I just moved into a new apartment in Chicago.
If you’re a special needs parent, you know that money can be especially tight when looking for a new home because we have to save for things that other parents often don’t think about: therapeutic equipment, high health insurance premiums for the best plans, frequent doctor and therapy appointments, special foods, etc. Then, when looking for a home, we often have to keep special things in mind for accessibility’s sake: ramps, elevators, safety rails, extra storage for therapy equipment, laundry in-unit for frequent clean-ups, and other amenities that make it so you don’t have to leave your special needs child alone for even a minute. These extras can be expensive, so finding a home that has it all at the right price can be a challenge.
I had a great real estate agent from the Lap of Luxury group with @ properties show me some amazing apartments in my price range, and she was talented enough to quickly find a unit that “had it all.” While viewing the apartment, I explained my situation to the listing agent - I’ll call her “Gina Spring.” I told “Gina” that I am a single mom of a young boy with special needs, so we needed an especially safe apartment at a budget-friendly price. She enthusiastically encouraged me to apply, and I did, and I was approved for the apartment. I’m very proud of my excellent credit score and had no doubt I would be approved, but I was so excited to have found something just right at the perfect price point.
Then, soon after I was approved, “Gina” called my Lap of Luxury agent to tell me something had changed. Because my son would be living with me in the apartment, “Gina” and the owners decided the rent would be raised by nearly an extra 15% above the original price. They knew from the beginning that my disabled son would be living with me. This was housing discrimination based on disability status and familial status, and it’s illegal.
My agent from Lap of Luxury told “Gina” that doing this to me was illegal discrimination. I think “Gina Spring”, a seasoned agent who has been in the industry for nearly 30 years, believed that I was unaware of my rights and could simply get away with charging a few extra hundred dollars because of my “circumstances.” Not so, and not OK.
As soon as my agent called her out on the discrimination, “Gina” rescinded the raise in rent and told me I could sign the lease for the original price. I was so offended by the incident that I declined to sign the lease and asked for my money back on the apartment application, which she refunded promptly. She knew she was wrong. She knew this was illegal. She had done it anyway.
I reported “Gina Spring” to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and to the Illinois Department of Human Rights Fair Housing Division for discrimination based on familial status and disability status. I felt that, as an advocate for families of children with special needs, it was incumbent on me to take a stand against this kind of behavior.
Luckily, my own agent was awesome and quickly found me another apartment that had just popped onto the MLS that was an even better deal (and had Lake views to boot!) I am so grateful that my agent recognized this discrimination and promptly called out the listing agent on her illegal behavior. I hope all real estate agents are as vigilant as she was about discrimination of any kind.
Have you faced housing discrimination due to your status as a special needs parent? If you or someone you know has faced this issue, please contact me. I will help you file a grievance federally and with your state for FREE because this must not stand.