Earlier this year, the Cook County Board, Cook County’s legislative body, amended the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (“Ordinance”) to provide greater protections to renters that participate in a housing choice voucher program. Adopted in 1993, the Ordinance is “designed to protect all people who live and work in the County from discrimination and sexual harassment in…housing…”
Effective August 8, 2013, the Ordinance was amended so as to delete an exception to the source of income provisions, making it a violation of the Ordinance for any person to discriminate in real estate transactions based upon an individual’s participation in a housing choice voucher program such as Section 8. Although source of income was already a protected class under the Ordinance prior to the amendment, the since-deleted exception excluded Section 8 participants from the protected class.
The extent of the effect of the amendment has yet to be seen, however, given the number of housing choice voucher participants in Cook County, the result may be significant. According to the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, 5% of all Cook County residents have housing choice vouchers.
The Section 8 program provides tenants that pass a housing authority screening and are able to secure housing on the private market with a voucher that entitles the holder to have a portion of their rent paid by the housing authority. Once a landlord approves the tenant and completes the necessary paperwork, the property is inspected for habitability and, if approved, the landlord receives a voucher payment for part of the rent.
Under the amended Ordinance, landlords may not refuse to rent, impose different terms or conditions on Section 8 participants, or make discriminatory statements against voucher holders. Tenants can file complaints against violating landlords with the Cook County Human Rights Commission. Landlords can be fined between up to $500 for violating the Ordinance and can be charged for damages and the complaining party’s costs (such as attorney’s fees).
According to the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, voucher programs provide the community in which they operate with a number of benefits, such as:
Voucher program participants have expanded housing options and no longer must find housing in economically depressed and racially segregated areas.
Landlords have the opportunity to receive guaranteed rental payments from a secured funding source.
Vouchers bring a diversity of people, ideas, and cultures into a community.
Residents with vouchers are more likely to work and utilize businesses in the community where they live, stimulating the local economy.
A large reason for why the amendment to the Ordinance was necessary is based on certain stereotypes that surround voucher holders. Many landlords perceive vouchers holders as poor neighbors that will decrease property values or attract crime. However, this stereotype is based on the catch-22 that voucher holders are often forced to live in high crime, high poverty neighborhoods because that is the only place where vouchers are accepted.
If you have questions regarding the rights and obligations you have as a tenant or believe you have been the victim of the unfair practices of a landlord, contact the experienced real estate attorneys at The Slater Firm, Ltd. today.