“Source of Income” Discrimination in Chicago’s Real Estate Market Chicago’s Fair Housing Ordinance and Housing Choice Vouchers Essential Information for Realtors, Property Owners, and Prospective Sellers and Tenants

“Source of Income” Discrimination

“Source of Income” Discrimination

Equitable housing opportunity is an important issue in Chicago and across the United States. According to some estimates, there were 33,007 fair housing complaints received by federal agencies in 2022 – the highest number of complaints ever reported in a single year. Many of these complaints come from Chicago, where residents may face multiple hurdles in securing equitable housing.

To combat discrimination and promote fair and equitable housing opportunities, the City of Chicago has enacted a comprehensive Fair Housing Ordinance that applies to both residential rental properties and sales of residential property. Chi. Muni. Code § 5-8-030. The Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, disability, age (over 40), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, parental status, marital status, military discharge status, and source of income.

Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance

In addition to the more commonly stated protected classes for personal characteristics such as race and gender, the final safeguard provided by legislation in Chicago pertains to “source of income.”. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on how individuals financially sustain themselves and their dependents. “Source of income” encompasses the lawful means through which individuals support themselves (Chicago Municipal Code 6-10-020) The term “lawful means” applies to various sources of income, including legal wages, commissions, alimony, child support, veterans’ benefits (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Certificate or VASH funds), social security (including disability), any housing choice vouchers including Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) and “Section 8” vouchers, or public assistance.

Section 8 Vouchers

Section 8 vouchers make up a significant portion of housing assistance; they also tend to carry more stigma and higher rejection rates. However, given that Section 8 housing choice vouchers are a legitimate source of income in Chicago under the Fair Housing Ordinance, it is imperative for both real estate professionals and property owners to be aware that denying or failing to cooperate with prospective tenants or buyers due to their voucher status constitutes a violation of Chicago’s Fair Housing Ordinance.

Here are some possible examples that would violate the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance:

  • Refusing to rent or sell to an otherwise qualified person because that person would use a Section 8 voucher as payment. For example, an agent of property owner and a property owner were found liable for violating the ordinance after the agent communicated to potential tenants that they were disinterested in renting to section 8 voucher holders.
  • Refusing to meet administrative requirements of the Section 8 voucher program, such as completing routine paperwork and allowing inspection of the property. In one case, a party claimed that it took too long for Section 8 to pay, and they therefore weren’t interested in renting to individuals holding Section 8 vouchers.
  • Any written communication expressing a limitation in the sale or rental of a housing unit based on source of income. For example, advertisements on Google and Craigslist which stated, “No Section 8,” “Not Section 8 approved,” or “Not set up for Section 8,” were found to have violated the ordinance.
  • Treating potential renters differently, including alternate prices, deposits, terms, conditions, or privileges of tenancy based on using a Section 8 voucher or any other source of income. For instance, a landlord violated the ordinance when they stated they “had bad experiences with section 8” and refused to rent to any such holders.

Source of income cases, particularly Section 8 cases, make up a large portion of cases before the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR). Housing discrimination complaints filed with the Commission on Human Relations remained relatively consistent over the past five-year period from 2018 – 2022. The Commission averages 77 housing-related complaints annually. For 2021 and 2022, source of income claims, the vast majority of which involved Housing Choice Vouchers, accounted for 39% of housing claims received. During this same period, race and disability claims made up 16% of complaints. See the Commission on Human Relations’ annual report.

Damages for Section 8 Discrimination

The penalties for these actions apply not just to the person making the statements or publishing the advertisements; they can also apply to any party involved in the discrimination. The Fair Housing Ordinance can apply to “any owner, lessee, sublessee, assignee, managing agent, condominium association board of managers, governing body of a cooperative, a firm or corporation with the right to sell, rent, lease, sublease, or establish rules or policies for any housing accommodation…or any agent, or any real estate broker.” For instance, in one case, a building owner, management company, and rental agent were all held liable for source of income discrimination.

In these cases, the Board can award a variety of damages, including out-of-pocket damages, emotional distress damages, and punitive damages. While these penalties alone can be significant, the Commission on Human Relations also allows petitioners to collect their attorney’s fees, which can be more than $50,000 in some cases.

What if I’ve been discriminated against?

Individuals who believe they have encountered source of income discrimination or any other prohibited discrimination in housing within the City of Chicago can contact 1818 for a free consultation. Attorneys at 1818, upon being engaged, will evaluate the potential claim and if appropriate file a complaint with the Commission. The Commission then utilizes its attorneys and investigators to review the matter and if there are grounds, it will file a formal complaint against the responsible party.

Successfully proving discrimination hinges on the quality of evidence obtained by the party filing the complaint. Discrimination cases have a significantly higher chance of success when they include various forms of evidence, such as text messages, emails, and voicemails.

What if The Commission Is Investigating me or I received a Copy of a Complaint

Realtors, landlords, property managers, and others may be served with a complaint. Timing is critical, so contact 1818 immediately. An evaluation of the facts and law upon 1818 being engaged will guide whether there is a reasonable dispute that should be taken to a hearing or if a settlement should be sought.


Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, it is important to understand both the responsibilities and rights that arise under the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance. Call us if you believe the source of income discrimination may be a factor in any transaction in which you are involved.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.