The Committee on Human Relations advanced an ordinance that would make it harder for landlords to discriminate against veteran and active duty military personnel looking for housing amid questions by some committee members about whether the protections would have unintended consequences for individual renters.

Members Present (11/17): Chairman Joe Moreno (1), Brian Hopkins (2), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), David Moore (17), Jason Ervin (28), Ariel Reboyras (30), Scott Waguespack (32), Milly Santiago (31), Anthony Napolitano (41), Michele Smith (43).

According to testimony from Mona Noriega, the head of the city’s Commission on Human Relations, it is becoming more common for landlords to discriminate against military personnel, especially those who are still active, for fear that notice of sudden deployment will leave the landlord in pinch to fill the vacant unit.

Similarly, veterans who attempt to lease an apartment with their GI bill benefits listed as their main source of income find a hard time getting an apartment, because landlords don’t consider those benefits to be a stable source of income, Noriega added.

The ordinance received some pushback from Ald. Jason Ervin (28) of East Garfield Park and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) of the Gold Coast. Both gave voice to a concern that a significant number of landlords in the city are “mom and pops” or seniors who are heavily dependent on the income they receive from renting out their apartment or a floor in their home.

“The average dwelling in my ward is a two-unit building, and that means that someone is generally owning and someone is renting, and those residents, they depend on that income to pay the mortgage and to balance out their lives financially,” Ervin explained. These types of renters would be left in a bind to fill the rental units once a military member breaks the lease, he argued.

Victor J. Lagroon, director of veterans affairs for the city, said active duty military officers don’t receive their deployment orders in a 24-hour period, it’s closer to 60 days. In that span, officers can decide whether to continue paying the rent while they are away or break the lease. “Every command in this country requires you to pay your bills. The military is adamant about that,” he added.

Ald. Hopkins echoed concerns on another provision in the ordinance that would make it illegal for a landlord or realtor to retaliate against a tenant who files a housing discrimination complaint against them with the city. Those protections are already in place for employees to file discrimination complaints against their employer.

Without this protection, said Commissioner Noriega, tenants will continue to be reluctant to file complaints for fear of discrimination by their landlords. Such discrimination could come in the form of charging more rent, sexual and other harassment, or other unfair terms and conditions added to the rental lease, she explained. These measures are already codified at the county and state level, she added.

“It’s one thing to have the right to file a complaint, it’s another thing to have an incentive,” Ald. Hopkins warned, arguing the ordinance creates an incentive for a tenant to file a “non-meritorious complaint” when facing possible eviction.

“People who have the skill of being able to move from rental unit to rental unit, they know where the loopholes are, and they know how to play the game and run the clock… and this is one more tool they can use to stay in a place where they’re not paying rent, causing harm to those mom and pops.”

If a tenant files a complaint, that complaint would not stay any ongoing eviction proceedings, a staff representative with Noriega countered. Hopkins ended up voting to approve.

The committee also approved the appointment of Julio Rodriguez to the Commission on Human Relations, a 19-member body created in 2012 to enforce the city’s human rights and anti-discriminatory housing laws. Rodriguez is a deputy director in the office of employment and training for the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.*

“This is an area that I am very, very interested in. Human rights and access to housing, employment, and other services to me is something that we always have to be very diligent on,” he told the committee.

Chairman Joe Moreno (1), who said he knows Rodriguez personally, touted much of his resume, including various roles with the Illinois Latino Prevention Network andIllinois Leadership Development Council, and his induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

Correction: Yesterday, we incorrectly reported Rodriguez’s job title based on his LinkedIn, which said he was “director of program services.”