Picture the perfect tenant. Every landlord dreams of happy, quiet, respectful tenants who pay the full rent on time, maintain the unit to near-perfect condition, and quickly respond to communication. The reality is that perfect tenants do not all look alike – they come from many backgrounds and walks of life, as outward appearance is not a reliable indicator of behavior.
Unfortunately, discrimination can leave tenants with few options, and landing landlord and property managers in significant legal trouble.
Let’s review the relevant law:
The Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance prohibits discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military discharge status, or source of income (including housing choice vouchers). The Ordinance applies to all housing units in Chicago, regardless of building size or owner occupancy.
The Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance has only three (3) exceptions:
- limiting the renting/selling of an accommodation to a certain age group when the property is approved or financed by local, state or federal government (ex. senior housing communities);
- limiting or demonstrating preference in the renting/selling of an accommodation owned or operated by a religious organization to persons of the same religion (ex. convent or rectory); and
- the renting of rooms in a housing accommodation to persons of one sex (ex. a female property owner restricting the rental of rooms in her home to other female tenants).
The Cook County Human Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination based upon the same criteria as the Chicago Ordinance, as well as housing status.
The Chicagoland collar counties have not adopted specific fair housing law, but are covered by the Illinois Human Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act.
Fines and damages vary by jurisdiction, however landlords and property managers should be aware that discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex (including sexual harassment) and disability can be prosecuted up to the federal level, as they are protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.
Violations of these laws can be as simple as a verbal statement, or as complex as misdirecting a prospective tenant to a different unit than he/she expressed interest in.
Best practices in rental advertising and tenant screening include:
- Design advertisements to appeal to all renters, with a focus on the unit’s specific qualities.
- Consider every prospective tenant using the same screening process.
- Do not ask for information that identifies protected characteristics (i.e. race, sexual orientation, marital status, etc.)
Landlords who have concerns about certain types of tenant behavior are encouraged to seek legal counsel to develop a tenant screening process and enforceable lease terms that address such concerns in a non-discriminatory manner.
Navigating multiple levels of law can be challenging. KSN’s landlord tenant law experienced attorneys can help. Call KSN toll-free at 855-537-0500 or visit www.ksnlaw.com to get started today.
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