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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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