[Transcript with visual descriptions: Fun 4 the Disabled logo appears on the screen. On-screen text reads: For a full transcript of this video and more like it, check out fun4thedisabled.com. Vanessa Harris appears on screen, joined by Allison Bethel on a separate screen.]
Vanessa: Hi! This is Vanessa Harris with Fun 4 the Disabled. I’m here with Professor Allison Bethel, director of the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Clinic, to discuss COVID and housing discrimination. Hi Professor Bethel, how are you?
Allison: Hi, Vanessa. I’m doing well and hello to all of the listeners and viewers here for Fun 4 the Disabled. I am delighted to be here today. I’ve been so enjoying the videos that you produce that I’m getting on my email and I just really, really appreciate the perspective that you bring to these issues both informative, but, you know, brings a smile at least, to my face.
Vanessa: Good, thank you! Professor Bethel, what is housing discrimination?
Allison: Great, great question. Well, housing discrimination is when someone is treated badly, differently, and generally badly in connection with the sale or rental of housing or maybe they’re already in the housing and they’re experiencing bad treatment because of protected characteristics. Protected characteristics include things like your race and your sex and whether you have a physical or a mental disability.
Vanessa: Okay, can you give me some examples of housing discrimination?
Allison: Sure, I’d be happy to. I’m going to give you a couple of examples that focus directly on some of the issues that we see at the clinic related to persons with disabilities. Often, very common, our clients may need an accommodation related to parking. Maybe they need an accessible parking space, in terms of the configuration of it and such, or maybe they just need a space closer to the door, the entrance door, and the housing provider will not provide that for them. So that’s an example of an accommodation that a person may need and if the landlord doesn’t provide it, that could be housing discrimination. Another example that we see frequently is where maybe a person with a mental or physical illness needs a live-in caregiver, a live-in aide to help them out, and those types of accommodations also have to be approved in terms of the bedroom size, perhaps maybe they’ll need a larger bedroom, two bedrooms to accommodate the live-in caregiver, or some other accommodation for the live-in caregiver, maybe an extra key fob, those types of things. And then, of course, we also see in terms of discrimination, just without fault, plain old, regular, everyday “in your face” discrimination where they lie to you about the availability of a house or an apartment because of your characteristics. So, it can be very subtle, or it can be very direct, but the end result of it is that it impairs your ability to obtain housing or live and enjoy the housing that you have.
Vanessa: Oh wow, okay. Let’s talk about COVID and housing discrimination. Is COVID a disability under the Fair Housing Act?
Allison: Oh, another great question, Vanessa, and a great lawyer’s answer is “It depends”. You know, the definition of a person with a disability is very, very broad; similar to the definition under the ADA. In fact, Fair Housing Act borrowed of that definition, and so it basically is anyone who has a physical or mental impairment that limits, substantially limits, a major life activity and major life activities, of course, are walking, talking, seeing, eating, breathing, those types of things. So, if you’re- if the affects of your COVID, uh, of COVID on you are substantially limiting you in those areas, major life activities, then yes, you could definitely be of disability under the Fair Housing Act. Another aspect though, of the definition of a person with a disability under the FHA, is someone who is regarded as having an impairment, “Regarded as”, we used to see those cases in the context of AIDS when it first developed, and the other prong or, you know, category, under the definition is if you have a record of having an impairment. A record of an impairment. So, given the very, very broad definition of COVID, I think the answer is probably yes, but it does depend on a case-by-case basis and right now there hasn’t been any real, definitive case on it. But, one other thing I’ll say is that many, many people with COVID have underlying conditions that would qualify as a disability under the act too, under this definition that I just gave. So, the answer is maybe, and certainly most likely, in many instances.
Vanessa: Okay, great. Can I get reasonable accommodation for housing if I have COVID-19?
Allison: Yes! Yes, you definitely may be able to. Again, it’s a very fact-specific inquiry that looks at the nature of your disability and how it affects you and the accommodation of that you are requesting. So, for example, we have had people with COVID request accommodations in terms of both the time and the manner that they either view an apartment that they’re interested in renting or purchasing, or when people come to view maybe the apartment that they’re living in to rent or sale. Things like maybe they need to limit the times that people are coming through the unit, or maybe even the manner and instead of in-person showings, switch to more a virtual and that type of thing; seeing a lot of that during COVID. We’ve had people, I have a client right now who needs- who needed an accommodation in terms of not being moved to a different apartment. Her landlord was moving people in the building to different apartments as they were upgrading the building and her doctor said that it would be, you know, not good for her health for her to be moved at this time, so we were able to hold off on that move for her. So, definitely, you may need an accommodation during the course of COVID to help minimize your exposure to that and maybe I’m going to do that for you under the Fair Housing laws.
Vanessa: Okay, who can I contact for help about Fair Housing?
Allison: Great, great question! Well, of course, Vanessa, you can contact our office of the Fair Housing Legal Clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Our telephone number is area code (312) 786-2267, and of course, you can find us on the website. You can also contact HUD, although HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they’re- I don’t think they’re open yet to the public, but they definitely have a lot of great, great resources online and they will even help you fill out a complaint over the telephone. And then of course, we are very, very fortunate here in Chicago, to have a number of other government agencies: the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, and the Cook County Human Rights Board, and then there are some other agencies here in Chicago, particularly Access Living comes to mind right away, and the Hope Fair Housing which serves out west in DuPage County. All of these are great, great resources to help you in a housing situation.
Vanessa: Okay, great! Thank you very much. Thank you, Professor Bethel.
Allison: Thank you for having me!
Vanessa: Of the John Marshall University of Illinois Fair Housing Clinic, for giving us some important information about COVID and housing discrimination. Thank you. This is Vanessa Harris with Fun 4 the Disabled signing off. Buh-Bye!
[Video concludes with credit roll on the screen. The logo appears VA Harris PE Productions. Video ends.