A lease is discharged when the contract terminates. Termination can occur:

  • when all parties have fully performed their obligations under the agreement.
  • the parties may agree to cancel the lease.

A tenant who simply abandons leased property remains liable for the terms of the lease including the rent. The terms of the lease will usually indicate whether the landlord is obligated to try to re-rent the space. If the landlord intends to sue for unpaid rent, most states require an attempt to mitigate damages by re-renting the premises to limit the amount owed.

The lease does not terminate if the parties die or if the property is sold. There are two exceptions to this general rule:

  • A lease from the owner of a life estate ends when the tenant’s life ends.
  • The death of either party terminates a tenancy at

In all other cases, the heirs of a deceased landlord are bound by the terms of existing leases.

If leased real estate is sold or otherwise conveyed, the new landlord takes the property subject to the rights of the tenants. A lease agreement may, however, contain language that permits a new landlord to terminate existing leases. The clause, commonly known as a sale clause, requires that the tenants be given some period of notice before the termination. Because the new owner has taken title subject to the rights of the tenants, the sale clause enables the new landlord to claim possession and negotiate new leases under his own terms and conditions.

A tenancy may also be terminated by operation of law, as in a bankruptcy or condemnation proceeding.

Breach of Lease
If a tenant defaults on the payment of rent, the landlord has two options:

  • He may elect to serve the tenant with five days’ written notice, demanding payment of the delinquent rent within five days after the notice is received. If the tenant fails to pay the rent, the landlord may terminate the lease automatically and sue for possession without further notice. If the tenant pays the past-due rent, the lease continues in full force.
  • Alternatively (and in cases in which the tenant’s breach is other than nonpayment of rent), the landlord may terminate the tenancy by serving the tenant with ten days’ written notice, including a demand for possession. After the ten-day period expires, the landlord may sue for possession without further notice, even if the default is cured.

Landlord’s remedies – actual eviction
When a tenant breaches a lease or improperly retains leased premises, the landlord may regain possession through a legal process known as actual eviction. The landlord must serve notice on the tenant before commencing the lawsuit.

When a court issues a judgment for possession to a landlord, the tenant must vacate the property. If the tenant fails to leave, the landlord can have the judgment enforced by a court officer, who forcibly removes the tenant and the tenant’s possessions. The landlord then has the right to re-enter and regain possession of the property.

In Illinois, a landlord seeking actual eviction of a tenant must file an action called a forcible entry and detainer. It can be used when a tenancy has expired by default, by its terms, by operation of law, or by proper notice. The suit should be filed in the circuit court of the county in which the property is located .

If the court rules in favor of the landlord, a judgment for possession (and money damages) will be entered, and an order of possession will be issued by the clerk of the court. The tenant must then leave peaceably, removing all of his property from the premises. Traditionally, however, if a residential tenant personally appears in court and the landlord prevails, the court will delay issuing the order for a reasonable period of time to allow the tenant to find alternative housing.

When a tenant refuses to vacate peaceably after a judgment for possession has been entered, the landlord must deliver the order to the sheriff, who will forcibly evict the tenant. The landlord then has the right to re-enter and regain possession of the property.

Until a judgment for possession is issued, the landlord must be careful not to harass the tenant in any manner, such as locking the tenant out of the property, impounding the tenant’s possessions, or disconnecting the utilities (such as electricity and natural gas).

Illinois landlords have no right to self-help; that is, they may not forcibly remove a tenant without following the proper legal procedures.

Tenants’ remedies constructive eviction
If a landlord breaches any clause of a lease agreement, the tenant has the right to sue and recover damages against the landlord.

If the leased premises become unusable for the purpose stated in the lease, the tenant may have the right to abandon them. This action, called constructive eviction, terminates the lease agreement. The tenant must prove that the premises have become unusable because of the conscious neglect of the landlord. To claim constructive eviction, the tenant must leave the premises while the conditions that made the premises uninhabitable exist.


The Illinois Human Rights Act extends the list of protected classes for Illinois. It states as the public policy of Illinois and purpose of the act: “Freedom from unlawful discrimination. To secure for all individuals within Illinois the freedom from discrimination against an individual because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, familial status, military status, unfavorable discharge from military service, or sexual orientation and order of protection status in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations.” Article 3 of this act deals with real estate transactions.

The 1996 federal Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act Title X focused more strongly on disclosure and REALTOR® liability. This federal law supersedes any state laws that are not as strong.

Real estate licensees leasing properties built before 1978 must ensure that landlords disclose any possible lead-based paint or related hazards. This disclosure form must be completed even in the case of an oral lease agreement. Once an offer for lease is received, the licensee representing the lessor (landlord) must make certain a completed Disclosure of Information (from landlord) and Acknowledgment Form (from tenant) are attached, showing that the disclosure requirements were met. Finally, a federal lead hazard information pamphlet, obtained through the National Lead Information Clearinghouse at 800-424-LEAD (5323), must be distributed before leasing the property.

The Illinois Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires that the owner of any residential building cited by the state as a lead paint hazard give prospective tenants written notice of the danger unless the owners have a certificate of compliance. This act is bolstered in its scope by the federal legislation noted earlier. When a mitigation order is issued to an owner of a building containing lead hazards, the owner has 90 days to eliminate the hazard in a manner prescribed by state law, or 30 days if occupied by a child under age six or by a pregnant woman.