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

Signing a Lease

You must have your own copy of the lease with the landlord's signature on it. Don't sign a lease unless you are provided two copies and the landlord is signing one copy while you are signing the other.

It is best for you to have the landlord's ORIGINAL signature on your copy of the lease, rather than a photocopy. In court, an original document will always be honored instead of a photocopy of that document if the two versions are different. If the lease is more than one page with two printed sides, ask the landlord to number the pages, i.e. page 1 of 4, page 2 of 4, etc. and ask that the landlord initial each page. That is the best way to protect against a landlord changing any of the pages of the lease other than the one with your signature on it.

Most questions you have about your rights as a tenant will be answered by your lease, not by any state or local laws. This makes your lease contract very important.

The lease should state every agreement that you believe exists between you and your landlord.

Equally important, your lease should not include anything that you will object to later.

If the contract says that you will pay a $350 sublet fee, expect to be charged the fee.

If the lease says that utilities are included in the rent but you pay for "excessive use," don't rely on oral assurances that tenants never really get billed for excessive use.

If the lease says "no pets allowed without landlord's written consent" you must have written consent even if you see that every other tenant in the building has pets.

Tenant Union hears from many tenants throughout each year who face high fees or eviction for following an oral promise that is different from the written terms of the lease. Relying on an oral promise that is different from the lease gives the landlord leverage to treat you unfairly and get away with it, under threat of enforcing the lease terms that conflict with your oral agreement. And, if the owner sells the property, or even if the manager changes, you will probably find that the new person in charge will not honor any oral agreement that you claim you had made with the previous landlord.

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Negotiating Lease Changes

You will never have more bargaining power as a tenant than you have when you negotiate your lease. If you and the landlord cannot agree to terms that satisfy you, you can always rent somewhere else.

Discussing the lease with the owner or manager will also give you an idea about how reasonable that person can be. You have the advantage before the lease is signed. Once you've put your signature on the dotted line, the landlord will have the advantage over you -- so take seriously the opportunities of lease negotiating.

There is no grace period after signing a lease to change your mind.

Once you sign the contract, every provision of that lease contract will be your responsibility, including paying all the rent for the entire term -- even if you never move into the apartment.

Making changes to a lease is very easy. Make changes on both copies of the lease and be sure that the landlord initials the changes.

If you are adding a clause to the contract, find any available space and write in a complete sentence followed by landlord's and tenants' initials. For example:

Lessor shall repair all broken windows and paint the kitchen by start date of the lease. JK WB CH

To take out a sentence, just strike it out, in ink, and place your initials after the last word taken out. Be sure the landlord also places his or her initials next to the change.

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Two copies of the lease so you can take one with you as soon as you sign

Every lease is different. The following will give you some ideas about lease clauses that you may want to include or delte. Bring your lease the the teannt union and we would be happy to look it over for you.

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Sample Lease Clauses

Addendum to be Added to the Lease
If you will be adding an extra page to the lease, you need to title the page (for example, call it Addendum A). Then you must add a clause to the lease that says the Addendum is part of the lease.
Addendum A, attached, is incorporated by reference as part of this lease.

Repair Clause
Lessor agrees to maintain the premises in accordance with all applicable codes and to promptly perform all needed repairs to the premises, appliances and furnishings, at Lessor's sole expense, except damage resulting from Lessee's negligence.

You don't need to use these exact words, but at the very least, your lease should include an affirmative statement of the landlord's duty to perform needed repairs.

Pest Control
City codes in Champaign and Urbana require landlords to exterminate if infestation is found in two or more apartments. Landlords are not required to provide monthly, preventative service. Also, some pest problems like bed bugs might be very bad in your apartment but did not spread to other apartments. Note that if you rent a house, city code does not require your landlord to exterminate for roaches during the lease - only for rodents. If you want to ensure that the landlord is responsible for pest control, ask to add this clause.

Lessor shall provide monthly pest control services and shall exterminate additionally as needed to remedy pest or rodent infestation.

Every promise should be included in the lease with a completion date. For example:

By the start date of the lease, Lessor shall shampoo the carpet and paint the entire apartment.

Privacy & Notice Before Landlord Enters
Except in an emergency, Lessor or Lessor's agents shall not enter the leased premises for any purpose without first giving a minimum of __________hours advance notice to Lessee.

In Urbana, landlords are required to give 24 hours' notice of entry into the rental unit; however, the Urbana law has some exceptions. If you want to eliminate the exceptions, include in your lease the above language.

Whether or not you pay for parking, if you think you will be provided with an off-street parking space, be sure your lease identifies the space. If the landlord just provides permit parking without assigning spaces, they could sell more permits than the number of parking spaces in the lot and you will have no recourse if you can't find an empty space in which to park.

Lessor leases parking space #________ to Lessee for a rental rate of $____________ per month.


Lessee may park one vehicle in parking space #_____ . The charge for parking is included in the rent.

Furnished Apartment or House
No law states what furniture is provided in a furnished rental unit. Your lease should list all furniture and appliances to be provided by the landlord. For example:

Lessor shall provide and maintain the following: sofa, living room chair, 2 living room lamps, 1 coffee table, dining table with 4 chairs, 3 desks, 3 desk chairs, 3 double beds, 3 dressers, oven/range, microwave oven, refrigerator, 1 washer/dryer unit, central air, garbage disposal and blinds for all windows.

Renewal Deadline
Unless your lease includes a promise offering you a renewal deadline, your landlord could rent your apartment for next year without ever telling you about it. In the area close to the University of Illinois, many landlords sign leases 10 months before they start. If you want to be sure that you are given first option to rent for another year, and you want to negotiate the date for making that decision, add a clause like this:

The renewal deadline for this unit is_____________. Lessor agrees that prior to this date, he/she will not rent this unit for the following lease term to anyone other than lessee.

Unfurnished but Landlord Provides Some Appliances
Leased premises are unfurnished except that Lessor shall provide and maintain an oven/range, refrigerator, garbage disposal, 1 window air conditioner and blinds for all windows.

Deposit Refund
If you rent a house, or in a building with fewer than 5 apartments, and you do not live in Urbana, the law does not specify when the landlord must refund your deposit, nor does the law require the landlord to itemize deposit deductions. If you want these protections, you must include a promise in your lease.

Lessor may not withhold any money from the deposit for property damage unless, within 30 days after Lessee vacates the premises, Lessor provides Lessee with an itemized statement of charges, listing the actual costs and attaching copies of paid receipts for each charge. Deposit refund will be sent to Lessee's last known address within 30 days after Lessee vacates the premises.

Permission to keep a Pet
Most leases say the tenant cannot keep a pet without the landlord's prior written consent. Without written consent to keep your pet, you could be evicted, even if every other tenant in the building has a pet.

Lessee may keep 2 cats in the apartment.

Military Release Clause
If you or any one of your roommates will need to leave in the middle of the lease when called to active duty in the military, the remaining roommates will be responsible for paying the rent of the one who went into military services UNLESS you have added a clause to your lease providing for reduction of the total rent due by the percent of the rent that roommate was paying.

Lessor agrees that if any individual who has signed this lease is called to active military duty, Lessor shall release that individual from the lease and shall reduce the total rent due under the contract by % for the balance of the term, commencing 30 days after receiving notice from the tenant s/he has been called to active duty.

Snow Removal
Lessor shall provide snow and ice removal for parking lot, stairs, walkways and all sidewalks including the public right of way around the building.


Lessee shall reimburse Lessor ___% of the monthly Ameren IP power bills for the building. Lessee shall not be liable for any portion of late fees on a bill unless Lessee is at fault for late payment to the Lessor. Payment will be due to Lessor within 10 days of Lessee's receipt of a copy of the actual bill from the power company.

No Smoking

A clause in the lease that says that you and your guests will not smoke in the apartment does NOT impose any duty on the landlord to prohibit other tenants of the building from smoking. If you think you will be renting in a building where smoking is prohibited, ask the landlord to write something like this into the lease:

Smoking is not allowed in any apartments or common areas of the building. Lessor agrees to enforce the no-smoking policy throughout the building.

Evicting your Roommate
Roomates do not have standing to evict other roommates unless they have authorization to do so from the landlord. Adding this clause to your lease would help.

Lessor agrees that a non-defaulting co-lessee may act as the landlord's agent for the purposes of seeking eviction of a defaulting co-tenant.

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Potential Lease Problems

The following are a few examples of lease clauses that have caused problems for tenants in the past. You will be held to every word of your lease, so if any provision is not acceptable to you, you should ask to have it removed. Some clauses can be changed by adding additional words or deleting certain words. Don't forget to have the landlord who signs the lease place his or her initials next to every change made.

Bring your lease to the Tenant Union and an experienced counselor will review it with you before you sign it.

Mold Addendum
A few landlords have started adding a mold addendum to their leases requiring specific tenant behavior such as wiping down all the tiles in the bathroom after every shower, running the range hood fan whenever cooking, running the bathroom fan when showering. One local landlord even prohibits air drying dishes or watering plants in the apartment, claiming these are causes of mold.

BEWARE: If the mold addendum holds YOU responsible for any mold in the apartment, it would be wise to refuse to sign it.

Mold is usually the result of a structural defect that allows moisture to saturate drywall or particle board in walls. Many new buildings have mold as soon as construction is completed because the landlord did not successfully prevent water damage during construction. Why should you agree to be responsible for the cost of correcting a problem caused by defects in the building or the landlord's negligence?

Rules and Regulations
Lessee shall obey all rules and regulations which may be brought to their attention at the time of signing this lease and as amended from time to time by Lessor. Failure to comply with these rules shall constitute a breach of this lease.

If you agree that you can be evicted for violating the rules, do you really want to agree that the landlord can change the rules at any time? It's not unreasonable for a landlord to have rules; but the tenant is best protected by reading the rules BEFORE SIGNING THE LEASE and making sure that every rule is one which you consider fair and reasonable. Deleting the words "and as amended from time to time" in the above example will protect you from new rules being added that you cannot or do not want to obey.

Sublet Fees
Lessee shall pay a sublet fee of $350.00 for each sublease.

To find a subtenant, you will have to pay for newspaper advertising, answer all the calls and show the place many times. Why should you have to pay the landlord $350 for permission to sublet when you have already paid all of the expenses involved in subletting?

Failure to Deliver Possession
Lessor shall not be liable for any damages resulting from Lessor's failure to deliver possession of the premises at the start date of the lease term. Lessee shall not be liable for rent until possession is delivered and Lessee hereby agrees that said abatement of rent shall be his/her sole remedy. If possession cannot be delivered within 30 days, Lessee may cancel this lease.

In most cases, if your landlord will not give you keys to the rental unit on the start date of the lease, the landlord will be responsible for paying your "damages" or loss resulting from the landlord's breach of the lease. However, with this clause in your lease, you agree that the landlord owes you nothing, except you don't have to pay rent for the days you can't live in the rental unit -- AND you'll wait 30 days to see if and when the landlord might let you move in.

Pets Prohibited
Lessee shall keep no pets on the leased premises without Lessor's prior written consent. Said consent may be revoked by Lessor at any time.

If the landlord revokes or withdraws permission to keep a pet, what will you do with your animal?

Attorney's Fees
Does the lease provide only for the landlord to collect attorney's fees or are both parties entitled to collect their fees for enforcing the lease? You will be at a disadvantage if your landlord can add hundreds of dollars in attorney's fees to any claim s/he has against you, but need not fear that you could ever do that to him/her. Most leases simply include the first sentence below (landlord's entitlement to recover attorney's fees). Adding the second sentence provides the tenant with entitlement to collect attorney fees when the landlord violates the lease and the tenant has to sue.

Lessee shall pay Lessor's reasonable attorney's fees and expenses to enforce the provisions of this lease. Lessor shall pay Lessee's reasonable attorney's fees and expenses to enforce the provisions of this lease.

Cleaning Charges
A landlord should only charge you his or her actual costs for cleaning, painting or other damage beyond normal wear. The list below does not reflect actual costs. If you agree to such a clause in your lease, you may be charged as much as 10 times the landlord's actual costs for cleaning.

In the event that the premises are not left clean at the end of the lease period, Lessee agrees to pay the following charges: oven/range $70.00; refrigerator $35.00; clean cabinets $15.00; wash floors $15.00 per room; vacuum $20.00 per room; bathtub $40.00; toilet $15.00; sinks $10.00 each.; carpet cleaning $40.00 per room.

Late Charges
Does the lease provide for a grace period before late charges are imposed? How much are late charges? A fee of $15 if not paid by the 5th is much more reasonable than $5 a day after the 1st. Imagine your check is lost in the mail for 20 days. Compute how high the late charge will be for 20 days. If it seems too high, ask to change the late fee in the lease. In Urbana, city ordinance prohibits late charges greater than 5% of monthly rent unless the landlord can prove actual costs above 5% of the amount of rent.

Damage Due to Fire
If the place becomes uninhabitable as a result of fire or some calamity, have you agreed to be held to the contract while you wait for the landlord to do repairs? How long must you wait before you can safely rent another place?

If the premises are rendered untenantable by fire or some other calamity, Lessor may, at Lessor's option, terminate this lease, or repair the premises within 90 days.

Even if your insurance is paying for a hotel room, do you want to live in a hotel and eat in restaurants for 90 days? Consider changing the amount of time to whatever you will consider reasonable if fire forces you from your home.

NOTE: if your lease does not have a fire clause, you don't need to add one. And look out for unusual clauses like this one:

"If the leased premises are rendered unlivable because of fire or some other calamity, Lessor may elect to provide alternative housing at the current rental price, or terminate this lease agreement, retaining all rents, deposits and fees paid up to such time, with no further obligations on the part of either Lessor or Lessee."

This version of a fire clause is less common than the first example, but it's one you may encounter. Here, you agree that if a fire that is not your fault damages the apartment, the landlord may choose to move you to a different apartment -- for an uncertain time period -- and you'll be stuck paying rent even if the location is unsuitable or the apartment is not comparable to the one you leased. The landlord also has the choice to terminate the lease in which case, you have agreed the landlord will keep your entire damage deposit as well as any pre-paid rent, parking fees or other payments. It's a great deal for the landlord, but why should any tenant agree to suffer such a severe loss for something that is not his/her fault?

Evictions and Notice
The following are examples of lease clauses waiving your rights under state law to notice and due process prior to eviction. It is reasonable to ask that these be removed from the lease before you sign it. Why should you give up your legal rights?

Lessee hereby waives any and all rights to notice or demand under any statute of the State relative to forcible entry and detainer or landlord and tenant.

In the event of a default hereunder, Lessor may re-enter and re-possess the premises either with or without force and with or without process of law.

Confession of Judgment
If you sign a lease containing confession of judgment, you agree that the landlord can sue you in court without ever serving you notice of the court date. You agree that the landlord's attorney represents you in court, says you are wrong, and asks for a judgment against you. You automatically lose and if the suit is for eviction, the Sheriff will remove you from the premises. Why would any good landlord ask you to agree to something so unfair?

Lessee hereby irrevocably constitutes any attorney of any court of record of the State, attorney for him in his name, on default of any of the covenants or agreements herein, to enter his appearance in any court of record, waive process and service thereof, and confess judgment against Lessee in favor of Lessor.

Forfeiture of Deposit
Your landlord should only be making deductions from your deposit for actual costs for damages that are your fault. Beware of catch-all clauses that allow your landlord to keep your entire deposit:

In the event that Lessee defaults in the performance of any provision of this lease, the security deposit will be forfeited.

Automatic Renewal
The problem with this lease clause is that you might forget to give notice -- or you may not be able to prove you gave notice -- and you'll have a lease for an extra year.

This lease shall be automatically renewed for an additional 1-year term unless Lessee provides Lessor with notice not less than 120 days before the lease ends.

Collection Fees
Lessor shall additionally be entitled to recovery of any fees paid for the costs of collection, including but not limited to collection agency fees as permitted by law, and Lessees stipulate and agree that the costs of collection can range from 35% to 50% of the amount placed in collection which the Lessee agrees to be a reasonable amount for such costs of collection.

Do you think this is a reasonable amount? If you agree in the lease that the cost of collection will be 50% of the amount due, you can expect to have to pay that in addition to the amount due plus court costs and attorney's fees.

Rent Increase
If during the term of the lease, residential real estate taxes increase or Lessor's operating costs increase, Lessor may increase the monthly rental rate for the balance of the lease term.

Do you really want to agree that the landlord can raise your rent during the lease term? How much will the increase be? Real estate taxes increase every year. What about operating costs? If the landlord buys new furniture for the rental office, raises employees' salaries, or purchases vehicles for employee use, any of these expenditures would increase "operating costs." You are agreeing you'll pay a higher rent -- and you'll have no way to verify the costs.

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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.