- Federal protections. The Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
- State protections. The Illinois Fair Housing Act extends protections against discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, military status, domestic violence victims, and pregnancy. It also adds protections for perceived members of the disabled, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and individuals who are associated with disabled persons.
- City protections. Chicago adds parental status and source of income as protected classes. The city of Evanston and the city of Naperville also add protections for source of income as a protected class.
- Filing Complaints. In wider Illinois, complaints are handled by the Illinois Department of Human Rights and must be filed within one year from the discriminatory action. The City of Chicago handles complaints through the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, and complaints must be made within 300 days. The City of Naperville handles its complaints through the Naperville Housing Advisory Commission within 90 days.
- Penalties. In Illinois, the first violation of a fair housing law can result in a fine of up to $16,000 for the first violation, up to $42,500 for the second violation, and up to $70,000 for each subsequent violation.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act exists to protect people from housing discrimination when they are seeking to rent or buy a home, seeking housing assistance, or getting a mortgage.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination due to:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
These are the only federally-protected discrimination factors, though there are usually additional protections at the state and municipal levels.
Most housing falls under the protection of the Fair Housing Act, though there are some exceptions. Those include:
- Single-family homes rented or sold by the owner without the use of an agent
- Housing operated by religious organizations
- Private clubs that limit occupancy to members
- Owner-occupied buildings with four units or less
On the other hand, there are additional protections in place for federally-assisted housing, but those protections vary by state.
Protections for Persons with Disabilities
On a federal level, the Fair Housing Act also provides additional protection for persons with disabilities. Anyone who provides housing must make reasonable accommodations for differently-abled individuals. They must allow reasonable modifications required for a person with disabilities to use their housing.
Reasonable accommodations include a change to a policy or service, structural changes such as ramps and the widening of doorways, and more. Section 504 states that reasonable accommodations must be provided and paid for by the housing provider (unless providing them would be an undue financial burden).
What Does a Discriminatory Action Look Like?
There are a large number of actions that the Fair Housing Act prohibits. It’s important to highlight these actions when talking about the Fair Housing Act. Every action on the list below is illegal if it is taken based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
- Refusing to rent, sell, or otherwise negotiate for housing, or making housing unavailable in these ways.
- Providing different terms for a rental or providing different housing services or facilities to select persons.
- Using different rental requirements, including making income, fees, credit analyses or other approval procedures mandatory for select persons when they were not required before.
- Indicating a preference or discrimination on any printed or published notice.
- A false denial that housing is available, or changing sale prices or rental charges based on discriminatory factors.
- Harassment, eviction without cause, or the failure (or delay) of the performance of maintenance or repairs.
- Limiting privileges to building services and facilities, or assigning a person to a particular neighborhood or building based on any of these features.
- Blockbusting. A landlord who persuades homeowners in the area to sell their homes or move out of the area because persons with any of the protected characteristics are moving into the neighborhood is guilty of blockbusting.
These actions are definitely illegal, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. Anyone who feels as though they are a victim of housing discrimination should contact a legal representative and/or consult their state and municipal laws on the subject.
Illinois Human Rights Act
The Illinois Human Rights Act extends protections against discrimination on the basis of:
- Age (defined as 40 and over)
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Marital Status
- Military Status
- Domestic Violence Victims
This Act also extends protections to individuals who are perceived to be members of the disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity protected class, as well as people who are associated with a disabled individual (775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-103).
Illinois adds a lot of exemptions to discrimination laws. In the following situations (as well as those discussed in the Fair Housing Act), it is not illegal to discriminate against someone regardless of their membership in a protected class.
- Single-sex housing
- Housing operated by a private club or religious organization
- Housing intended for the elderly
- Renting rooms in the owner’s residence
- Single-family housing sold or rented by an owner who owns three homes or less
- Selling or renting no more than 4 housing units if the owner occupies one of the units. The owner, in this case, can refuse to rent to someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity specifically.
- Refusing to rent to someone who has been convicted of distributing or manufacturing illegal substances
- Making housing unavailable to a person whose presence would pose a threat to the security of other tenants.
The Illinois Fair Housing Act also adds a handful of prohibited actions not covered in the federal Fair Housing Act. In Illinois, it is illegal to take the following actions based on an individual’s membership in a protected class.
- Interfering with the use and enjoyment of fair housing protections
- Refusing to allow the tenant or buyer to inspect the property before purchase or signing a lease
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations or to allow tenants to make reasonable modifications
- Eliciting information about a protected class
Municipal Housing Discrimination Laws in Illinois
Chicago adds parental status and source of income as protected classes. This is governed by Chicago’s own law, the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance and enforced by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.
The City of Naperville adds protections against discrimination on the basis of source of income and also handles its own complaints through its Housing Advisory Commission.
The City of Evanston also adds protections against discrimination on the basis of source of income via Evanston’s Fair Housing Ordinance. Evanston must also complete an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI) report for submission to HUD in order to further their goals of providing fair and equal housing.
Madison County, the Village of Prospect, and the City of Urbana all have to complete an AI report as well.
Filing a Housing Discrimination Complaint in Illinois
In most places in Illinois, complaints are handled by the Illinois Department of Human Rights. A complaint must be filed within one year from the date of the discriminatory action.
Within the City of Chicago, however, housing discrimination complaints are handled by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Complaints must be made within 300 days of the discriminatory incident.
Similarly, complaints within the city of Naperville can be handled through the Housing Advisory Commission within 90 days of a discriminatory event.
Penalties for Housing Discrimination in Illinois
If you are a housing provider who has been accused of housing discrimination, your first course of action should be to seek legal counsel. It’s important to have help when navigating complicated housing discrimination cases.
The first violation of fair housing laws in Illinois can result in a fine of up to $16,000 for the first violation, up to $42,500 for the second violation, and up to $70,000 for each subsequent violation. Guilty parties may also be required to provide damages and compensation to the party that was the victim of the discriminatory action (775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/8).