Author: David Wolowitz & Michael O'Connor, Prairie State Legal Services
Last updated: December 2005
What Is It? The Illinois Human Rights Act makes it illegal for anyone to discriminate against you on the basis of your "handicap" in the sale and rental of housing. The Act also makes it illegal for housing providers to refuse you reasonable accommodations when those accommodations may be necessary to give you an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
What Is Its Purpose? This law is intended to provide people with disabilities with equal housing opportunities.
Who Can Benefit? A person who meets the Act's definition of a person with a "handicap" and who is discriminated against with respect to a real estate transaction.
The Illinois Human Rights Act ("HRA" or "Act") is a state law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in connection with "real estate transactions."
The term "real estate transactions" refers to the lease, rental, sale or exchange of real property.
This law is similar in many ways to the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), which is discussed in detail in the section 1 of chapter 10 of this guidebook. Because many of the concepts are similar under both laws, we make reference to the FHAA materials at several points in this section.
Note: The HRA also protects against discrimination in real estate transactions based on a person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, sexual orientation, and military status.
The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions. The Act applies even if the transaction does not involve property that is intended to be used for residential purposes. Note that this is broader than the FHAA, which generally only applies to residential property.
Most types of real estate are covered by the HRA, but some are not. There are certain "exemptions," describing types of property or types of transactions that are not covered under the Act. These exemptions are as follows:
The Single-Family-House Exemption.
The Act does not apply to the sale of a single-family house by an owner if the following conditions are met:
The Owner-Occupied Apartment Building Exemption.
The Act does not apply to dwellings that have living quarters for five or fewer families living independently of each other, when the owner or a member of his or her family actually lives in one of the apartments.
Exemption for the Rental of Rooms in a Private Home.
The Act does not apply to the rental of a room or rooms in a private home by the owner of the home, if:
Exemptions for Religious Organizations.
The Act generally allows a religious organization (or any nonprofit agency controlled by a religious organization) to sell or rent any dwelling which it owns or operates only to persons of the same religion, or to give preference to people of the same religion.
The HRA refers to a person with a disability as a person with a "handicap." The Act prohibits discrimination against you because of your "handicap."
The term "handicap" refers to a person wh
Persons Who Are a "Direct Threat" Can Be Excluded
A housing provider does not have to make a dwelling available to a person with a disability if that person is a "direct threat" to the health or safety of other persons. The same is true if the person would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.
Persons Who Have Been Convicted of Certain Drug Offenses Can Be Excluded
A housing provider can refuse to rent or sell to, or can otherwise treat unfavorably, a person who has been convicted of making or distributing illegal drugs.
Under the HRA, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability by:
When the landlord or seller takes one of the above actions, it is illegal discrimination. It is illegal whether or not the real estate in question is ever sold or rented to anyone else.
For a detailed discussion of various types of housing discrimination, see the preceding section in this Chapter, titled "Discrimination in the Sale, Rental and Use of Housing (Federal Law)." That section explains the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). As a general rule, if a person has discriminated against you, or denied you the right to a "reasonable accommodation" in violation of the FHAA, the person also has violated the HRA.
Discriminatory Oral Statements
It is illegal under the HRA for any person to make spoken statements in connection with a sale or rental transaction which indicate an intention to discriminate on the basis of disability.
Persons with Guide or Support Dogs
It is unlawful discrimination under the HRA for any person to take any of the following actions because you have a guide, hearing or support dog:
A restrictive covenant is a provision in a deed or some other document which limits the terms under which a parcel of real estate may be transferred.
Example: An example of a restrictive covenant is a deed which states that the property may not be sold or transferred to persons with AIDS.
Any restrictive covenant which limits or forbids the transfer of real estate on the basis of disability is void and unenforceable. It is a violation of the HRA to insert any such restrictive covenant in any written documents in connection with a real estate transaction.
It is a violation of the HRA for any person to obey any such restrictive covenant.
Example: It is unlawful for a real estate agent to say that she cannot sell you a certain house because the deed contains a restrictive covenant against transferring the property to a person with a disability.
Design and Construction of New Dwellings
In general, the HRA requirements for the design and construction of new dwellings are the same as those under the FHAA. See the preceding section in this Chapter, titled "Discrimination in the Sale, Rental and Use of Housing (Federal Law)."
A housing provider satisfies the HRA accessibility requirements if the building complies with the provisions of the Illinois Accessibility Code. The fact that building complies with the local building code, or that the local government building inspector has approved the structure, does not prevent an action against the owner if the building violates the HRA. See Chapter 2, Section 8 for more information about the Illinois Accessibility Code.
The HRA makes it unlawful for any real estate agent or other person to engage in "block-busting." Block-busting occurs when an effort is made to persuade the owner of residential real estate to sell or rent the property, by making written or oral statements that a person or persons with a "handicap" have moved or are moving into the neighborhood.
Example: A real estate agent calls a homeowner and suggests that he should sell his home at once because a person with a disability has recently bought a home nearby.
In addition to being a civil violation of the HRA, block-busting is a criminal offense. A person may be imprisoned for a period of up to one year for a first offense, and up to 3 years for subsequent convictions. Any real estate broker who is convicted of block-busting may have their broker's license revoked. You should contact the State's Attorney of the county where the block-busting activity occurred and let them know that you want the offender to be prosecuted.
In addition to federal and state laws which prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in connection with residential real estate transactions, many cities and towns have anti-discrimination ordinances. In some cases these ordinances may provide even more protection than is available under state and federal laws. Any municipal ordinance which would permit discriminatory actions that are not allowed under state or federal law is void and unenforceable.
Some cities and towns also have a Fair Housing Commission or a Human Relations Commission. These are municipal agencies that have been given the power to enforce the anti-discrimination ordinance. These agencies may conduct hearings to determine whether discrimination has occurred, and they may have the authority to impose fines or take other action to enforce the ordinance.
You should contact your municipal government to determine whether an anti-discrimination ordinance or an enforcement agency exists. The city Clerk should be able to provide you with a copy of the ordinance and a copy of the rules governing the enforcement agency.
Your rights have been violated if you are a person with a disability, and due to your disability:
A landlord, seller, broker, or agent or other person:
Alters the terms or conditions or privileges of the transaction or in the furnishing of facilities or connected services; and
A landlord, seller, broker or agent or other person:
A lender or mortgage broker discriminates in mortgage or lending practices.
An appraiser takes "handicap" into consideration in determining the value of real estate.
If any person or business has violated your rights under the HRA, you must be careful to take the proper steps in order to preserve and enforce those rights. Please refer to the section of this guidebook titled "How to Protect or Enforce Your Rights Under the Illinois Human Rights Act," in Chapter 1, General Considerations.
Note: In many cases, an act of housing discrimination may violate the Fair Housing Amendments Act, as well as the HRA. In these cases, you may file a charge with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in addition to your charge with the IDHR. See the preceding section in this Chapter titled "Discrimination in the Sale, Rental and Use of Housing (Federal Law)."
Your Legal Remedies for a Violation of the HRA
If the Human Rights Commission or the circuit court makes a finding that the housing provider has committed unlawful discrimination in violation of the HRA, they may grant you the following types of relief:
1. A "Cease and Desist" Order. This is an order requiring the housing provider to stop engaging in prohibited discrimination.
2. Statutory Damages. The Commission can order the housing provider to pay you a penalty fine. The amount of the fine can be up to $10,000 if this is the first time that the housing provider has been found to violate the HRA. It can be up to $25,000 for a second offense, and up to $50,000 for a third offense.
3. Actual Damages. The Commission can require the housing provider to reimburse you for any injury or loss you have incurred as a result of the discrimination.
4. Your Fees and Costs. This includes your attorney's fees, if you win.
The law authorizes the Commission to award you any other remedy or relief that is required to correct the results of the discrimination.
To Contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights
Visit the Illinois Department of Human Rights' website or call:
To file a charge:
(312) 814-6200 (v)
(312) 263-1579 (TTY)
Public Affairs Office:
(217) 785-5125 (TDD)
The rules of the IDHR which interpret the Illinois Human Rights Act as it applies to real estate discrimination on the basis of disability are at 71 Ill.Admin.Code Part 2300.
The Illinois Accessibility Code can be found at 71 Ill.Admin.Code Part 400.
The Discrimination in Sale of Real Estate Act, which imposes criminal penalties for block-busting, is at 720 ILCS 590.
The fair housing provisions of the Illinois Municipal Code can be found at 65 ILCS 5/11-11.1-1.
Printed from: www.illinoislegaladvocate.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.dsp_content&contentID=173
We welcome your comments and suggestions