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Fair Housing Project

The Fair Housing Project at Prairie State Legal Services investigates and challenges cases of discrimination by housing providers. The Project also helps clients resolve fair housing disputes and conducts community legal education on fair housing rights and responsibilities.

What is Fair Housing?

Fair housing is the right of a person to choose housing free from discrimination. In the housing market, “discrimination” means a practice that limits housing choice because of someone’s particular trait. Only certain traits are protected under the law. Under the federal law, those traits are race, color, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (families with children), and disability. In Illinois, the law protects the same traits as federal law plus ancestry, age, military or military discharge status, marital status, protective order status, and sexual orientation.

Who Must Provide Fair Housing?

Here are some example statements that could be a sign of illegal housing discrimination:

  • We rent only to English speakers.
  • No, we cannot allow you to build a ramp for your wheelchair.
  • I prefer to rent to women.
  • We don’t allow support animals, unless it is a certified seeing-eye dog.
  • We don’t offer mortgage loans in that part of town.
  • The apartment has already been rented (and further investigation reveals that it had not in fact been rented).
  • I can’t rent the upstairs apartment to you because your children will be too noisy for other tenants.
  • I can’t rent to you because you have an order of protection and I don’t want any trouble here.
  • The security deposit is 2 months of rent (and further investigation reveals that others pay a smaller deposit)
  • We offer those competitive interest rates only to married couples.
  • Here is your eviction notice (after you complain of sexual harassment by a housing provider’s employee).

With limited exceptions, all housing providers must provide fair housing by law. Housing providers include:

  • Building owners/landlords
  • Management companies
  • Real estate agents
  • Home sellers
  • Mortgage brokers and companies
  • Banks or other lending institutions
  • Government agencies

What does illegal housing discrimination look like?

Illegal housing discrimination can take many forms when it is based on a protected trait. Some common forms include:

  • Statements suggesting that available housing is unavailable
  • Refusal to rent or sell or negotiate for housing
  • Refusal to make reasonable accommodations or allow reasonable modifications for persons with disabilities
  • Refusal to make or provide information about mortgage loans
  • Discriminatory terms and conditions
  • Discriminatory advertising
  • Threats, intimidation, coercion or retaliation
  • Sexual harassment
  • Housing services that are different from those available to others

How Can We Help?

If you are a victim of housing discrimination, Prairie State Legal Services can help you in several ways:

  • We may negotiate on your behalf with a landlord or other housing provider.
  • We may investigate what you think could be housing discrimination through the use of fair housing testing.
  • We may help you file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or Illinois Department of Human Rights or in court.
  • Our attorneys may represent you if you file a complaint.

Who Do We Serve?

Our project receives special funding to serve people in Winnebago, Boone, Lake, and McHenry counties. There are no income limits for potential clients. If you live in one of those counties and want to know more about filing a fair housing complaint, please call us at 855-FHP-PSLS (855-347-7757).  If you live in a different county, call your local Prairie State office to see what fair housing services may be available to you.

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