Student Tenant Q & A Session

Covid-19 and leases

March 30, 2020

Notes from the Session

On March 30, 2020, representatives from Student Legal Services and Off-Campus Community Living hosted an online video chat for student tenants with questions about Covid-19 and their leases. Please find a summary of this conversation below.

Legal Disclaimer

The information contained in this FAQ does not constitute legal advice nor is it intended to constitute legal advice. It is not a substitute for consulting an attorney regarding one's particular case.

The information and opinions contained herein are those of Student Legal Services and are not necessarily those of the University of Illinois of Champaign-Urbana.

Today, we will be answering general legal questions about landlords, leases, and Covid-19. We will not be answering specific questions about your individual lease and your individual situation.

You can make an appointment with SLS if you want to discuss your individual situation and get legal advice. Fill out the intake form on our website and call the office at (217) 333-9053 to screen for eligibility and set an appointment with one of our attorneys.

Does Covid-19 terminate/end my lease?

  • No. A lease is a binding contract for both the landlord and tenant.
  • As long as the landlord is providing habitable housing, the tenant must pay rent.
  • You will still owe all rent due for the remainder of the lease period (likely through August), whether you are living in the unit or not.
  • You have the right to stay in your apartment through the end of the lease, the Illinois Stay-at-Home Order does not change that.

What happens if I stop paying rent for the rest of my lease term?

  • Not paying your rent will lead to a Five Day Notice demanding payment. Failure to pay in five days will lead to the right of landlord to demand possession in court, AKA eviction.
  • Interest will accumulate for late and unpaid rent along with court costs and attorney fees.
  • There are some landlords that will turn your nonpayment of rent over to collection agencies and credit agencies, which may destroy your credit rating.
  • Courts are closed and evictions are suspended for the immediate future. However, you still owe your rent and an eviction proceeding can begin as soon as courts reopen.

I heard there is a moratorium on evictions. Is that true? Does that mean I do not need to pay rent?

  • No, you still need to pay your rent.
  • The “moratorium” that President Trump spoke of in the news reports applies ONLY to HUD housing, not private leases in the Champaign-Urbana area.
  • The Illinois Stay-at-Home Order suspends evictions for the time being. However, this will only last for the duration of the order and evictions will resume at that time. Your rent is still due in the meantime.
  • Your landlord can still serve you with a 5 Day Notice if you do not pay rent.
  • The Illinois Stay-at-Home Order specifically states that “No provision contained in this Executive Order shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent...”
  • If you are unable to pay your rent right now, your landlord does not have the ability to force you out of your apartment (for the duration of the Executive Order).
  • If you are having trouble paying your rent, reach out to your landlord and try to negotiate a payment plan. If you reach an agreement, make sure it is in writing and signed by your landlord.

What if my roommates stop paying their rent because they have left Champaign-Urbana?

  • It depends on what kind of lease you have.
  • Nothing about the current circumstances changes your legal obligations.
  • If you and your roommates all signed a joint lease, you are responsible for your roommates’ portion of the rent. Your landlord could serve you with a 5 Day Notice demanding payment of your roommates’ portion of the rent.
  • You should reach out to your landlord now and try to come up with an agreement now.
  • If you signed a lease for a single bedroom in a unit you are likely not liable for your roommates’ non-payment of rent.

I am looking to rent from a private landlord not associated with the University for August 2020-August 2021. Is there anything I can do to create a provision in the lease that would protect myself from being trapped in the lease agreement if the University decides to continue online-only instruction in the Fall?

  • Do not rush into signing any leases at this point. There are so many uncertainties.
  • Once you sign a lease, you are responsible for paying rent for the entire term of the lease—even if online instruction continues into Fall Semester.
  • You could try to negotiate with your landlord to add a provision to your lease before you sign it that would allow you to break the lease if the University moved to online-only instruction. Your landlord would need to agree to this provision, and it may be unlikely that they would do so. If they do agree make sure that it is in writing, incorporated into your lease, and signed by all parties.

If I agreed to sublease someone’s place but I did not sign anything can I move out?

  • Most leases in Champaign-Urbana require the landlord to agree to the sublease, usually there is a fee and you sign paperwork with the landlord.
  • If you have not signed anything you are under no obligation to sublease anything from anyone.

Is there any way to get out of my current lease?

  • Likely no. As long as the landlord is providing habitable housing, the tenant must pay rent.
  • There is a caveat: sometimes leases will have a Force Majeure clause. These clauses may outline what happens when an Act of God or catastrophe happens. However, often these clauses favor the landlord. If you believe your lease has a clause that would allow you to break your lease because of Covid-19, you are welcome to reach out to Student Legal Services and we will be happy to review your lease.

I am renting an apartment in Champaign-Urbana, but I am no longer living there because I have returned to my permanent residence. If I stop paying my rent and I get evicted what are the legal repercussions? I’m not living there, does it matter? Is it a good idea to just stop paying my rent?

  • No, it is not a good idea to just stop paying rent even if you have already moved out of your apartment. This will negatively impact your credit report and will have long-term negative consequences.
  • If your landlord knows that you have vacated your unit, they will likely not pursue an eviction. However, your landlord can still sue you for any rent due for the remainder of your lease and any damages.
  • Your landlord could also turn your nonpayment of rent over to debt collection agencies.
  • Whether your landlord sues you for unpaid rent, or turns your case over to debt collection agencies, or both—all of these actions will negatively impact your credit report for many years. It will be more difficult and expensive to get car loans, mortgages, credit cards, etc.

Many college students are out of work because of the economic repercussions of Covid-19. How do we have the conversation with our landlord that we no longer have the money to pay rent?

  • Reach out to your landlord as soon as possible. Ideally, you want to have this conversation with your landlord before you owe a lot of money and before they have contacted their attorney.
  • Once your landlord’s attorney gets involved the cost to the landlord has increased.
  • Contact the property manager or the owner. It can be hard now because some offices are closed. You can try calling, emailing, or texting.
  • In general, tell the truth and explain your situation. Your landlord may be willing to reach an agreement to delay payment for a short amount of time or to create a payment plan.
  • Your landlord may have an interest in reaching an agreement with you.
  • Get any agreements in writing, signed by the landlord.

If my roommate has Covid-19 or is exhibiting symptoms like cough and I don’t feel safe, can I get out of my lease?

  • Probably not. This is likely not a legal reason to break your lease.
  • However, you could ask your landlord if you could move to another unit. You also could live somewhere else for a few weeks and return when your roommate is healthy.

My leasing company is doing a major concrete replacement project and is being inconsiderate of the few remaining tenants in the building. We never received a notification of this project and the pouring/curing of the concrete has blocked entry to some units. How should I approach my leasing company about this?

  • Your landlord likely does not need to provide you notice of this kind of project because they are not entering your unit.
  • If you are completely barred from entering your unit this would be a problem and you should contact Student Legal Services. However, if you are able to access your unit, there is probably nothing you can do.
  • Note: construction is allowed to continue under the Illinois Stay-at-Home Order.

Can landlords come into my apartment to do routine maintenance?

  • Yes.
  • Under the Illinois Stay-at-Home Order the following are allowed to continue working: plumbers, electricians, exterminators, HVAC, painting, moving services, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.
  • Your landlord might need to provide you with notice that they will be entering your unit. This depends on the terms of your lease. In Urbana, your landlord is required to give your 24 hours notice unless there is an emergency.
  • If you feel uncomfortable with maintenance workers in your unit you call your landlord and find out when they will be in your unit and leave your unit for a walk or grocery shopping at that time. You can disinfect your unit upon your return.
  • You can ask your landlord if they will be wearing gloves, masks, or any other protective gear.

Can my landlord refuse to make repairs because of the Illinois Stay-at-Home Order and fears of spreading Covid 19/exposure to workers?

  • No, they must make repairs required by law or lease, especially if repairs are needed to ensure your health and safety.
  • The Illinois Stay-at-Home Order specifically exempts plumbers, electricians, exterminators, HVAC, painting, moving services, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.
  • You can call Champaign or Urbana for an inspection—both offices are ONLY doing inspections when safety is at issue. They are not doing inspections for routine maintenance issues at this time.

Does my landlord need to clean or disinfect common areas more than usual?

  • Your landlord needs to keep common areas in good repair, but they probably do not need to use additional disinfectants in common areas.
  • Use caution and common sense and wash your hands when you return to your unit.

My landlord is charging a “service fee” to pay my rent online. I used to drop off my rent in person and did not need to pay this fee. Is it legal to charge such a fee?

  • First, consider practical solutions. For example, can you mail the check?
  • Review your lease and the allowed payment options, if the lease allows for rent to be paid via mail there should not be an issue but give yourself additional time for check to arrive on time via mail. *Note, in Urbana a rent check cannot be considered late if the envelope with the check is postmarked on or prior to the date payment is due.
  • If you believe that your landlord cannot legally charge such a service fee, you must still pay your rent. It is safest for you to pay your rent and the service fees. Make a note in the online payment portal or via email that indicates you disagree with the fee and schedule an appointment with Student Legal Services to discuss your options.

Can I stop my landlord from showing my apartment to a potential tenant during the Illinois Stay-at-Home Order?

  • Showing apartments are probably not allowed under the Illinois Stay-at-Home Order.
  • Good solution: offer to film a video walkthrough and send it to your landlord.

Are there limits on late fees?

  • Check your lease.
  • Urbana limits late fees to 5% of the monthly rental payment unless the landlord can show actual costs are higher than 5%.

I moved back to my permanent residence because of Covid-19. What should I do about the Census?

  • Students who normally live at school should be counted at school. Even if you have moved elsewhere temporarily for Covid-19.
  • You should use your local address (i.e. Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, etc.) where you would normally be living at this time.