(877) 883-2947


Every U.S. state holds the power to create laws and regulate them according to their particular needs – which is why it is essential to consider the specific ordinances in Chicago if you are contemplating investing in vacant properties. 

This article reviews a few important statutes you should know about to prevent fines and violations on your Chicago vacant property investment.


DISCLAIMER – The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  This website contains links to other third-party websites.  Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser; DAWGS does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.  Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein – and your interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation.  Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website authors, contributors, contributing law firms, or committee members and their respective employers.  The content on this posting is provided “as is;” no representations are made that the content is error-free.

How To Obtain A Building Permit

In Chicago, acquiring a building permit is a legal requirement for any construction, alteration, or demolition activity. Section 13-32-010 mandates obtaining a permit from the building commissioner before initiating work, with clear posting guidelines throughout the project duration. However, exceptions detailed in Section 13-32-020 include scenarios where minor repairs, interior modifications, or specific constructions below defined thresholds may proceed without a permit. These exemptions aim to streamline processes for property owners, with the commissioner having discretionary authority in certain cases. Understanding both the permit mandate and associated exceptions is vital for vacant property owners navigating the regulatory landscape in Chicago.

Unsafe Building Structures

Subdivision 115 of the Chicago Municipal Code details ordinances for unsafe structures and equipment. It addresses the demolition protocols for open, hazardous residential and commercial buildings, especially those deemed immediate hazards. The code empowers the building commissioner to post notices, initiate a 30-day notification process to owners and lienholders, and proceed with demolition if necessary actions aren’t taken. Vacant hazardous buildings can be demolished within 120 days, with the city authorized to file a post-demolition lien for costs. Simultaneously, the subdivision refers to the challenges tied to the transfer of large vacant buildings, mandating owners to notify the commissioner when buildings become vacant, imposing obligations to enclose or demolish them. This is crucial for vacant property owners, aiming to prevent deterioration, safeguard public safety, and deter neighborhood decline.

Nuisances In General

Chapter 7-28 – Health Nuisances, describes many sources of annoyance that could result in legal altercations. Here are some sections that hold significance for vacant property owners in Chicago:

  • The 7-28-010 Notice to abate underscores the responsibility of the Building Commissioner to notify property owners of nuisances, providing a timeframe for abatement. This becomes pertinent if a vacant property becomes a source of concern, leading to potential fines for non-compliance.
  • For vacant properties vulnerable to graffiti, 7-28-065 Graffiti removal – Nuisance abatement is crucial. It deems unregistered graffiti a public nuisance, obligating owners to either remove or officially register it. The Department of Streets and Sanitation is authorized to intervene if necessary, in addressing the graffiti concern on vacant properties.
  • 7-28-070 Piling of used material to excessive heights imposes restrictions on material storage heights. Violations could result in fines, making this relevant if a vacant property accumulates materials in violation of the specified limits.
  • While 7-28-080 Nuisance in connection with business is primarily business-oriented, it may apply to vacant properties if any business-related activities on-site cause a nuisance, potentially incurring fines.
  • 7-28-085 Signs unlawful on private walkways, etc., prohibits obstructive signs on privately owned spaces accessible to the public, relevant for vacant properties where signs may interfere with public use and safety.
  • Lastly, 7-28-090 Nuisances brought into the city is generally applicable, but it becomes relevant if someone introduces materials onto a vacant property that could become a nuisance or pose health risks.

A careful reading of this chapter is recommended to avoid fines.

Building Rehabilitation Code

Chicago’s adoption of the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) with modifications, as outlined in sections 14R-1-001 to 14R-1-100, significantly impacts vacant property owners. With specific citations and global modifications, these regulations guide the repair, alteration, and change of occupancy for existing buildings, especially relevant to vacant properties undergoing rehabilitation. The adopted Chapter 1, now the Chicago Building Rehabilitation Code, ensures flexibility and adherence to local codes. Key sections delineate applicability based on occupancy history, emphasizing safety during construction and zoning compliance. For vacant property owners in Chicago, understanding these regulations is crucial for navigating the rehabilitation process effectively.

Chicago Zoning Ordinance

The Chicago Zoning Ordinance (Sections 17-1-0100 to 17-1-1406) is vital for vacant property owners. It delineates regulations governing development, impacting land use, and building standards. Owners must navigate zoning classifications, development guidelines, and application processes to repurpose or develop vacant properties. Compliance with this ordinance is essential, influencing property value, potential uses, and adherence to city planning goals. It provides a comprehensive framework, ensuring vacant property owners understand and adhere to zoning regulations crucial for successful and legally compliant development in the city.

Construction Codes

The Chicago Construction Codes serve as a comprehensive framework dictating minimum standards for building construction, maintenance, and demolition, prioritizing public health, safety, and welfare. This code encompasses various aspects, including construction, plumbing, heating, electrical systems, fire prevention, sanitation, and zoning. Adherence to these codes is paramount for vacant property owners in Chicago, ensuring that any construction, rehabilitation, or demolition aligns with established standards. As the city undergoes a multi-year effort to modernize construction codes, property owners should stay informed to comply with the evolving regulations, emphasizing the relevance of staying abreast of the updates for those dealing with vacant properties in the city.

Vacant Buildings

Chapter 14X-12-1201 of the Municipal Code of Chicago sets forth minimum standards for the maintenance and registration of vacant buildings and structures. Under the domain of property maintenance, owners of vacant structures are obliged to follow the stipulations of this code. The responsibility for compliance initiates when a structure becomes vacant and endures throughout its vacancy. This chapter ensures a baseline of standards to sustain the condition of vacant properties, emphasizing the ongoing commitment of property owners to uphold these criteria for the entire duration of vacancy. Additionally, these sections are of interest for vacant property owners:

  • Insurance: Vacant structure owners must secure liability insurance within 30 days, meeting coverage requirements. The law presumes a structure vacant for 30 days if specific conditions exist. Notice obligations for insurance changes apply.
  • Owner Registration: Owners of vacant structures must register within 30 days of vacancy, paying a fee, with renewals every six months. An authorized agent and insurance evidence are required. Access for inspections is mandatory.
  • Mortgagee obligations: Mortgagee obligations dictate compliance with registration, inspection, and security requirements for vacant structures with defaulted mortgages. Exceptions, fees, and renewal processes are outlined, emphasizing property security measures.

Vacant Building Mortgagee Requirements

Vacant property owners in Chicago face stringent regulations outlined by the City, particularly when a building remains unoccupied for over 30 days, mortgage payments are 60 days overdue, and the owner neglects registration. Mortgagees are obligated to take decisive measures, securing all openings to thwart unauthorized access, registering the property on the Department of Buildings website, and conspicuously displaying pertinent information on-site. Routine property upkeep is mandatory, encompassing everything from securing openings to maintaining cleanliness and winterizing systems. Non-compliance carries substantial penalties, emphasizing the city’s commitment to ensuring safety, security, and aesthetic upkeep for vacant property owners in Chicago, ultimately promoting community welfare.

Vacant Building De-Registration Process

The Vacant Building De-Registration Process in Chicago applies to buildings registered under the Vacant Buildings Ordinance. De-registration is permitted only for reoccupation, demolition, sale, or release of lien. Initiating through the Vacant Building website, the process involves automatic inactivation upon notification. However, unpaid fees must be settled before de-registration, and it’s restricted if an active court case exists for the property. Notably, court cases are not scrutinized for sale or lien release de-registrations. This streamlined procedure ensures compliance with the ordinance and allows property owners to manage changes in occupancy, demolition, sale, or lien status efficiently.

FAQ for Chicago Vacant Building Owners

How do I know if my property is a “vacant building”?

  1. Vacant buildings, including single-family homes or residential buildings with less than 10 units, must be registered within 30 days if there are no legal residents present and no intention for past occupants to return within the next six months. 
  2. For residential buildings with 10 or more units, if 90% or more of the units are unoccupied, the building is deemed vacant and must be registered within 30 days. 
  3. Non-residential buildings are considered vacant if the majority of lawful business operations have ceased and require registration within 30 days. 
  4. This requirement also applies to construction sites if permitted construction operations have ceased. Even if waiting for an insurance payment, in cases of vacancy due to fire or other damage, registration remains mandatory until repairs commence with a proper building permit. Having a guard or watchman does not negate the vacant status.

What are my obligations if I own a vacant building in the City of Chicago?

If you own a vacant building, you must follow these requirements: 

  • Secure all openings. 
  • Get liability insurance. 
  • Register the building at and display a sign with your contact details and registration number. 
  • Maintain the property. 
  • Renew registration every six months, and deregister if the building is reoccupied, demolished, or sold. 

If the building is in poor condition, consider demolition with a permit from the Department of Buildings. A vacant lot must be kept clean, but it does not need registration.

If my building is in foreclosure, do I still own it?

During a foreclosure lawsuit, ownership of the property remains with the owner until a judge approves the sale and signs an “Order Approving Sale.” This process can take anywhere from six months to several years. Until the judge signs the order and a “Judicial Sales Deed” is recorded with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, the owner is responsible for maintaining the property.


DAWGS Vacant Property SecurityNeed help with your vacant investment property? 

DAWGS provides vacant property security DAWGS. (Door And Window Guard Systems) manufactures and rents attractive steel panels that are far superior to plywood board-up services when it comes to protecting your vacant investment properties and being up to code with the ordinances of the city.

Better than plywood board-up, DAWGS provides security to property owners and protects neighborhoods from the many problems associated with leaving vulnerable buildings vacant. With DAWGS on the scene, you can manage your property with the confidence and security granted by steel door and window security shutters.

Whether in new construction or rehabbing an existing property, our vacant property security systems protect your building and everything in it.


For more information, get in touch today.


NOTE: The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this site without seeking legal or other professional advice. The contents of this site contain general information and may not reflect current legal developments or address your situation. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on this site.