Frequently Asked Questions

Fair Housing Rights Under Illinois Law  

The Illinois Human Rights Act, The "Act", forbids discrimination in real estate transactions.  This includes not only refusal to sell or rent, but also discriminatory differences in price and any other terms or conditions of a real estate transaction.  Review a list of prohibited activities prohibited under the law.  The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in housing based upon race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), pregnancy, national origin, ancestry, age (40 and over), order of protection status, marital status, sexual orientation (which includes gender-related identity), unfavorable military discharge, physical and mental disability, and familial status.

  12. What happens if a housing provider is found in violation of the Act?   

Who must comply with the fair housing provisions under the law?

  • The law applies to owners, managers, salespersons, brokers, rental agents, or other agents or employees of the owner or the owner's agents.
  • Also, builders and appraisers are subject to the fair housing law.
  • In addition to persons involved in real estate transactions, advertisers (newspapers and other publications that disseminate discriminatory advertising) and mortgage lenders (banks and loan brokers) can also be charged under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
  • Review prohibited activities and the cost of violations.

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What are the types of real estate covered under the law?

Under Illinois and federal fair housing law, houses, apartments, condominiums, mobile home parks, vacant land, and other types of residential property are covered.  Illinois law also prohibits discrimination in transactions involving commercial property.

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What are the generally prohibited activities in real estate transactions under the Illinois Human Rights Act?

  • Refusing to engage in a real estate transaction;
  • Altering the terms or conditions or privileges of the transaction or in the furnishing of facilities or connected services;
  • Refusing to receive or transmit a bona fide offer in a transaction;
  • Misrepresenting the availability of property for inspection, rental or sale when in fact the property is available;
  • Failing to disclose property listings;
  • Circulating written material that indicates directly or indirectly intent to commit unlawful discrimination;
  • Expressing orally or in writing an intent to directly or indirectly engage in unlawful discrimination;
  • Offering, soliciting, accepting, using or retaining a listing knowing unlawful discrimination is intended;
  • Blockbusting, racial steering, panic peddling or using restrictive covenants;
  • Discriminatory mortgage or lending practices by a financial institution.

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Does the Illinois Human Rights Act provide special protection in real estate transactions for people with children?

Yes.  The Act prohibits housing discrimination related to familial and pregnancy status.  It is illegal to:

  • Require a prospective tenant not have children under 18 residing in his or her family domicile (house) at the time of application;
  • Insert lease provisions that call for termination of the lease if children come to live in the household;
  • Discriminate against persons who are pregnant and persons who are in the process of adopting or securing legal custody of a child; or to
  • Limit the "number of children" under age 18 as opposed to total occupants of a particular unit.

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Does the Illinois Human Rights Act provide special protection in real estate transactions for people with disabilities?

Yes.  The Act prohibits the following activities in real estate transactions against people with disabilities:

  • Refusing to rent or sell to people with disabilities;
  • Discriminating in sale or rental terms and conditions of privileges of people with disabilities;
  • Refusal of rental or sale to blind, hearing impaired or persons who use guide, hearing or support dogs;
  • Requiring extra charges for the use of guide, hearing or support dogs other than for actual damages caused by such animals;
  • Refusing to allow reasonable modifications of premises occupied by disabled persons made at those person's own expense.  (The landlord may require the restoration of the premises to the original condition upon the tenant vacating the premises.)
  • Failure to make reasonable accommodations in the rules, policies, practices and services of a multi-family residential development to afford persons with disabilities equal opportunity and housing enjoyment,

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Are there requirements in the Act for designing and constructing covered multi-family dwellings that are readily accessible to persons with disabilities?

The Act requires under Article 3 Section 3-102.1(C)(3) that covered multi-family buildings built for first occupancy on or after March 13, 1991 be designed and constructed in specific ways.

For more information about accessible design and construction, see HUD's website on this topic.

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What can I do if I believe I have been discriminated against in real estate transactions?

A person may file a formal charge of discrimination in real estate transactions with IDHR within one year after the date that the discrimination took place.  Housing discrimination charges should be filed as soon as possible after it is believed the discrimination has occurred.

A charge may be initiated in writing, by phone or in person.  (If you file in person, please note that all visitors are subject to security screening and must have a picture ID to access the building, and no intake interviews are conducted on Fridays or on State Holidays.  In order to start the process of filing a charge by mail, a person needs to complete a Housing Complainant Information Sheet (CIS), sign it, and fax or mail it to Contact IDHR.  If you are not sure whether your concern might be covered by the Illinois Human Rights Act, you may telephone our housing inquiry line (312)-814-6229 or send an email to the Fair Housing Unit with your question in order to discuss your situation with a housing staff member.

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Can a court order be issued if a housing discrimination charge is filed with IDHR?

In cases where charges are filed promptly, it may be possible for IDHR to get a court order (injunctive relief) to prevent an apartment or other real property from being rented or sold to someone else while IDHR conducts an investigation.

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What information is needed when filing a charge of housing discrimination?

  • As much information as possible about the housing provider(s), including the name(s) of the owner, manager, salesperson or other persons involved;
  • The address and size of the property being sold or rented;
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of any other persons who may be witnesses;
  • Copies of newspaper advertisement, listing, or vacancy sheet; as well as any other documents related to the problem.  (Click here for more information about fair housing laws.)

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What happens after a charge is filed?

IDHR will assign the case to an investigator who will interview you and the other parties and witnesses to obtain relevant documents.  In many cases, the investigator is able to help the parties resolve the matter, often within 100 days of filing the charge.  A voluntary settlement between the parties may involve payment of money, accommodation request granted, housing application approved, housing providers trained, information on fair housing posted in common areas, or other appropriate relief.  If the case cannot be resolved, IDHR will conduct a thorough investigation to determine if there is substantial evidence of discrimination.  You can review more information on procedures for housing cases.

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What is the outcome of a charge investigation?

If IDHR dismisses the case, the complainant may file a request for review within 90 days to appeal the dismissal with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, a separate state agency.  If IDHR issues a finding of "substantial evidence" of discrimination, a staff attorney will try to conciliate the matter between the parties (attempt settlement).  If conciliation fails, IDHR files a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC).  Parties may elect instead to have their claims decided in a circuit court of Illinois, and have 20 days to make this decision.

If such election is made, the IHRC administratively closes the file.  Otherwise, the IHRC will schedule the case for a public hearing before an administrative law judge.  IDHR will be a party to the case, and seek appropriate relief for the Complainant and vindication of the public interest.  All parties are advised to obtain legal counsel at this stage as IDHR is not the Complainant's attorney.  The judge can order appropriate remedies to make the Complainant "whole", as if the discrimination had not occurred.  The IHRC process may take several years.

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What happens if a housing provider is found in violation of the Act?

If the Commission or a court finds that a housing provider or other respondent violated the Act, the judge may order civil penalties, as well as remedies to redress the discriminatory actions.  Violators may be ordered to:

  • Cease and desist from any further discrimination;
  • Allow the complainant to occupy a housing unit;
  • Pay actual damages to complainant including cost of embarrassment and humiliation;
  • Pay complainant's attorney fees;
  • Pay civil penalties to the state to vindicate the public interest ranging from $16,000 for a first violation to $42,500 for a second violation, and $70,000 for more than two violations;
  • Submit compliance reports and post notices of compliance with the Act.

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Be prepared!
Discrimination in housing can cost you.
Know the law and abide by it.


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