Chicago Heat Ordinance
The Department of Buildings enforces the Chicago Minimum Requirements for Existing Buildings, which includes the Chicago Heat Ordinance (Section 14X-8-803 of the Municipal Code). The Heat Ordinance applies to both homes and workspaces.
Homes (Residential Buildings)
The Heat Ordinance requires that during designated cold weather months landlords supply heat to apartments where occupants do not have individual control of the heat (individual heating equipment). The Heat Ordinance also requires that landlords keep individual heating equipment within houses or individual apartments in good operating condition. Tenants with individual heating equipment may be required to pay the associated utility bills.
The Heat Ordinance also requires that during designated cold weather months building owners provide heat to indoor workspaces. There are exceptions for workspaces where cold temperatures are necessary for the type of work being performed, such as a refrigerated warehouse.
Landlords and building owners face fines of $500 to $1,000 per day, per violation, if they do not supply adequate heat or functioning heating equipment. The reason for lack of heat does not matter—building owners must follow the law, and heat must be provided.
If you are a resident or worker in the City of Chicago and your landlord or employer is not providing adequate heat or no heat at all, you may file a complaint using 3‑1‑1. The Department of Buildings will inspect and take action against landlords and employers who are found to be breaking the law.
To report an immediate danger to yourself or others, always call 9‑1‑1.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is Heat Required?
The Heat Ordinance applies from September 15 until June 1. This period is often referred to as the “heat season.”
The Heat Ordinance does not prevent a building from disengaging heating equipment or operating cooling equipment (air conditioning) during the heat season as long as required minimum indoor temperatures are maintained.
Where is Heat Required?
The Heat Ordinance requires that within houses, apartments, hotel rooms, and indoor workspaces, heat be provided in all habitable spaces, toilet rooms, and bathrooms.
“Habitable spaces” are defined as areas of a building intended for recreation, working, sleeping, eating, or cooking. Bathrooms and toilet rooms are not considered habitable spaces, but heat is specifically required in these types of rooms by the Heat Ordinance. Closets, hallways, storage areas, and utility rooms are not considered habitable spaces and the Heat Ordinance does not set a minimum temperature for these areas.
There are also limited exceptions for workspaces that need to be kept cold based on the type of work being performed there.
How Much Heat?
Heating requirements vary based on the type of building and heating system:
For residential buildings with central (shared) heating equipment and no central cooling (air conditioning), the indoor temperature is required to be at least 68°F from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and at least 66°F from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. for the entire heating season.
For residential buildings with central heating and cooling provided by a single system (sometimes called “two-pipe” buildings), the indoor temperature is required to be at least 68°F from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and at least 66°F from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. for most of the heat season. Recognizing that it takes time to transition this type of system from heating mode to cooling mode, there are special rules that apply to this type of building for the first and last month of the heat season. From September 15 until the first date when the nighttime outdoor temperature falls below 45°F or October 15 (whichever comes first) the indoor temperature is required to be at least 64°F at all hours. Similarly, from the first day in May when the outdoor temperature exceeds 75°F until the end of the heat season, the indoor temperature is required to be at least 64°F at all hours.
For residential buildings with individual heating equipment in each unit the equipment must be capable of maintaining an indoor temperature of 68°F under expected winter weather conditions for Chicago. It is the building owner’s responsibility to keep the heating equipment in good working order, as well as to maintain windows, doors, and walls to keep heat in. The occupant (tenant) may be required to pay the associated gas or electric utility bills to operate the heating equipment.
For workspaces, the indoor temperature is required to be 68°F when the space is occupied. This does not apply to workspaces where cold temperatures are necessary for the type of work being performed, such as a refrigerated warehouse.
How to Provide Heat?
The Heat Ordinance specifies heat sources that cannot be used to meet minimum heating requirements. These are: cooking appliances, domestic water heating equipment, and portable space heaters.
The Heat Ordinance can be met with any type of permanent space heating system that is recognized by the Chicago Mechanical Code, such as steam or hot water radiators, other hydronic (water-based) heating systems, warm-air furnaces, heat pumps, etc. Fireplaces cannot be used to meet the Heat Ordinance requirements.
In all cases, it is the responsibility of the building owner (landlord) to keep heating equipment in good working order.
Are Portable Space Heaters Allowed?
Portable space heaters cannot be used to meet the minimum temperature requirements of the Heat Ordinance. Where portable electric space heaters are used to provide supplemental heat, they must meet the following safety requirements:
- Be kept at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, such as bedding, books and papers, clothing, and curtains
- Be placed on a solid, flat floor surface (not on furniture)
- Not be used near flammable materials, such as paint, cleaning products, oils, or gasoline
- Have an automatic shut-off feature, so that if it tips over, it shuts off
- Be plugged directly into a wall outlet (never an extension cord or power strip)
- Be labeled as having been tested by a recognized consumer product safety testing laboratory, such as CSA, ETL/Intertek or UL.
Portable space heaters must be shut off when no one is in the room. It is recommended that portable space heaters be unplugged when not in use. Portable space heaters should not be used in children’s bedrooms. Do not use a portable space heater if the cord is frayed or damaged.
Before using a portable space heater, test smoke alarms in the area to make sure they are working properly. Smoke alarms that are malfunctioning or more than 10 years old must be replaced.
How are Indoor Temperatures Measured?
To determine compliance with the Heat Ordinance, the indoor temperature is measured 3 feet above the floor and at least 3 feet away from any exterior wall. The temperature is measured with all windows and exterior doors closed. Cooking appliances and portable space heaters cannot be used to provide required heat, so compliance with the ordinance is determined with these devices turned off.
What if Heating Equipment Suddenly Breaks?
Building owners should routinely inspect heating equipment in late summer and perform maintenance recommended by the equipment manufacturer to reduce the possibility of sudden failure.
If heating equipment fails when heat is required, there is an immediate violation of the Heat Ordinance. Tenants without heat may have the right to withhold rent under the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO). Lack of heat also puts building systems (especially plumbing) at risk of freezing. Accordingly, building owners must take heating equipment failures very seriously.
If you are a tenant: notify your landlord immediately if heating equipment is not working properly or at all. It is in both your interest and theirs that heat be restored quickly.
If you are a landlord: communicate clearly and frequently with your tenants about what you are doing to restore heat. You may want to provide portable electric space heaters and a rent credit (for electricity usage) and/or alternative accommodations. Communication with tenants and measures you took to mitigate harm until the heating equipment was repaired can be considered by the judge or hearing officer when determining the fine amount if you are cited for violating the Heat Ordinance.