Survivor Housing Rights Q&A
Survivors are often faced with a series of difficult choices when assessing their housing options.
Here are some common conversations we have when survivors are considering how to stay safe in their homes. More questions? Reach out to Jackie Zarack Koriath at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. If you have a legal matter, you should connect with your attorney to obtain advice regarding your situation and confirm how to proceed.
I applied for housing, but the housing provider does not want to rent to me because I have an order of protection. What can I do?
- Illinois law protects against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in housing based on certain protected categories, including order of protection status. That means that a housing provider cannot choose not to rent to you, refuse to make repairs, or charge you additional fees because you have an order of protection. If you are using a housing subsidy, you have additional protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which prevent housing providers from denying housing due to domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
- If a housing provider tries to deny your application because of an order of protection, you should confirm the basis for denial and ask that the housing provider reconsider their decision based on the anti-discrimination protections in Illinois (and if applicable, VAWA). If the housing provider still refuses to rent to you because of your order of protection, you can file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights within 300 days after the discrimination occurred. You may also have an option to file a complaint in court, and you should connect with an attorney to consider your options.
- When you feel unsafe in your apartment because you reasonably believe that you will be hurt by domestic or sexual violence (the law calls this a “credible imminent threat”), the Illinois Safe Homes Act allows you to terminate your lease 3 days before or after you leave your apartment. To terminate your lease, you can write a letter to your housing provider, explain that you are under a credible imminent threat of domestic or sexual violence, and state that you are terminating your lease.
- If you need to terminate your lease due to sexual violence, there are additional protections that allow you to terminate your lease if the sexual violence happened at your apartment or building even if you are NOT under a credible threat of violence. To terminate your lease, you can write a letter to your housing provider within 60 days of the sexual violence (or as soon as possible), and include a statement from a victim service provider or court, police, or medical documents.
- If you have a housing subsidy, your housing should be covered by the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), which protects your right to emergency transfer your subsidy to another subsidized unit. You should explore your option to emergency transfer your subsidy prior to considering a lease termination.
- You should return your keys as soon as possible and keep a copy of your letter for your records. If you need a safe place to go or need support safety planning, you can call the Hotline at 1-877-TO END DV.
I have experienced trauma due to sexual violence, and I need an accommodation from my housing provider so that I can stay in my apartment. How do I ask for one?
- Survivors of sexual violence have often experienced trauma and may have lingering medical conditions or disabilities as a result of that trauma. You can ask for a reasonable accommodation if you need a change in the rules in order to equally use your apartment. Fair housing laws require that housing providers make reasonable accommodations to allow a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling. In addition, fair housing laws also require a housing provider to engage in a dialogue about reasonable accommodation requests to reach a mutually acceptable reasonable accommodation.
- Your requested accommodation must be reasonable and necessary, and you may need to support it with a note or call from a medical provider. The requested accommodation needs to have a connection to the issue that the person with a disability is experiencing. Accommodation requests can be made orally or in writing, but it is best to do it in writing to prevent any misunderstandings.
My housing provider wants to evict me for calling the police for help with domestic violence. Can they do that?
- Housing providers cannot evict survivors of domestic violence for calling the police for help. In the Chicago metro area, there are many fair housing protections that could cover this situation. The most broad protection is under the Fair Housing Act, which protects tenants from housing discrimination based on sex, including actions based on gender stereotypes, gender animus, or those acts that have a disparate impact on women. By threatening eviction for domestic violence, housing providers hold survivors responsible for the acts of the people harming them and engage in “blaming the victim.” Thus, this can constitute sex discrimination in violation of fair housing protections..
- Survivors living in subsidized housing likely also have additional protections under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). VAWA mandates that housing providers cannot evict, withhold occupancy rights, or treat a survivor unequally because the survivor has experienced domestic violence.
- If the housing provider is penalizing a survivor for calling the police by threatening eviction in connection with a local crime-free or nuisance ordinance, that is prohibited under Illinois law. Illinois explicitly prohibits municipalities from penalizing tenants who contact the police or other emergency services, including charging fees, revoking a rental license, or terminating a residential lease agreement. When survivors are penalized for the acts of the people harming them, they are often forced to choose between their safety and their housing, which has the chilling effect of persuading survivors not to call for emergency assistance when they need it.
- When you are living in an apartment, the only person that can displace you from that apartment is the sheriff, after all required eviction proceedings are complete. If your partner kicked you out of your unit, they could be held responsible for what is called a “lock-out,” which is prohibited in Chicago and Cook County. A lock-out is not just limited to changing the locks or kicking you out of a unit, it also includes interfering with your utilities or removing or damaging doors. If you need help getting back into your unit, you can call 311 (Chicago) or your local police department, explain that a lock-out has occurred, and ask that the police come out. The police should investigate to confirm the lock-out and take steps to let you back into the unit.
- If you feel unsafe returning to your home or need support learning about options for a protective order, you can call the Hotline at 1-877-TO END DV. In a protective order, you have the option of asking that you are the only person allowed to stay at your apartment. This is called “exclusive possession.”
Someone at my apartment building makes me feel uncomfortable by commenting on my body. Is that sexual harassment?
- Sexual harassment is prohibited under fair housing laws, and includes two main types of harassment. The first is called “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, which is when a housing provider or someone that works for them requires a tenant to engage in sexual conduct in order to maintain their housing or housing-related services. The second is called “hostile environment” sexual harassment, which is when the tenant is experiencing harassment based on their sex from a housing provider or someone that works for them that is severe or pervasive and interferes with the use of their unit. Whether harassment creates a hostile environment depends on many factors, including the severity, nature, location and frequency of the conduct, and the relationship of the people involved. There does not need to be physical harm to create a hostile environment, and even a single incident of harassment can create a hostile environment.
- If you are experiencing sexual harassment in your housing, you can file a court complaint or a housing discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, or the local administrative fair housing commissions, which are all agencies that investigate and resolve these complaints. Depending on where you file, the timeline for filing your complaint can be as little as 180 days, so you should connect with an attorney to consider your options as soon as possible.
- Tenants can also experience sexual harassment from other tenants at the property. In these situations, tenants can inform their housing provider about what is going on, and ask them to take steps to stop the harassment from continuing. Housing providers can be responsible for tenant-on-tenant harassment when they knew or should have known about it, had the power to correct it, and failed to take prompt action.