs and attorney's fees, do not move out unless you have the landlord's promise, in writing, that you will not be sued.

Even if you think the place is unfit for habitation, and even if conditions are bad, the law may not be on your side. That is why consultation with a lawyer is essential if your landlord won't agree to a release.

Under certain circumstances, specific laws may provide a remedy for breaking a lease.

Sexual or Domestic Violence:
If a member of your household was a victim of sexual violence on the leased premises or faces an imminent threat of domestic violence on the leased premises, under certain conditions a lease can be terminated. See a summary of the state law 765 ILCS 750 by clicking the link at the beginning of this paragraph or go to the home page and select "Links to Laws" for the exact text of the law.

Utility Termination:
If your problem involves termination of utility service because of the landlord's non-payment of a bill for which s/he is responsible, one option is to terminate the lease. Another option is to put the bills in your name and deduct the cost from the rent. See a summary of the state law 765 ILCS 735/1 by clicking the link at the beginning of this paragraph or go to the home page and select "Links to Laws" for the exact text of the law.

Service Members' Civil Relief Act (Title 50 of the U.S. Code):
A member of the armed forces may terminate obligations under a lease contract, after being called to active duty, by providing the landlord with notice, IN WRITING, which shall not be effective until thirty days after the first date on which the next rent is due. For example, if rent is due on the first of the month, notice given March 23 would terminate the lease on May 1. This law applies to the service member and his or her dependents. In the case of unrelated adults living together under a joint lease, the service member could exercise his or her rights under this law, but the remaining roommates, because all share joint liability for the rent, would have to pay the unpaid rent of the service member.

Rent Withholding

A tenant does not have the legal right to withhold rent to punish the landlord for failing to perform repairs -- no matter how serious the repair needs. Any time a tenant fails to pay the full amount of rent due, the tenant risks eviction.

Under certain circumstances, the law allows use of a small amount of rent money for certain repairs, only if the tenant follows all of the requirements of the law. Go to the section on Repair Problems to find out more about this option. Otherwise, always pay your rent when it is due. If you think you have a legitimate reason to withhold rent, consult with an attorney at law before the rent is due.


The Tenant Union does not provide legal services of any kind. All information provided in this publication is intended to help the average person prevent problems and deal with common concerns of renting. When legal help is needed, always consult with an attorney at law.