Rhode Island Fair Housing Act: An Overview

In the United States, the right to equal housing opportunities is a fundamental aspect of ensuring fairness and justice in our society. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law, plays a pivotal role in preventing discrimination in housing markets across the country. 

The Fair Housing Act aims to protect any person from any potential discrimination when seeking housing. All housing providers are expected to follow the provisions under fair housing laws, including home sellers, landlords, real estate agents, lenders, appraisers, and others involved in a real estate transaction.

Learn more about the Federal Fair Housing Act and additional information about fair housing laws in Rhode Island below. 

The Fair Housing Act: A Brief Overview

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to combat housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. Its primary purpose is to ensure that every American has an equal opportunity to seek housing without facing bigotry, especially for reasons that they cannot control. 

Rhode Island has taken significant steps to enforce and expand upon the Fair Housing Act. On top of the seven federally protected classes mentioned above, the state has added more classes under protection to further prevent discrimination.

Provisions of the Fair Housing Act in Rhode Island

Anti-Discrimination: The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in housing transactions on the basis of the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (and/or gender identity)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Familial status
  • National origin
  • Marital status
  • Military status
  • Lawful source of income
  • Housing status
  • Age
  • Being a victim of domestic abuse

This fair housing provision ensures that individuals and families have equal access to housing opportunities regardless of their background, gender identity, sexual orientation, and others.

Reasonable Housing Accommodations and Modifications: Landlords are obligated to make reasonable housing accommodations or modifications for residents with disabilities to ensure they have equal access to housing. This includes making changes to policies, practices, or physical structures to accommodate disabled residents.

Advertising Guidelines: Advertisements for housing must not contain discriminatory language or preferences about things like national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more. This ensures that housing opportunities are marketed fairly and without prejudice.

Examples of Potential Housing Discrimination in Rhode Island 

Here are the sample situations where landlords violate the Fair Housing Act under Rhode Island law:

1. Race

A landlord refuses to rent an apartment to a family because they are Black, even though they meet all other qualifications and have excellent references.

2. Color

A landlord tells a potential tenant that they won’t rent to them because they don’t like the color of their skin, making a racially motivated decision.

3. Religion

A housing provider refuses to rent to a person because of their religious beliefs. They might express concerns that the tenant’s religious practices could disrupt the community.

4. Sex 

A landlord clearly indicates on their advertising materials that they prefer to rent to a female tenant, even if the unit is not a shared space. This is a discriminatory act based on sex. This protection also extends to gender identity or expression.

5. Disability

A landlord denies a rental application from a person who uses a wheelchair and requires a service animal, citing concerns about potential damage to their rental. This is discrimination based on disability.

6. Familial Status

A landlord refuses to rent to a couple because they have children, fearing that children might damage the property or disturb other residents.

7. National Origin

An owner requires an immigrant family to submit more requirements because they have a foreign accent and were born in a different country. Such requirements are not being asked of other applicants. This is housing discrimination based on national origin.

8. Marital Status

A landlord refuses to rent to an unmarried couple, stating that they only rent to married couples because they believe it leads to more stable living situations. This is discrimination based on marital status and in violation of the Rhode Island Fair Housing laws.

9. Military Status

A landlord denies a member of active service, claiming that the tenant’s military duties may cause disruptions to the rental. This is discrimination based on military status.

10. Lawful Source of Income

A landlord refuses to rent to a person who receives housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance to pay rent, even though they have a steady income. This is discrimination based on the lawful source of income.

11. Housing Status

A housing provider refuses to rent to a person who is homeless and looking for housing, assuming they will be a problematic resident due to their housing status. This is discrimination based on housing status.

12. Age

It is also not allowed to discriminate based on age. A landlord disapproved the application of an older couple, stating that they prefer to rent to a younger person because they believe they will take better care of the property. This is discrimination based on age.

13. Being a Victim of Domestic Abuse

A landlord threatens to evict a resident who is a victim of domestic abuse because they have called the police for help during incidents of domestic abuse or violence, claiming it disturbs the neighbors. This is discrimination against a victim of domestic abuse.

Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act

While certain entities and circumstances may be exempt from some provisions of the FHA, they are still bound by other federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Here are some of the exemptions and exceptions, which at any time may change or be amended, to the Fair Housing laws:

  • Owner-Occupied Dwellings with Four or Fewer Units: The FHA does not apply to owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units. If the owner lives in one of the units and there are four or fewer units total, they may be exempt from certain provisions of the FHA.
  • Religious Organizations and Private Clubs: Certain religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy or membership to individuals who share their religious beliefs may be exempt from certain provisions of the FHA.
  • Housing for Older Persons (55 and Older): The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) provides an exemption for housing that is designed and operated for older persons. To qualify for this exemption, the housing must meet specific criteria, including having policies and procedures that demonstrate an intent to house persons who are 55 years of age or older.

Conclusion

Fair Housing laws in Rhode Island stands as a beacon of hope for those seeking equal access to housing opportunities. In a state with a rich history of promoting civil rights, this legislation is a testament to Rhode Island’s commitment to fairness and justice.

As a landlord, you need to be aware of the provisions of this law and other landlord-tenant laws to prevent any violations. If you need help, make sure to seek advice from a reliable property manager. Call Stonelink Property Management today and we’ll be glad to assist you.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided in this blog is intended for general guidance and should not be considered as a replacement for professional legal advice. It is important to be aware that laws pertaining to property management may change, rendering this information outdated by the time you read it.

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