Find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about housing. Just click on a question below to read the answer or scroll down to read them all.
Do laws protect the rights of people with disabilities from discrimination in housing?
Yes. Federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to be treated fairly in the rental and purchase of housing. They require reasonable accommodations and modifications for people with disabilities, and they require accessible features in newer housing. These laws include:
- The Fair Housing Act
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, when the housing provider receives federal funding
In Illinois, state laws protect the housing rights of people with disabilities. Some Illinois cities and towns also have their own laws regarding housing discrimination. This FAQ focuses on the Fair Housing Act.
Who is considered a housing provider under the federal Fair Housing Act?
Courts have applied the act to:
- Property owners
- Property managers
- Condominium associations
- Real estate agents
- State and local governments
- Other people and entities involved in the rental or sale of housing
Can a housing provider refuse to rent or sell to a person because of a disability?
No. It is illegal for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person because of a disability.
- A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a person with a mental illness because other tenants say that makes them uncomfortable.
- A condominium board cannot refuse to approve the sale of a condominium on a high floor to a person who uses a wheelchair based on safety or insurance concerns.
- A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a person who uses a service animal based on the building’s “no pet” policy.
What questions may a housing provider ask of current or potential residents regarding disability?
Unless a current or potential resident asks for a “reasonable accommodation” (see below), a housing provider cannot ask any questions about the existence, nature or severity of disabilities. A housing provider may, however, inquire into:
- An applicant’s ability to meet the requirements of tenancy
- Whether the applicant is using a controlled substance
- Whether an applicant qualifies for housing that is available only to people with disabilities for which people with disabilities have priority
Are there any situations in which a housing provider can refuse to rent or sell to a person because of a disability?
A housing provider may refuse to rent or sell to a person based on disability only if the person’s conduct would pose a direct threat to the health, safety or property of other residents. A determination of a direct threat must be made after an individualized assessment, not based on fear or stereotypes. Before the housing provider can refuse to rent or sell based on a direct threat, the provider must consider whether “reasonable accommodations” could reduce or eliminate the threat. The housing provider must also take into account whether the person’s conduct has improved since the alleged dangerous behavior occurred.
Can local governments pass laws to keep people with disabilities from renting or buying property in their area?
No. Local governments also may not use zoning policies to keep people with disabilities from living in their area. People with disabilities have the same rights as nondisabled people to live where they choose.
Can housing providers impose terms or conditions on people with disabilities that are different from those imposed on nondisabled people?
No. A housing provider may not impose on people with disabilities application or qualification standards, rental amounts, sales prices or any other terms that are different from those imposed on nondisabled people.
Examples of actions that a housing provider cannot take:
- Charging a higher rent to someone who uses a wheelchair on the assumption that the wheelchair will cause damage to the apartment
- Requiring greater assets before selling to a person with an intellectual disability based on the assumption that people with intellectual disabilities cannot hold down a job
- Charging a person with a service animal a surcharge based on the assumption that the animal will damage the apartment
Must housing providers make and pay for “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities?
Yes. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices or services to allow people with disabilities equal opportunity to enjoy their homes and the building’s common areas.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Providing a resident who has a mobility impairment with a reserved parking space close to the entrance, even though parking for nondisabled residents is first-come, first-served
- Allowing a resident to have a service dog, even though no pets are allowed in the building
- Calling a resident who is blind to provide information that other residents receive by written notice
Must the housing provider anticipate the needs of a resident with a disability, or is it the responsibility of the person with a disability to request a reasonable accommodation?
The person with a disability must request the accommodation. The request can be made orally, by email or by letter. However, requests should be made in writing so the resident can prove that the request was made.
What kinds of information can the housing provider request when a person with a disability seeks a reasonable accommodation?
If the person’s disability is obvious and the need for the accommodation is apparent, then the provider may not request any additional information. For example, if a person who is blind seeks help filling out a rental application, the provider may not request documentation of the existence of the disability or of the need for an accommodation. However, if either the disability or the need for the accommodation is not apparent, the housing provider can ask for documentation. For example, if a person using a wheelchair asks for permission to have a support animal in a “no pets” building, the housing provider may ask for information about why the person needs a dog.
Are there any situations in which housing providers can refuse to make accommodations?
A reasonable modification is a structural change that allows a person with a disability full use and enjoyment of a building. Examples include installing grab bars in a bathroom and widening doors in an apartment. Housing providers must allow people with disabilities to make reasonable modifications. Usually, the resident must pay for the modification. However, if you live in federally assisted housing, the housing provider must pay for the modification if it does not create an undue financial and administrative burden.
Are there accessibility requirements for new construction?
Yes. Multi-family housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, that has four or more units and an elevator must comply with the seven design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. If the building has four or more units and does not have an elevator, the ground-floor units must comply with the design and construction requirements.
The seven requirements are:
- Accessible entrance on an accessible route
- Accessible public and common-use areas
- Usable doors
- Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit
- Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and environmental controls
- Reinforced walls in bathrooms
- Usable kitchens and bathrooms.
If you live in federally assisted housing consisting of five or more units, 5 percent of these units must meet more stringent physical accessibility requirements, and 2 percent of units must be accessible to people with visual or hearing disabilities.
Last updated: September 03, 2020