A GUIDE FOR SENIORS AND THEIR FAMILIES
PROTECTING YOUR HOUSING RIGHTS
As you grow older, you may find it harder to do your
daily activities. You could face problems finding or
keeping the housing of your choice.
It’s important that you, and your family members, know
your housing rights.
DO NOT ACCEPT HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AS PART OF GROWING OLDER!
AS YOU GROW OLDER, you may have a harder time taking care
of yourself or your home. For example, you may find it harder
to move around, to see, to use your hands or to talk. You may
find it harder to do mental chores, like paying bills. You
may have memory loss. These problems may be caused by medical
conditions that become more common as you age – such as bad
hips or knees, stroke, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease,
Alzheimer’s or hardening of the arteries.
Some housing providers may not want you as a resident
if you have difficulties doing your daily activities or
if you are frail:
If you are renting, the landlord might ask you to
leave or refuse to renew your lease.
If you want to move into an apartment or condominium,
the building management might ask you
for your medical records, refuse to rent or sell to
you, or try to steer you to an assisted living center.
If this happens, the housing provider may be breaking
the law by discriminating against you because of your
Even some operators of housing for seniors discriminate against
those with disabilities. For example, a retirement community may
seek to keep out people who need assistance in the activities of
daily living. They may say they are “helping” seniors or acting
in their best interests, but in fact they are breaking the law.
HOW THE LAW HELPS YOU
A federal law called the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal
to discriminate in housing against people of any age with
disabilities. The Fair Housing Act applies to most housing,
including rental units and condominiums for people over a
specific age, retirement communities, assisted living centers,
and continuing care retirement communities.
“Disability” means having a physical or mental impairment
that significantly limits one or more major life activities.
Many seniors have disabilities resulting from
medical conditions common among older people.
Some examples are partial or complete loss of sight,
loss of hearing, loss of the ability to walk without a cane
or use hands, or forgetting to pay bills.
“Disability” also covers the situation in which the housing
provider erroneously thinks that a person has a problem
doing major life activities when the person doesn’t. A senior
who is frail but who can still perform major life activities may
be regarded as being disabled and is protected under the
To comply with the law, a landlord must demonstrate,
based on recent facts, that the person with a disability cannot
be safely accommodated.
UNDER THE LAW, A HOUSING PROVIDER:
CANNOT REFUSE TO RENT OR SELL TO ANYONE,
INCLUDING SENIORS, BECAUSE OF A DISABILITY.
For example, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to
people using wheelchairs and cannot require that
a person be able to live independently or without
CANNOT ASK A HOUSING APPLICANT IF HE OR
SHE HAS A DISABILITY or any details about it. A
housing provider is not supposed to ask for
medical records or a medical evaluation.
CANNOT TREAT A RESIDENT WITH A DISABILITY
DIFFERENTLY from residents without disabilities.
For example, people using wheelchairs cannot
be refused service in a dining room at a senior
community, and people with disabilities cannot
be required to have special insurance.
MUST NOT RETALIATE AGAINST RESIDENTS WITH
MUST MAKE EXCEPTIONS TO RULES, POLICIES,
PRACTICES OR SERVICES IF AN EXCEPTION IS
NEEDED for a resident with a disability to use and
enjoy his or her home (known as a “reasonable
accommodation”). For example:
If a building has a “no pets” rule, a person
with a mental or physical condition who needs
to have a support or service animal must be
allowed to have the animal.
Similarly, if a building has unassigned parking,
a person who has trouble walking must be
assigned a parking space close to the
THE PERSON WITH A DISABILITY MUST REQUEST A
REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION Exceptions do not
have to be made if it would be too expensive or too
burdensome for the landlord.
MUST ALLOW A RESIDENT WITH A DISABILITY TO
MAKE PHYSICAL CHANGES TO HIS OR HER HOME
if they are reasonable and necessary for the
person to use the unit (referred to as a “reasonable
modification”). For example:
A person using a wheelchair may need to
install a ramp to get into his or her townhouse
or widen the door to the unit to allow easy
entrance and exit.
A person who has trouble getting out of a
bathtub or shower may need to install grab
THE PERSON WITH A DISABILITY MUST REQUEST THE
MODIFICATION. Normally, the person who requests
the modification pays for it. However, in housing subsidized
by the federal government, the landlord may
be required to pay.
ACCESSIBILITY OF NEWER MULTIFAMILY UNITS
If a building with four or more units was built for first
occupancy after March 1991, it had to meet certain
requirements to make housing accessible for people
with disabilities. While the building had to meet the
minimum requirements of the law, this does not mean
that the building is fully accessible or that the resident
will not have to make some modifications to it.
PROHIBITIONS ON USING DISABILITY STEREOTYPES
To comply with the law, a landlord must demonstrate,
based on recent facts, that the specific person cannot
be safely accommodated. The law prohibits housing
providers from using disability stereotypes (such as saying
that a person is a “direct threat,” meaning dangerous
to others or their property, due only to person’s disability
label) as a reason to exclude a specific person
FOR QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR
HOUSING RIGHTS or if your housing
rights are being violated, contact:
Equip for Equality
20 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60602
Toll Free: 800-537-2632
American Sign Language & other interpreting
The John Marshall Law School Fair Housing
28 East Jackson Boulevard, Suite 500
Chicago, IL 60604
Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity, U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
77 West Jackson Boulevard, Room 2101
Chicago, IL 60604-3507
Tel: 312-353-7776 ext. 2453
Illinois Department on Aging Senior HelpLine
Area Agency on Aging
Locate one near you by calling 800-677-1116 or
# The information is produced by Equip for Equality in
partnership with the Illinois Department on Aging and
The John Marshall Law School Legal Support Center.
Additional support comes from the American Bar
Association’s Partnerships in Law and Aging Program,
a project of the Borchard Foundation Center on Law
and Aging and the American Bar Association Commission
on Law and Aging. This brochure is just a brief
summary of some important provisions of the law. It is
not to be understood as legal advice. For specific
legal advice, please talk to an attorney. The Act also
prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national
origin, religion, sex and familial status. In addition to federal
law, many states and local governments have laws
against housing discrimination based upon disability.
Some also cover discrimination based upon age and
source of income.
# Fot the online brochure, visit: http://www.equipforequality.org/resourcecenter/HousingBrochureLgPrint.pdf