Illinois is one of many states with its own fair housing law. If you're renting or looking for an apartment here, you're also covered by the Fair Housing Act or FHA, a federal law that protects both existing tenants and prospective tenants from illegal housing discrimination. These laws protect you whether you're trying to buy a home or rent an apartment.
FHA Protected Classes
The FHA protects tenants from discrimination on the basis of:
These are considered protected classes. Familial status covers families with at least one child under the age of 18.
The government publishes a list of recognized disabilities that "substantially limit" an individual's ability to engage in any "major life activity," and housing cannot be denied on the basis of this, either. The disability does not have to be physical. Several mental disorders and even drug addiction can qualify. It doesn't matter if you're actually disabled — if the landlord or seller perceives that you are and denies you housing on that basis, he's breaking the law. They can't ask if you have a handicap or disability, and they can't deny you the right to keep a guide or support dog if you need one, even if they impose a no-pet rule on other occupants.
Realtors and landlords cannot refuse to rent or sell to anyone based on one or more of these factors. They cannot treat anyone among these protected classes differently than any other tenant or prospective buyer.
They can take action against these classes for other bona fide reasons, however. A tenant can be evicted if he does not pay his rent, even if he is a member of a protected class. A landlord does not have to rent to a tenant with a poor credit score or payment history simply because he is a member of a protected class. All tenants are expected to pay their rent on time, so this is not discrimination — these rules apply across the board to all tenants.
In addition to these federally protected classes, Illinois' law offers legal protection for a few more classes, including:
- Age — those over 40 years old
- Marital status
- Citizenship status
- Order of protection (restraining order) status
- Sexual orientation, including gender-related identity
- Unfavorable discharge from military service
- Arrest record
Sexual orientation was added to the list in 2005.
The law also prohibits landlords from promising lower rent or other perks in exchange for sexual favors.
Additionally, Cook County's Fair Housing Law protects Section 8 voucher holders — low-income individuals cannot be discriminated against because they accept housing assistance from the government.
If You're Discriminated Against
If you're a victim of discrimination under either federal law or Illinois law, you can contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Illinois Department of Human Rights and file a Fair Housing Complaint.