Cook County's Just Housing Amendment (JHA) is an important step forward in fair housing protections. The JHA is an amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance that offers protections for people with a conviction history. The amendment, which the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed in 2019, provides extensive protections based on a criminal record.
Housing providers can only consider convictions in the past three years. Additionally, landlords must perform an individual assessment of applicants who have been convicted of a crime in the past three years rather than denying them outright.
What does the Just Housing Amendment mean for landlords?
Bottom line - Cook County housing providers must change how they screen their tenants.
The law requires new disclosures in the application process; prohibits "pre-emptive inquiries" into an applicant's background on applications or through verbal communication; and bans all discrimination based on arrests, as well as sealed, expunged, or juvenile records.
The law's coverage is expansive – it applies to anyone engaged in "real estate transactions." This includes anyone selling, renting, leasing, or subleasing residential properties.
Housing providers must conduct an individualized assessment for applicants convicted in the past three years. This means they must consider factors such as:
Evidence of rehabilitation
How long ago the crime occurred
Whether the evidence shows a "demonstrable risk" to people or property
There are two narrow exemptions to the law. The only applicants who can be denied without an individualized assessment and regard to the age of the conviction are:
Currently registered sex offenders.
Current child sex offender under residency restriction.
Use the correct language to ensure you are not discriminating when posting a rental listing.
You may say, "no registered sex offenders or persons under a current child sex offender residency restriction."
You may not say "no sex offenders, felons, convicted drug dealers, no criminal history, or no arrest history."
Remember, applications can no longer include a check box asking if an applicant has a criminal background.
What does the Just Housing Amendment mean for applicants with a criminal history?
Statistics suggest that nearly 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record and the vast majority of these have little bearing on a tenancy. The JHA ensures that the past does not persistently blight the current and future housing options of people in Cook County.
These protections represent a step forward in providing a dignified path for re-entry for incarcerated housing seekers; notably, these rules apply whether the housing is private or public.
Results from a 2015 survey administered by the Ella Baker Center on Human Rights showed that 79% of participants who had been incarcerated were either ineligible for public housing or had been denied admission as a result of criminal history. The research also showed that half of the people released from jail or prison have unstable or nonexistent housing. The JHA will contribute to ending this pipeline from prisons to homelessness.
People with records and their advocates now have a pathway to seek justice due to this law. The Cook County Commission on Human Rights and organizations like Open Communities will investigate allegations of violations and take the necessary steps to counteract this harm.
People with criminal records, like everyone else, deserve a place to call home.
How can Open Communities help you understand the Just Housing Amendment?
At Open Communities, we help individuals with records understand and exercise their fair housing rights. We identify landlords' illegal practices, offer education, and enforce the law through administrative and legal processes. We are working with the Uptown People's Law Center in Chicago to advocate and fight for people with prior justice involvement who have been illegally denied housing.
If you are a renter with prior justice involvement or a housing provider looking for more information, please contact us.