Author: David Wolowitz & Michael O'Connor, Prairie State Legal Services; Revisions by Lisa Branganca, Access Living
Last updated: April 2013
What Is It? The Fair Housing Amendments Act (hereafter referred to as “Act” or “FHAA”), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and disability. This chapter will focus on the Act’s protections for persons with disabilities.
The Act uses the term "handicap" rather than the term “disability.” The term “disability” is preferred by the disability community, has the same legal meaning as “handicap,” and is used in other federal civil rights laws. Therefore, the term “disability” will be used below instead of the term “handicap.”
What Is Its Purpose? The purpose of the Act is to enable people with disabilities to secure and maintain housing on an equal basis with people who do not have disabilities. In other words, the Act is intended to open the housing market to people with disabilities, a housing market that has been historically unfriendly to the disability community. The Act's new construction provisions are intended to ensure that new multi-family housing is accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Who Can Benefit? A person who meets the Act's definition of a person with a disability and who is a victim of housing discrimination.
The FHAA prohibits discrimination in the sale and rental of a "dwelling." The Act does not apply to any housing that is not a "dwelling." Also, the Act does not apply to any housing that fits within one of several different "exemptions."
The term "dwelling" means any building or structure, or any part of it, which is designed or intended as a residence or actually occupied as a residence by one or more families. A family can be a single person. The term also includes any vacant land that is for sale or lease where such a building or structure will be located.
This definition includes apartments, condominiums, mobile home parks, trailer courts, housing cooperatives, and time-sharing properties. The term "dwelling" also includes buildings not originally designed as housing, if they are now being used for housing.
Example: A former office building that was remodeled as an apartment building is a "dwelling."
A hotel, motel, or other commercial public accommodation is not a dwelling within the meaning of the Act.
Note: Hotels and motels are "public accommodations" which are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities under Title III of the ADA. See the section of this guidebook titled "Places of Public Accommodation" in Chapter 2, Access to Services, Programs and Activities.
If the hotel has a separate wing with a residential apartment, that part is covered by the FHAA. A single room occupancy hotel may be covered by the FHAA when used as a long-term residence.
The "Mrs. Murphy" exception. The Act does not apply to dwellings where the owner actually maintains and occupies one of the units as his or her residence.
Note: Even where one of the above exemptions apply, the owner is prohibited from advertising in a discriminatory way.
Exceptions for religious organizations and private clubs. A private club that provides lodgings is allowed to give preference to its members. Also, the Act generally allows a religious organization (or any nonprofit agency controlled by a religious organization) to sell or rent any dwelling which it owns or operates only to persons of the same religion. The Act allows these preferences even though doing so allows a religious organization to discriminate against a person with a disability.
Certain Kinds of Dwellings Are Covered by Both the FHAA and by the ADA
Certain types of housing discrimination may violate both the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. That is because these types of housing are "dwellings" under the FHAA and "places of public accommodation" under the ADA. See the section of this guidebook titled "Places of Public Accommodation" in Chapter 2, Access to Services, Programs and Activities.
Examples: Homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, nursing homes, and residential care facilities are both "dwellings" and "places of public accommodation."
In general, the term "disability" means a person who
- Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities, or
- Has a record of such an impairment, or
- Is regarded as having such an impairment.
Note: The definition of "disability" in the FHAA is basically the same as the definition of disability in the Rehabilitation Act and, in the ADA. See the section of this guidebook titled "Who Has A Disability Under the ADA?" in Chapter 1, General Considerations.
Persons with disabilities under the Act include: individuals who have physical impairments (e.g., a person who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or an amputation), individuals who have psychiatric disabilities (e.g., depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia), individuals who have cognitive or development disabilities (e.g., Down Syndrome, autism, or a learning impairment), and individuals with sensory disabilities (a person who is blind or has a hearing impairment).
Note: Individuals who are currently using or addicted to an illegal drug are not considered to have a disability under the Act. However, persons who are in recovery from drug abuse are considered to have a disability under the Act. Persons who abuse alcohol are covered by the FHAA.
Persons Who Are a "Direct Threat" Can Be Excluded
A provider does not have to make a dwelling available to a person with a disability if that person is a "direct threat" to the health or safety of other persons. The same is true if the person would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others.
A housing provider can apply this "direct threat" exception only in rare circumstances. Sellers or landlords can legally apply it only in cases of a clear and substantial risk of danger to the health or safety of others, or to their property.
Before a housing provider can exclude you as a "direct threat", the provider is required to give you a reasonable accommodation that could ameliorate the risk.
Example: As a result of a tenant's mental illness, he/she has threatened and/or been aggressive toward another resident. Before the apartment complex can evict the tenant, it must provide any reasonable accommodation that will eliminate or acceptably minimize the risk that the tenant poses to other residents.
Discriminatory Housing Practices: In General
It is illegal under the FHAA to discriminate on the basis of disability. This includes:
When the provider takes one of the above actions, it is illegal discrimination. It does not matter whether the dwelling in question is ever sold or rented to anyone else.
Reverse discrimination. In general, it is legal to limit certain housing opportunities to people with disabilities.
(1) A privately owned, housing facility may lawfully restrict occupancy to persons with a disability.
(2) A housing provider may properly offer some or all of its units to persons with a disability, such as persons with mobility impairments, on a priority basis.
(3) Under certain federal and state housing programs in which dwellings are designed for persons with disabilities, only such persons are eligible to live in such dwellings.
Discriminatory Selection Criteria
It is illegal for a housing provider to discriminate by using certain criteria, standards or procedures that disqualify you on account of your disability. A housing provider may not hold you to a standard of performance or behavior to which other persons are not held.
A housing provider may not presume that you are less likely to be qualified than persons without a disability. Likewise, a housing provider cannot presume that you pose a greater threat to the health or safety of others than do persons without a disability.
(1) It is a violation of the FHAA for a public housing authority to require housing applicants to prove that they are able to live independently, if this has a discriminatory effect on persons with physical and mental disabilities.
(2) The FHAA prohibits a rule that refuses admission of persons with mental illness to community residences.
If you are a prospective buyer or renter of housing, the provider cannot legally ask whether you have a disability. Likewise, the provider cannot ask about the nature or severity of a disability. They also cannot ask these questions of any person associated with you.
Example: A city public housing authority violates the FHAA by using an application form that asks whether an applicant has an disability and/or by requiring all applicants to execute medical record release forms.
It is legal to ask certain questions that seem related to disability, if the provider asks these questions of all applicants, regardless of whether they have a disability. These acceptable questions include:
The last two inquires listed above are permitted only if occupancy in the dwelling is so restricted. Otherwise, the provider cannot make those inquiries.
If a housing provider gives a priority to persons with mobility impairments, it may ask applicants whether they have a mobility impairment that would qualify them for such a priority. It cannot ask whether they have other impairments.
Terms or Conditions of Sale or Lease
It is illegal for a housing provider to discriminate against you in the terms or conditions of sale of a dwelling because of your disability. Likewise, a landlord cannot discriminate in the terms or conditions of a lease.
(1) It is illegal for a landlord to require that a person who uses a wheelchair pay a higher security deposit than other tenants.
(2) It is illegal for a landlord to require a person with a disability to pay an extra fee for a live-in personal assistant.
Discrimination in Privileges, Services, and Facilities
It is illegal to discriminate against you in the privileges of a sale or lease of a dwelling, on the basis of "handicap." Likewise, it is illegal to discriminate as to the services or facilities offered by a dwelling.
(1) A landlord violates the FHAA by failing to make repairs or delaying the repairs because of your disability.
(2) A landlord is guilty of discrimination by failing to allow a person with a disability to use the swimming pool.
It is illegal under the FHAA for real estate agents or housing providers to engage in certain "steering" practices.
Steering practices are those intended to restrict your choices or other persons' choices when you or others are seeking to buy or rent a dwelling.
These prohibited actions include:
Discriminatory Advertisements and Notices
It is illegal under the FHAA for anyone who is trying to sell or rent a dwelling to discriminate in advertising. That happens when the advertisement indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination because of disability. This rule applies to any written notices or statements that are made, printed, or published.
The term "written notices and statements" includes applications, flyers, brochures, deeds, signs, banners, posters, billboards or documents. The rule also applies to all statements made orally by a person trying to sell or rent a dwelling.
If you see certain words in an advertisement, there may be a possible violation of the Act. This depends on whether it is apparent from the context that discrimination is likely to result. Those words include: "crippled," "blind," "deaf," "mentally ill," "retarded," "impaired," "handicapped," and "physically fit."
There may also be a violation if you see the use of symbols or logotypes that imply or suggest that people with a disability are not welcome.
Providers are not required to use the phrase "equal housing opportunity" in their advertising.
False Statements About Availability of Housing
If you want to inspect a dwelling, or buy it, or rent it, you must be told the truth about its availability. It violates the FHAA when you are told, on the basis of your disability, that a dwelling is not available, when in fact, it is.
It is illegal to give false or inaccurate information about the availability of a dwelling for sale or rent. It is illegal to give false information to any person, including testers, regardless of whether such person is actually seeking housing.
Likewise, it is illegal to not tell you about suitably priced dwellings that are available for inspection, sale or rental.
The FHAA makes it illegal for any person, for profit, to use "block-busting" techniques that encourage any person to sell or rent their dwelling.
Block-busting occurs when the seller or landlord tries to get people to sell or rent by making statements that a person or persons with a disability are moving into the neighborhood.
Block-busting includes statements to the effect that undesirable consequences will result for the neighborhood or community.
Example: "You should sell because a group home for people with disabilities is coming into the neighborhood. This will lower your property values and the quality of our schools, and will cause an increase in criminal or antisocial behavior."
When Neighbors Use the Courts to Keep You From Getting Housing
When a group of persons with disabilities lives together in a neighborhood, the group's neighbors are not always friendly. Sometimes, the neighbors go to court to try to seek a court judgment ordering the closure of the home. The neighbors may be violating the FHAA if they have a discriminatory purpose in going to court.
Even where the neighbors claim that operation of the home violates a neutral zoning statute (i.e., permitting single- family homes only), the FHAA can be violated where there is a discriminatory intent on the part of the neighbors.
The FHAA prohibits certain zoning decisions that exclude persons with disabilities. The enforcement of zoning ordinances and local housing policies cannot be done in a way that denies people with disabilities access to housing on a par with those who do not have a disability.
This means a city cannot deny a special use permit if the denial has the effect of limiting the ability of persons with disabilities to live in the residence of their choice in the community.
(1) It violates the FHAA for a local authority to deny an application for a special use permit to operate a residence for persons with AIDS, where the intent and the effect of the denial are discriminatory towards persons with AIDS.
(2) A zoning agency order requiring that a nursing home for elderly persons with a disability be closed, on the ground that the home has an inadequate number of parking spaces to satisfy a zoning requirement, likely violates the FHAA.
In addition, even if a city issues a special use permit, the city may still violate the FHAA by imposing restrictions on the operation of the home that interfere with the ability of persons with disabilities to live there. Persons who reside in a group home may bring suit under the FHAA to challenge such restrictions.
On the other hand, blanket waivers of zoning laws are not required. Local zoning authorities have some discretion to deny special use permits to persons with disabilities who are seeking housing. The interest of such persons must be balanced against the interests of municipalities, including the need to regulate traffic and population density.
Restrictions On Group Living Arrangements
Some persons with disabilities live in group homes or other types of congregate living arrangements. They may be different from other homes in the community because they consist of persons with disabilities who are not related.
A local government may try to restrict this type of living arrangement. It is legal to place reasonable limits on the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling. On the other hand, the FHAA prohibits other kinds of land use restrictions on these group arrangements, where such restrictions are not imposed on families or on groups of similar size.
A restriction that focuses on the composition of households (i.e., what kinds of people are living in the home) cannot be applied in a discriminatory manner.
(1) A law that requires group homes for individuals with disabilities to get a special permit may violate the FHAA.
(2) A law that prohibits any new "family care home" from locating within 1000 feet of any existing family care home may be illegal discrimination, where it defines "family care home" as a facility where permanent care or professional supervision is present.
(3) A village refused to allow a dwelling to be used as a "community integrated living arrangement" (CILA) because it required a change in zoning classification and a sprinkler system. Persons with a developmental disability won a suit brought under the FHAA because their request that the village waive the sprinkler requirements was a reasonable one.
Discrimination in Loans and Other Residential Real Estate-Related Transactions
The FHAA also prohibits discrimination by a business that engages in residential real estate-related transactions.
The term "residential real estate-related transactions" means:
- Making or purchasing a loan or giving other financial assistance in order to buy or construct a dwelling, or to repair or maintain it;
- Making or purchasing a loan secured by residential real estate; or
- Selling, brokering, or appraising residential real property.
Businesses that make these transactions include banks and other mortgage lenders; real estate agents and realty corporations; and appraisers. The FHAA prohibits these businesses from discriminating on the basis of disability when making any of these transactions. Also, these businesses cannot discriminate in the terms or conditions of such a transaction.
Lenders discriminate in violation of the FHAA when they take any of the following actions based on disability:
The FHAA prohibits discrimination by businesses that appraise residential property or that use such appraisals.
The term "appraisal" means an estimate or opinion of the value of a specified residential real property. This value is used in connection with the sale, rental, financing, or refinancing of a dwelling. It can be oral or written, or transmitted formally or informally.
It is against the law for a person to use an appraisal of residential real property in connection with the sale, rental, or financing of any dwelling where the person knows or reasonably should know that the appraisal improperly takes disability into consideration.
You have the right to make reasonable modifications to your dwelling, if the modifications are necessary to allow you full enjoyment of the premises. The FHAA makes it illegal to refuse you the right to make these changes.
Examples of reasonable modifications:
(1) The installation of a flashing light to enable a person with a hearing disability to see that someone is ringing the doorbell;
(2) The replacement of doorknobs with lever handles for a person limited use of his/her hands or harms;
(3) The installation of fold-back hinges to enable a person in a wheelchair to go through a door;
(4) The construction of a ramp to enable a person in a wheelchair to enter the dwelling unit;
(5) Installation of grab bars in bath-rooms, and, if necessary, reinforcement of the walls to support the bars;
(6) Widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs;
(7) Lowering kitchen cabinets to a height suitable for the tenant.
The owners or landlords are not required to pay for these modifications, but must allow them to be made at the expense of the person with the disability.
The "reasonable modification" rule lets persons with a disability make modifications, not just to their individual dwelling unit, but also to lobbies, main entrances of apartment buildings, laundry rooms, and other common use and public use areas. Again, this would be at the expense of the person with a disability.
What the landlord can require. The landlord can require that the resident provide a reasonable description of the proposed modifications. The landlord also can require reasonable assurances that the work will be done in a workmanlike manner and that any required building permits will be obtained. However, the landlord cannot make the resident use a particular contractor.
Restorations at the end of the tenancy. Where it is reasonable to do so, the landlord can refuse to allow a modification to the premises unless the person with a disability agrees agree that at the end of the tenancy he/she will restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification (allowing for reasonable wear and tear). However, any modifications made to public use and common use areas do not have to be restored.
Not all modifications to your unit must be restored at the end of the tenancy. If the modification will not interfere with the landlord's or the next tenant's use and enjoyment of the premises, no restoration is required.
Example: When the modification is the widening of a bathroom doorway, the person with a disability does not have to pay for the doorway to be narrowed at the end of the lease, because a wider doorway will not interfere with the landlord's or the next tenant's use and enjoyment of the premises.
Escrow accounts to guarantee restoration. The landlord cannot make the tenant pay a higher security deposit than is customary. However, where it is necessary to make sure that funds will be available to pay for restorations at the end of the tenancy, the landlord may require that the tenant make payments into an interest-bearing escrow account.
These payments must be over a reasonable period and for a reasonable amount of money, not to exceed the cost of the restorations. The tenant is entitled to the interest that accrues on that account.
Tenants who want to request a reasonable modification or accommodation from their landlord, should click this link: Reasonable Accommodation Request to Landlord
You have the right to reasonable changes, modifications, or exceptions in your dwelling's rules, policies, practices or services, when this is necessary to allow you an equal opportunity to use or enjoy your dwelling. Such changes are called "reasonable accommodations." It is illegal for a landlord or condominium or cooperative to refuse to make such an accommodation.
(1) In some circumstances a landlord may have to honor a request of a person with a mobility disability to move to a lower floor apartment.
(2) A landlord was required to waive guest fees that would otherwise be charged for a tenant's home health care aide.
(3) The manager of an apartment with a "no pets" policy cannot refuse to let a housing applicant who is blind live in the apartment with a seeing eye dog.
(4) A landlord may have to reserve a parking space for a tenant with a disability where parking is on a first come, first served basis;
(5) A tenant who has a psychiatric disability may have the right to postpone an eviction hearing until he/she is out of hospital and able to understand the proceedings.
The "reasonable accommodation" requirement applies not just to the person's dwelling unit, but also to lobbies, main entrances of apartment buildings, laundry rooms, and other common use and public use areas.
This rule requires a landlord to make certain changes in his rules and policies and services. It does not require a landlord to offer housing of a fundamentally different nature.
If there are costs involved in changing rules, policies or services, a landlord can be required to incur "reasonable costs" to accommodate the tenant's disability. However, the landlord is not required to change rules, policies, or services if doing so would impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the landlord.
Example: A tenant with a disability cannot force the landlord to prepare meals for him/her because doing so would be an undue administrative burden.
Municipalities must also accommodate. Municipalities, as well as landlords, must allow "reasonable accommodations" for housing. A municipality must make a reasonable accommodation with respect to its zoning laws when this is necessary to allow you an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. However, this is true only if it does not cause any undue hardship or fiscal or administrative burden on a municipality, or does not undermine the basic purpose that the zoning ordinance seeks to achieve.
The FHAA requires that new "covered multi-family dwellings" be designed and constructed so that units and common areas are readily accessible to persons with disabilities. A dwelling is "new" if its first occupancy was after March 13, 1991.
"Covered multi-family dwellings" are multi-family residential buildings with four or more units.
If the building has an elevator, then all the units and public and common use areas must comply with the Act’s new construction requirements.
If the building does not have an elevator, then only the ground floor units, along with the public and common use areas, must comply with the Act’s new construction requirements.
The law imposes some very specific "adaptive-design" requirements. They are mostly directed toward individuals with mobility impairments. Some of the requirements for these dwellings include:
Accessible entrance on accessible route. Dwellings must have at least one accessible entrance on an accessible route. This means an entrance that is connected by an accessible route to public transportation stops, to accessible parking and passenger loading zones, or to public streets or sidewalks, if available.
Doors. All doors must be wide enough to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs. Doors meet the required standards if they have a clear opening of at least 32 inches nominal width when the door is open 90 degrees, measured between the face of the door and the stop. A 34-inch door, hung in the standard manner, provides such a 32-inch clear opening. Also, pocket or sliding doors are acceptable doors within dwelling units. Doors leading into a unit must have a clear opening of at least 36 inches.
Interior routes. All premises must have an accessible route through the dwelling unit. The regulatory requirements are met where a minimum clear width of 36 inches is provided.
Environment. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations. The operable parts of the controls should be located no higher than 48 inches, and no lower than 15 inches, above the floor. The maximum height is reduced if the reach to a control is over an obstruction.
Bathrooms. There must be reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow installation of grab bars. Where toilets, bathtubs, shower stalls, and sinks are provided in public use or common use facilities, at least one of each fixture provided per room should be accessible.
Bathrooms must allow an individual in a wheelchair room to maneuver. There are specific clear space requirements.
Kitchens. Kitchens must allow an individual in a wheelchair room to maneuver. The regulations have specific clearance and approach requirements.
The Act does not require the installation of elevators or "hospital-like" features, or the renovation of existing units.
Note: Certain multi-story apartment buildings in Illinois also are subject to the construction and design requirements of the Illinois Accessibility Code. See the section of this guidebook titled "Environmental Barriers in Public Facilities and Multi-Story Housing," in Chapter 2, Access to Services, Programs and Activities.
Applicable Building Standards
A housing provider constructing a new building satisfies the FHAA requirements by complying with certain building standards.
The American National Standard is one set of these standards. It is commonly cited as "ANSI A117.1 - 1986." This standard was developed by the American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI), a private, national organization that publishes standards on a wide variety of subjects. Copies may be obtained from the Institute at 1430 Broadway, New York, New York 10018.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also has issued a set of accessibility guidelines. Builders and developers may use these guidelines or choose to depart from them and seek alternate ways to meet the requirements of the FHAA. Copies may be inspected at HUD, 451 Seventh Street, SW., Room 10276, Washington, DC.
Click the link below for more information on HUD's accessibility guidelines:
Note: The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 and its regulations require certain buildings and facilities financed with federal funds (such as public housing) to be designed, constructed, or altered so as to be readily accessible to persons with physical "handicaps." The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and regulations impose similar requirements for recipients of federal funds. These requirements may be greater than the accessibility and design guidelines of ANSI A117.1 or HUD.
Your rights have been violated if: You are a person with a disability, and due to your disability:
A housing provider has:
- Failed to accept or consider a bona fide offer to buy or to rent;
- Refused to sell or rent, or to negotiate for the sale or rental of a dwelling;
- Charged different prices or rents;
- Evicted a tenant because of his/her disability or because of the disability of a tenant's guest;
- Denied or delayed the processing of an application made by a purchaser or renter.
- A housing provider has discriminated against you by using certain criteria, standards or procedures that disqualify you.
- A housing provider asks you whether you have a disability or asks you about the nature or severity of a disability (note- there are some instances when this is permissible).
- A housing provider discriminates against you in the dwelling's privileges, services, or facilities.
- A housing provider discriminates against you in the terms or conditions of sale or rental of a dwelling.
- A housing provider or real estate agent engages in illegal "steering" practices which are intended to restrict your choices when you are seeking to buy or rent a dwelling.
- Anyone trying to sell or rent a dwelling advertises in a discriminatory way or makes discriminatory statements or notices.
- A housing provider or real estate agent makes false statements to you about the availability of housing or fails to tell you about suitably priced dwellings that are available for inspection, sale or rental.
- A person or business uses "block-busting" techniques to get someone to sell or rent their dwelling.
- Anyone intentionally discriminates against you by using the courts or the legal system to keep a person or persons with a disability from living in a community or neighborhood.
- A city or other municipality unnecessarily uses its zoning ordinances or other housing policies to deny you access to housing equal to that of persons who do not have disabilities.
- A city or other municipality has discriminatory restrictions on group living arrangements for persons with disabilities.
- Businesses that sell, broker, or appraise residential property discriminate against you or improperly take your disability into consideration.
- Businesses that make loans secured by a dwelling or for the purpose of buying or constructing a dwelling, or for repairing or maintaining a dwelling discriminate against you by:
- Failing or refusing to provide information about the availability of loans, application requirements, procedures, or standards for the review and approval of loans;
- Providing information which is inaccurate or different from that provided others;
- Using different policies, practices, or procedures in evaluating or in determining creditworthiness of any person;
- Unfairly determining the type of loan or other financial assistance to be provided; or
- Unfairly fixing the amount, interest rate, duration, or other terms for a loan.
- A landlord refuses to allow you to make reasonable modifications to your dwelling that are necessary to allow you full enjoyment of the premises.
- A landlord forces you to make restorations at the end of your tenancy as to modifications that do not interfere with the landlord's or next tenant's use and enjoyment of the premises. Your landlord makes you pay a higher security deposit than usual, or asks you to pay unreasonable escrow account charges in connection with modifications you have made, or fails to pay you interest on that account.
- A landlord or condominium or cooperative or municipality fails to make a reasonable accommodation in its rules, policies, practices, or services, when the accommodation is necessary to allow you an equal opportunity to use or enjoy your dwelling.
- New dwellings that are covered under the FHAA and first occupied after March 13, 1991, have design or construction features that violate the Act's new construction provisions.
The Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may investigate housing practices to determine whether an administrative complaint should be brought. This investigation will begin when the HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity so directs. HUD also contracts with private nonprofit fair housing enforcement organizations to perform this investigation.
If you believe that your rights under the FHAA have been violated (or are about to be violated), you can file a complaint with HUD. Also, the Secretary of HUD can file a complaint on his or her own initiative, even if no person with a disability files a complaint.
Click the link below for more information on filing a complaint:
You must file your complaint no later than one year after an alleged discriminatory housing practice has occurred or terminated. Where a discriminatory housing practice continues over a period of time and there have been a number of incidents of such conduct, you must file the complaint within one year of the last time the practice occurred.
You may file a complaint against any person who has engaged, or is about to engage, in a discriminatory housing practice. Where that person is an employee or agent of a business and was acting within the scope of his or her authority, you also can file your complaint against the person's employer. Any person against whom you file a complaint is known as a "respondent."
You may file your complaint online, by phone, in person with, or by mail to the
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh St. SW
Washington, DC 20410-2000
The Regional or Field HUD Office for For Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin:
Fair Housing Hub
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building
77 West Jackson Boulevard, Room 2101
Chicago, Illinois 60604-3507
(312) 353-7776 ext. 2453
TTY (312) 353-7143
You can also file a complaint online or find a list of regional offices with addresses and areas of jurisdiction at the HUD website.
Note: Complaints may also be filed in person, online or by mail with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. If you file there, your complaint will be considered as "dual filed" with both IDHR under Illinois law, and with HUD under the FHAA. For more information about complaint procedures at IDHR, see the section of this guidebook titled "How to Protect or Enforce Your Rights Under the Illinois Human Rights Act," in Chapter 1, General Considerations.
If the discrimination took place in Illinois, HUD will usually process your complaint through the HUD Regional Administrator having jurisdiction in Illinois. If the discriminatory practices are widespread, or involve complex issues, novel questions of fact or law, or will affect a large number of persons, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C. may process your complaint.
Preparing the Complaint
Complaint forms are available in the HUD office or at the Illinois Department of Human Rights or you can file at the Illinois Department of Human Rights' website.
Your complaint must include: (1) your name and address; (2) the name and address of the respondent; (3) a description and the address of the dwelling which is involved, if appropriate; and (4) a concise statement of the facts constituting the alleged discriminatory housing practice.
In preparing and filing your complaint, you are allowed to have the help of a representative, including any organization acting on your behalf.
If you want, you can first complain by telephone. HUD will then complete the HUD complaint form based on your statements and will send you the form for your signature. The phone number to file a complaint by phone is 1(800) 669-9777.
Both You and the Respondent Have a Right to a Notice
After you file your complaint, HUD must send you and the respondent a written notice. The notice will explain that the complaint has been filed and describe the alleged discriminatory housing practice. The notice will explain procedural rights and obligations. The notice will include a copy of the complaint. HUD will send this notice by certified mail or will give it to you personally.
The notice will explain that retaliation against any person because the person made a complaint or testified, assisted, or otherwise participated in an administrative proceeding is itself a form of discrimination that is prohibited under the FHAA.
The notice also must tell you of your right to file a lawsuit under the FHAA, in an appropriate U.S. District Court. It must tell you that a lawsuit cannot be filed later than 2 years after the occurrence or termination of the alleged discriminatory housing practice.
The notice informs the respondent about its right to submit an answer to the complaint within 10 days of the receipt of the notice. In that answer, the respondent can make any defense available to it under the law.
Referral of the Complaint to A State Agency
In certain cases, HUD will refer a complaint back to the appropriate state agency. In Illinois, that is the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR). This will occur when a complaint alleges a discriminatory housing practice that is within the jurisdiction of IDHR. When this happens, HUD will notify you and the respondent about it.
After a complaint is referred to IDHR, HUD will take no further action on the complaint except in those cases where the state agency fails to act on the complaint in a timely way or fails to carry the proceedings forward with reasonable promptness.
There are a couple of advantages in having a complaint referred back to the state. First, in the area of damages, state agencies are allowed to provide damages for embarrassment and humiliation, whereas HUD cannot. Second, state agencies can better investigate the case because minimal travel and expenses are involved.
When you file a complaint that is not being referred back to the state agency, HUD must make an investigation of the alleged discriminatory housing practice. In conducting investigations, HUD will seek the voluntary co-operation of all persons. They will try to obtain access to premises, records, documents, individuals and other possible sources of information. They also will take and record your testimony or statement and those of other persons. As part of this process, HUD has the right to issue subpoenas to compel people to testify or to supply documents.
Generally, HUD must complete the investigation within 100 days from the day you file your complaint. The investigation will remain open until a "reasonable cause determination" is made or a "conciliation agreement" is approved.
At the end of each investigation, HUD must prepare a final investigative report. The report must contain: (1) the names and dates of contacts with witnesses except that the report will not disclose the names of witnesses who request anonymity; (2) a summary of contacts with you and the respondent; (3) a summary description of other pertinent records; and (4) a summary of witness statements. HUD will provide you a copy of this report on request.
HUD will make an attempt to conciliate the complaint. This means they will try to reach a settlement agreement between you and the respondent. The attempt at conciliation will occur between the time you file your complaint and the filing of a charge or the dismissal of the complaint.
HUD will attempt to achieve a fair resolution. It will try to obtain assurances that the respondent will remedy any violations of your rights, and will act to eliminate discriminatory housing practices, or the prevention of their occurrence in the future.
Conciliation efforts will end when:
• The respondent fails or refuses to confer with HUD;
• You or the respondent fail to make a good faith effort to resolve any dispute;
• HUD finds that voluntary agreement is not likely to result; or
• You start a lawsuit and trial has begun.
If there is a settlement, HUD will write its terms into a conciliation agreement. All parties must sign the agreement, including you, the respondent and HUD.
The agreement becomes a legal agreement only if HUD approves it. HUD will not approve a conciliation agreement unless it protects the public interest. This requires that the agreement eliminate or prevent discriminatory housing practices and provide affirmative activities to overcome discriminatory housing practices.
You can get the following types of relief in a conciliation agreement:
• Monetary relief in the form of damages, including damages caused by humiliation or embarrassment, and attorney's fees.
• Other equitable relief including access to the dwelling at issue, or to a comparable dwelling, the provision of services or facilities in connection with a dwelling, or other specific relief.
• Prohibitions on certain conduct or the requirement that the housing provider do certain things in order to eliminate the discriminatory housing practices.
The conciliation agreement may provide for binding arbitration of the dispute arising from the complaint. The agreement can specify the types of relief that may be awarded under binding arbitration.
The terms of a conciliation agreement must be obeyed. If they are not, the U.S. Attorney General can file a lawsuit to enforce the agreement.
The Issuance of a Charge
If there is no conciliation agreement, HUD must decide whether to issue a "charge."
A charge is an accusation of a discriminatory housing practice.
HUD decides whether or not to issue a charge by deciding whether "reasonable cause" exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur. Generally, that decision must be made within 100 days after the filing of the complaint.
If HUD decides that no reasonable cause exists, it will dismiss the complaint. HUD's decision on whether or not to issue a charge is final. You do not have any right under the FHAA to a review of that decision.
However, the dismissal of a complaint does not prevent you from re-filing a complaint based on newly discovered or previously unavailable information, provided the one-year time limit for the filing of a complaint has not passed. Also, even if HUD dismisses the complaint, you have the right to file your own lawsuit in court.
If HUD decides that the matter involves the legality of local zoning or land use laws or ordinances, HUD will not make a reasonable cause decision. Instead, it will refer the matter to the Attorney General, who will decide whether to file a lawsuit against the local government's zoning or land use law.
In all other cases, if HUD decides that reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, HUD must immediately issue a charge on your behalf. A charge will consist of a short and plain written statement of the facts upon which the finding of reasonable cause is based.
HUD cannot issue a charge if you have started a civil lawsuit about the same discriminatory housing practice, if the trial has already begun.
Once a charge is filed at HUD, a time and place for an administrative hearing will be scheduled. All parties will be notified about the hearing.
The Opportunity for a Hearing
After you receive notice that a charge has been filed, you have 20 days to decide whether or not to file your own lawsuit. You must make this choice (called an "election") and notify HUD. If you decide not to file your own lawsuit, then HUD must provide an opportunity for an administrative hearing. HUD will conduct a hearing as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
You have the right to participate at the administrative hearing by filing a timely "request for intervention." To be timely, you must submit your request for intervention within 50 days after the filing of the charge. The administrative law judge (ALJ) may allow intervention beyond that time.
An ALJ appointed by HUD will conduct the hearing. The presiding ALJ has some very broad powers necessary to conduct fair, prompt, and impartial hearings.
Discovery of Facts and Documents Before the Hearing
To prepare for the hearing, parties may obtain discovery of facts and documents. They can use one or more of the following methods: (1) deposition upon oral examination or written questions; (2) written interrogatories; (3) requests for the production of documents or other evidence, and (4) requests for admissions.
All discovery must be completed 15 days before the date scheduled for hearing.
Before the hearing starts, the ALJ may direct parties to file "pre-hearing statements." The pre-hearing statement must state your name and the issues involved. It also must include the facts that the parties agree to and the facts in dispute. You must identify your witnesses, together with a summary of the testimony expected, the exhibits to be presented at the hearing, and the amount of time you think the hearing will take. You must include a brief statement of the applicable law. The statement should include the conclusions you want to be drawn by the ALJ.
The Pre-hearing Conference
The ALJ might also require a "pre-hearing conference." The purpose of the conference, among other things, is for the ALJ and the parties to try to:
• simplify and clarify the issues;
• settle those issues by agreement;
• see what facts can be agreed to; and
• reach agreement on the admissibility of documents and limits on the number of witnesses.
The ALJ usually conducts these conferences by telephone, but they may be in person. At a party's request, a different ALJ can be appointed to conduct settlement negotiations.
The Administrative Hearing
Generally, the hearing must start within 120 days after the issuance of the charge. The hearing will take place in the area where the discriminatory housing practice took place.
At an administrative hearing, each party may appear in person and be represented by an attorney. HUD will be represented by the HUD General Counsel. You can present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and obtain the issuance of subpoenas. You also may submit documents or other relevant evidence into the record.
All hearings must be recorded and transcribed by a court reporter. The original transcript and all exhibits introduced as evidence will be a part of the record.
After all the evidence is submitted, the ALJ may hear oral arguments at the hearing. Also, the ALJ may allow you to submit a written argument following the hearing. These must be filed not later than 30 days after the hearing is over.
The Decision of the ALJ
If you decide to start a private lawsuit and a trial begins before the administrative hearing is over, the ALJ must dismiss the administrative proceeding.
The ALJ also must dismiss the case if all parties sign a settlement agreement before the ALJ decides the case, and the settlement is in the public interest.
After a hearing, the ALJ will dismiss the charge if the ALJ finds that the respondent has not engaged, and is not about to engage, in a discriminatory housing practice.
On the other hand, if the ALJ finds that a respondent has engaged, or is about to engage, in a discriminatory housing practice, the ALJ will promptly issue an order for appropriate relief.
The initial decision issued by the ALJ will be based on the record of the hearing. The decision must include findings of fact and conclusions of law upon each material issue of fact or law presented on the record.
Generally, the ALJ must make a decision within 60 days after the end of the hearing.
Relief Available After A Hearing
If the ALJ rules in your favor, the ALJ can order the following kinds of relief as may be appropriate to your case:
• Actual damages. This is an award of money to reimburse you for any monetary loss you suffered as a result of the discrimination. It can include damages caused by humiliation and embarrassment.
• Injunctive or other equitable relief. This can include access to the dwelling at issue, or to a comparable dwelling. It can include an order to provide services or facilities in connection with a dwelling, or other specific relief.
If the housing provider has sold or leased the property to someone who did not fairly have any actual knowledge of the charge, then this relief cannot be applied to the purchaser or lessee.
• Civil penalties. To defend the public interest, the ALJ may assess a civil penalty against the respondent. For providers who have never been judged to be guilty of a discriminatory housing practice, the penalty can go up to $10,000. For those who have been judged guilty before, the penalty can be up to $50,000.
• Attorney's fees and costs. The ALJ may allow the winning party reasonable attorney's fee and costs. If you win the case, you can get an order requiring the respondent to pay your attorney's fees. You need to apply for that order after the final decision is entered.
If the respondent is the prevailing party, HUD will be liable for reasonable attorney's fees and costs. You can be liable for the respondent's attorney's fees only if your participation in the proceeding was frivolous or for the purpose of harassment.
The Final Decision By HUD
The HUD Secretary may review any finding of fact, conclusion, or order contained in the decision of the ALJ. If the HUD Secretary does this, he or she must issue a final decision in the case. The Secretary may modify or set aside the entire initial decision, or any part of it. The Secretary might not change it at all. If this review is not completed within 30 days, then the ALJ decision becomes final.
Judicial Review of the Final Administrative Decision
Any party who is not satisfied with the final HUD decision can have that decision reviewed in court. The case can be reviewed directly in the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals, meaning the court in the judicial circuit where the discriminatory housing practice occurred. That court can set aside, suspend, or determine the validity of any final order of HUD.
The petition for judicial review must be filed within 30 days of the date of issuance of the final HUD decision.
Petition to Enforce the HUD Order
If the final HUD order is in your favor, but the respondent does not obey it, HUD must enforce the order in court. HUD should petition the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals, meaning the court in the judicial circuit where the discriminatory housing practice occurred, or where the respondent resides or transacts business.
If no petition for review has been timely filed, and HUD fails to petition to enforce the HUD order, you can file the petition to enforce the order.
If you are an "aggrieved person," you have the right at any time to file a private lawsuit claiming a violation of the FHAA.
An "aggrieved person" is one who claims to have been injured or is about to be injured by a discriminatory housing practice.
A private lawsuit can be filed against any of the following:
• Housing providers such as owners and landlords;
• Parties in the position of a landlord with the ability to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling to others;
• A municipality or a government agency that maintains discriminatory housing policies or actions; or
• Private individuals (such as neighbors of a housing facility) who use the courts or other legal proceedings in order to try and make housing unavailable to you because of your disability.
"Testers" also can bring a lawsuit under the FHAA.
A "tester" is someone who has no intent to rent or purchase a home or apartment, but poses as a renter or purchaser. The tester does this to collect evidence of unlawful discrimination.
If the tester has been given false information about the availability of a dwelling, the tester can sue for damages. This is true even though the tester may have approached a real estate agent fully expecting to receive false information and without any intention of buying or renting a home.
Deadlines to File Suit
You must file your lawsuit in an appropriate U. S. District Court or state court not later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice, whichever occurred last. If you are suing because a housing provider breached a conciliation agreement, you must sue within 2 years of the breach.
The computation of the 2-year period will not include any time during which an administrative proceeding was pending. However, in the case of an action arising from a breach of a conciliation agreement, the computation of the 2-year period may include time during which an administrative proceeding was pending with respect to a complaint or charge.
Private Lawsuits Can Be Filed Without First Using Administrative Remedies
You can start a private lawsuit whether or not a complaint has been filed with HUD. If you have filed a complaint with HUD, you can start a lawsuit at any time without regard to the status of any such complaint.
If there is a conciliation agreement which you signed regarding a discriminatory housing practice, you cannot file a private lawsuit regarding the same practice. However, you can file suit in order to enforce the terms of that agreement.
Also, you may not start a private lawsuit regarding a discriminatory housing practice if an ALJ has started a hearing with respect to a charge relating to the same practice.
Some people wait until HUD has made a charge before filing suit. A charge of discrimination issued by HUD is persuasive evidence of discrimination in a private lawsuit brought by a person under the FHAA.
There are advantages to using the HUD administrative enforcement process, and there are different advantages to private litigation. The HUD complaint process is usually shorter and simpler than going to federal court. The proceedings are less subject to delay, and the ALJ's may have greater expertise in housing law. However, certain remedies are available only through the courts. Those include punitive damages and creative affirmative action decrees.
Appointment of An Attorney
If you need an attorney to represent you in a private lawsuit under the FHAA, you can apply to the court to appoint one for you.
Waiver of Fees and Costs
The court may allow you to maintain a private lawsuit under the FHAA without the payment of fees, costs, or security if the judge finds that you are financially unable to afford these costs.
Proving A Case of Discrimination in Court
In a disability discrimination case under the FHAA, you can prevail on any one of three theories:
• Intentional discrimination, which is called "disparate treatment;" or
• Where a practice has a discriminatory effect even though it is not intentional, which is called "disparate impact;" or
• Failure to accommodate.
Intentional discrimination. This may occur where actions are motivated by stereotypes, unfounded fears, mis-perceptions and archaic attitudes. It might just happen as the result of simple prejudice about people with disabilities.
To prove an intentional violation of the FHAA, you need only show that your disability was in some part the basis of the defendant's action. You do not have to prove that it was the sole motivating factor.
Example: A city refused to grant a special-use permit to allow the opening of a residence for persons with AIDS or HIV. It was enough to prove discriminatory intent to show the irrational fear of AIDS was at least one factor motivating the city's actions.
Disparate impact. Sometimes policies or practices tend to single out persons with disabilities and apply different rules to them. In other words, they have a greater impact on persons with a disability than on persons without a disability. In such cases of "disparate impact," you do not have to prove any malice or intent to discriminate against you.
Example: There is a discriminatory effect or "disparate impact" where a housing authority denies housing to persons with a disability on the basis of an inability to live independently, but never will deny housing to persons without a disability on such a basis.
The Burden of Proof in Court
You have the initial burden to prove what is called a "prima facie case" of discrimination. You can do that by presenting proof of intentional discrimination, or disparate impact, or failure to accommodate.
At that point, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut your case. In other words, the defendant must show that he or she had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for their action. In the alternative, the defendant can try to show that there were no less discriminatory alternatives available.
In a case involving a failure to accommodate, the defendant may still prevail if it can establish that accommodation of your disability would pose an undue financial or administrative burden. The defendant also can win by showing that an accommodation would require a fundamental alteration in nature of its program.
The Relief A Court Can Order
If the court finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, the court may grant any appropriate relief. The relief should be structured to achieve the twin goals of assuring that the Fair Housing Act is not violated in the future and removing any lingering effects of past discrimination.
Some examples of the type of relief that the court can order include:
Lawsuits Brought By the Attorney General
In some circumstances, the U.S. Attorney General's Office can bring their own lawsuit against a housing provider or municipality that is discriminating against persons with "handicaps."
Pattern and practice suits. First, if the U. S. Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that any person or group of persons is engaged in a "pattern or practice" of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights granted by the FHAA, the Attorney General may start a lawsuit in any appropriate U. S. District Court. The Attorney General can also do this where the case involves an issue of public importance.
Referrals by HUD. In certain cases, HUD may make a referral to the U.S. Attorney General. The Attorney General then may start a lawsuit in federal court.
HUD may make a referral in the following circumstances:
• When it is necessary to obtain temporary relief after you file a complaint with HUD. Temporary relief might be necessary to protect you while the complaint process is pending;
• If HUD determines that the matter involves the legality of local zoning or land use laws or ordinances; or
• When a conciliation agreement has been violated.
Criminal Prosecutions for Intimidation
It is a criminal act for anyone to intimidate you, to injure you, or to otherwise interfere with you because of your disability in connection with the sale and rental of housing.
Any person found guilty of such an act can be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both. If bodily injury results, the person can be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. If death results, the person can be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.
Statutes and Regulations
The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) can be found at 42 USC §§ 3601-3617; 42 USC § 3631.
The regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development relating to the FHAA can be found at 24 CFR Parts 100, 103, 110, and 115.
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