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:
Real estate agents
Mortgage brokers and companies
Banks or other lending institutions
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
Threats, intimidation, coercion or retaliation
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.
Some of our volunteers are “testers.” We train testers go out on assignments called “tests.” During these tests, our volunteers play the role of a person seeking an apartment, home, or home loan. Testers might participate in apartment showings, open houses, or other experiences to help us monitor fair housing practices. In this way, we can compare how a particular housing provider treats people with different traits. Examples: We might compare how a provider treats a white tester compared to an African-American or Hispanic tester. Or, we might compare how a provider treats a person with a disability compared to a tester with no disabilities. We might compare how a provider treats a parent with children compared to a tester who is single. Testers are of vital importance to the advocacy programs of the Fair Housing Project. Without a diverse pool of volunteer testers, it would be very difficult to investigate claims of illegal discrimination.
Courts have consistently supported the testing process as a legitimate and necessary method to identify practices of unlawful housing discrimination. Sometimes testing is the only method by which organizations can uncover subtle discrimination.
How Do I Become a Tester?
If you are interested in taking on the challenging and rewarding role of a tester, you must complete an application. Once the application has been received and reviewed, you will be registered for one of our comprehensive tester training sessions. To receive an application contact:
Toll Free: 855-FHP-PSLS(855-347-7757) or
email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What are the Qualifications for Testers:
Diversity: We need men and women of all races, ethnic identities and ages.
Reliability: Once you commit to an assignment, we need your prompt action and follow-through. We work with your schedule.
Objectivity: We need volunteers who can observe and remember events. Testers do not try to “find” discrimination but merely report objectively what happened during the test.
Credibility: Testers may need to testify as a witness to a particular test. For this reason, testers must not have prior felony convictions or convictions of crimes involving fraud or perjury.
Training: We provide a training session and a practice test to all volunteers before they receive assignments. We provide a small stipend for those volunteers who successfully complete the training program.
Technical skills: We prefer volunteers who can use Microsoft Word to document their experiences. We are happy to make exceptions for people with disabilities.
Transportation: We prefer volunteers who can provide or arrange for their own transportation. We reimburse testers for their mileage or transportation costs.
Identification: All testers must have state-issued identification.
Work authorization: All testers must be authorized to work in the United States.
Payment: We reimburse the testers’ work through small stipends.
Please note that testing is not part-time employment and is not steady work. We assign testers when we need them and as they are available. Also, real estate agents and individuals engaged in the renting or selling of residential property are not eligible to serve as testers.
Prairie State Legal Services works to raise awareness of the fair housing laws that protect individuals against housing discrimination.
We develop and distribute educational literature that describes ways to prevent housing injustices and the applicable laws that protect against discrimination. Our materials are available in both English and Spanish.
We present fair housing workshops for landlords, tenants, non-profit organizations and government employees. We can create trainings that focus on particular topics within fair housing law.
If you are interested in scheduling a presentation for your group or agency please contact:
Toll Free: 855-FHP-PSLS(855-347-7757) or
email us at email@example.com
Prairie State Legal Services Fair Housing Project
Call Toll Free: 855-FHP-PSLS(855-347-7757) for no-cost assistance or to schedule a fair housing training.
Lake and McHenry County office:
325 Washington St #100
Waukegan, IL 60085
Winnebago and Boone County office:
303 N. Main St. Suite 600
Rockford IL 61101