The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved an amendment to Cook County’s Human Rights/Fair Housing Ordinance in April of 2019. The amendment is called the “Just Housing Ordinance” (JHO). The intent of the ordinance is very clear: prevent housing discrimination among persons with a criminal background. The effective date of the ordinance is set for Jan. 31, 2020.

Michael Scobeyby Mike Scobey, Illinois REALTORS®
Senior Director of Local Advocacy & Global Programs

What does the “Just Housing Ordinance” mean for the real estate industry?

Any landlord or property management company in Cook County that conducts tenant screening will need to incorporate the new JHO procedure. There is a two-step tenant screening process that must be followed:

  1. Pre-qualification (ability to pay, references, etc.)
  2. Criminal background check

If a person has a criminal history, housing providers must conduct an Individualized Assessment. The Assessment can take several factors into account, such as the nature and severity of the criminal offense and how recently it occurred, number of applicant’s criminal convictions, length of time the criminal offense occurred, evidence of rehabilitation, etc.

To deny housing, a landlord will have to give the applicant an opportunity to dispute a denial by providing evidence to counter any criminal history discovered in the criminal background check. If the applicant disputes the denial, materials must be provided to the landlord within a specific amount of time.

Any landlord or housing provider in Cook County will have to follow the JHO rules starting on Jan. 31, 2020.

On Nov. 21, the Cook County Board adopted a set of rules that will take effect Jan. 31, 2020. The tenant criminal background check can only consider factors relevant to an individual’s conviction history from the previous three years. If a denial of housing due to a person’s criminal background will occur, an Individualized Assessment must be completed and documented that considers other factors in that person’s life such as the nature and severity of the criminal offense, number of criminal convictions, evidence of rehabilitation, etc. Further, housing providers must give the applicant an Opportunity to Dispute the Accuracy and Relevance of Convictions.

Evidence must be produced within five (5) business days. It is important to note as part of our advocacy efforts, the County removed the holding period of a unit during the Dispute stage of the tenant screening process.

Illinois REALTORS® is presently working with the County’s Human Rights Department to develop guidance documents related to these new rules. We expect to have these documents ready before the effective date.