[TRANSCRIPT with visual descriptions: Text on screen reads: Accommodate Me or Litigate Me Part 2: Housing Discrimination. Vanessa A. Harris, P.E. and Professor Allison K. Bethel, Esq. Fun4thedisabled.com | UIC John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Clinic. Vanessa Harris and Allison Bethel join together on separate screens. A PowerPoint is shown on screen to support talking points.]
[Vanessa]: Hi! It’s 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 the top ten tips to advocate for fair housing. Hi Professor Bethel, how are you?
Allison]: I’m well and hello Vanessa and to everyone who’s listening and are watching this video. Thank you so much for having me today.
[Vanessa]: Thank you. Professor Bethel, what are your top 10 tips for folks to advocate for fair housing? What’s number one?
[Allison]: Well number one is basically to know your rights. Knowledge is power. There’s an old saying “God Bless the child that has his own” and there’s nothing like knowing what your rights are yourself so that you can protect yourself and advocate for yourself. There are seven protected categories under the federal law. They are race, color, national origin, religion, sex was added in the mid-70s, and then in the late 80s familial status, which refers to families with children, and then of course a disability which includes a mental and/or physical disability. So basically, these laws protect you from being treated unfairly in your housing circumstance because of those characteristics.
[Vanessa]: Okay, what’s number two?
[Allison]: Okay, number two is kind of a cousin, if you will, of number one, which is know your local laws. So, I just talked a little bit about the federal laws, but there are also local laws, certainly here in Chicago and Cook County and frankly in most cities and states across the country, and the importance of the local laws is that they generally cover more. More protected categories, more properties, more things than the federal laws do. So, please know your local law so that you can know the full extent of your rights.
[Vanessa]: Okay, what’s number three?
[Allison]: Number three is keep a good record. Often, and let me say, you know, Vanessa, we’ve- I represent people in these kinds of cases and so, in order to effectively represent them, we need to have a record, a good record, of the housing contacts that you made and what they said to you and what you said to them. If your discrimination is in connection with a housing search and if the discrimination is in connection with a situation where you’re already in your housing, we need to know what’s happening. When it happened, who said what, what days it happened, what you said, all of that kind of thing. So, keep very, very good records of what’s going on. Some key documents include, but are not limited to, generally your lease and any correspondence between you and your landlord about the situation, any medical records that might be an issue in connection with an accommodation or modification request, you might need photographs of the situation. The better your record is, the better you will be able to protect your housing rights.
[Vanessa]: Excellent. Okay, so number four, what is that?
[Allison]: Number four. Well, number four can be challenging but you have to give it a whirl and give it a good faced try because that’s actually part of the law and that is to try to work out with the- work it out with your landlord first. The law requires if you’re having an issue over a reasonable accommodation that you try to work it out with your landlord first. It’s called engaging in the interactive process. Interactive process. And basically that’s just a conversation with the housing provider about about the accommodation and maybe alternative accommodations that might suit your needs and work with you and, of course, document these efforts to work it out too because again the better your documentation is, if you have to go forward with any kind of action, the stronger your case will be. And of course if you’re able to work it out without any litigation or any enforcement action, that’s what we really want for you.
[Vanessa]: Okay, so number five is you have to know what the reasonable accommodations are and how they work for you in order to find this out, so can you explain a little bit about that?
[Allison]: Thank you, thank you so much Vanessa. You know Vanessa, this is actually the area that is most heavily, heavily litigated, as it relates to persons with disabilities. There are more lawsuits and complaints regarding this issue than anything else and part of the reason for that is because it is so fact-specific and varies with the individual person. Basically, an accommodation is a change in any policy, practice, or procedure that might be needed- that you might need in order to live and enjoy your housing on an equal basis. Your request needs to be supported by medical documentation, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be a for a doctor, and of course it has to be related to your disability and so examples of this include things like parking accommodation, maybe you have a mobility limitation; can’t walk very far and need some accommodation. A big area here in reasonable accommodations is the waiver of “No pet” rules. A waiver of “No pet” rules and while pet rules may need to be waived or modified for or because of a disability, sometimes these can get to be difficult to evaluate when people are needing multiple animals and other issues relating to animals. So these are kinds of examples of policies, practices, and procedures that might need to be waived to accommodate you. I will say too, that the defense to an accommodation is that it basically costs too much money. If it costs too much money, it’s not going to be reasonable or maybe it’s an administrative burden on the housing provider and that’s going to change based on the size of the provider. What’s a burden to, you know, a smaller landlord is not necessarily burden to a larger landlord. So, you really, really have to look at the cases, but the takeaway that I want for your folks to understand is that if there is a policy, practice, or procedure that inhibits their ability to enjoy their housing, we may be able to help them with that.
[Vanessa]: Okay, number six is about structural modifications?
[Allison]: Structural modifications, yes, and just like I said about policies and practices and procedures, same pertains to structural modifications that you might need in order to live comfortably in your housing. One of the challenges though, for these, is that you may have to pay for them and you may have to restore them at the end of your tenancy. There are some exceptions to these payment and restoration rules, which I won’t go into now, but I want your folks to understand that they may be able to get some structural requirements- and changes, excuse me, as well.
[Vanessa]: Okay, what’s number seven?
[Allison]: Number seven is again a cousin, if you will, of number six, but a lot of people don’t realize that the Fair Housing Act also, with the disability provisions that were added in 1988, it also included certain structural changes that need to be in all buildings built after 1991. And frankly Vanessa, a lot of buildings don’t have these requirements in them. They just have not been really enforced and supervised as they should have been so there are a lot of buildings that are out of compliance. If you are- if you’re in a building that is out of compliance with these requirements, then you may be able to have them changed without having to pay for them yourself.
[Vanessa]: Okay, okay, that’s good! Okay, so number eight, tell me about testing.
[Allison]: Oh, Fair Housing testing! I love to talk about testing and I do want to encourage anyone who’s listening to this to please, if you’re interested in perhaps being a tester and working for- to protect your housing rights, give our office a call. Testing is where we actually- when we have a complaint of housing discrimination, or maybe we develop one on our own initiative that we’re looking at, we will actually have someone who pretends to be a home seeker make a call or go out to the apartment or send an email, whatever is appropriate, and inquire about the housing. The tester will then come back and fill out a report detailing what they said, what the housing provider said to them, and any structural issues that they may have noticed related to accessibility. They fill out a report and then myself and the other lawyers on my staff evaluate that to see if there was any non-compliance with the act. So testing is really a very, very valuable tool to help us identify compliance with the Fair Housing laws. We are able to pay our testers a stipend provided through our funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, so it’s really a win-win for everyone.
[Vanessa]: Okay. Alright, number nine!
[Allison]: Number nine. Okay guys, I know number nine is going to be challenging from time to time, [Vanessa laughs], but please try to be nice with these housing providers. Do not give them any other reason to turn you down. I cannot tell you how many cases I have had where the housing provider said, you know, “I didn’t want to, it’s not- I didn’t turn them down because they were disabled or anything like that, I turned them down because, you know, they were a mean, nasty person. They had an attitude when they came and we just, you know, we just don’t, you know, we’re a friendly family building here. We don’t want curmudgeons in our building.”
[Allison]: And honestly that can be a defense to a Fair Housing Act. Now, sometimes you’re saying that it might be, you know, to cover up for discrimination and it’s just a lie, but honestly in some instances it really, really is the truth and so if you are, I know again it can be challenging, but try to put on your happy face and make a good appearance and be pleasant when you’re dealing with these things because it will help your case in the long run.
[Vanessa]: Okay number ten: Who can I contact for help about fair housing?
[Allison]: Oh great question. Well, of course, you can contact me at the clinic. Our phone number is (312) 786-2267 or there’s a lot of- you can contact HUD directly and other agencies here in Illinois or in the Chicago area include the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the City of Chicago, and the county agency. You may also want to contact some other private fair housing organizations including Access Living, Hope Fair Housing, which serves DuPage, Open Communities which works in Northern, North Shore area. So, really, really fortunate here to have a lot of good resources for you.
[Vanessa]: Okay, thank you. Thank you Professor Bethel.
[Allison]: Thank you!
[Vanessa]: Of the John Marshall University of Illinois Fair Housing Clinic for giving us the top ten tips to advocate for fair housing. Thank you Professor Bethel. This is Vanessa Harris with Fun 4 the Disabled signing off. Buh-Bye!
[Credits roll in white text over a black screen. VA Harris PE Productions logo is shown. Video ends.]