What You Need to Know About Rhode Island’s Fair Housing Act

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Under the Rhode Island Fair Housing Practices Act, it is illegal for landlords, owners, banks, or other entities from discriminating against individuals seeking housing or loans on the basis of a protected classification—these include (but are not limited to) things like race, gender, religion, etc. 
Although fair housing rights are protected on the federal level by the 1968 Fair Housing Act, most states, including Rhode Island, have their own laws regarding housing discrimination. In certain respects, these state laws may be more extensive than federal regulations—that’s why it’s crucial to understand the specific fair housing laws in your area. 
Of course, with how dense legal jargon can be, that’s easier said than done. Fortunately, Jerry—the home, renters, and car insurance comparison super app—is here to translate that legalese. In this article, we’ll go over everything you’ll need to know about Rhode Island’s Fair Housing Practices Act
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Does Rhode Island have a Fair Housing Act?

Yes, Rhode Island does have its own fair housing legislation—it’s called the Fair Housing Practices Act (FHPA). It is defined by Chapter 37 in Title 34 of Rhode Island’s General Laws (R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-37-4-11).
The FHPA makes it illegal in the state of Rhode Island to do any of the following (directly or indirectly) based on a protected classification
  • Make (or cause to be made) “any written or oral inquiry” concerning a protected classification
  • Refuse to sell, rent, or lease the housing unit because of a protected classification 
  • Print, post, publish, or otherwise issue an advertisement for an available housing unit that states restrictions, limitations, specifications, or preferences regarding a protected classification
  • Falsely claim that the housing unit is unavailable
  • Impose different conditions in, or alter the terms of the rental agreement, housing contract, or loan
  • Refuse a mortgage or loan application due to a protected classification
  • Refuse to make/allow reasonable changes to accommodate a disability or otherwise fail to abide by the accessibility requirements as defined by the FHPA
According to Rhode Island law section 34-37-3, these restrictions apply to “any person having the right to sell, rent, lease, or manage a housing accommodation.” Basically, if you’re looking to sell or lease any type of housing unit in Rhode Island, it is illegal for you to discriminate against an interested party based on a protected classification
Under the FHPA, the following characteristics are protected classes:  
  • Race or color
  • Religion or creed
  • Sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression
  • Marital status or familial state
  • Profession/lawful source of income 
  • Ethnicity, country of origin, or country of ancestral origin 
  • Disability or handicap 
  • Age (assuming the individual is at least 18 years old) 
  • Current or past military services (assuming either an honorable discharge or an honorable/general administrative discharge) 
Owners cannot use any of these classifications regarding you, your family, or anyone you choose to associate with as a basis for discrimination. To do so would be a violation of the law and should be reported to the appropriate authorities. 

Accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act

Both the Rhode Island FHPA and the federal Fair Housing Act define special requirements for dwelling accessibility to ensure fair accommodations are made to create housing units accessible to individuals who are disabled, handicapped, or have other special needs. 
The accessibility requirements for a housing unit in Rhode Island are as follows: 
  • An owner cannot prohibit a disabled person from making reasonable modifications to the unit in order to accommodate their disability—provided that the individual is willing to pay for the modifications themselves
  • An owner cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules/policies that might be needed to address a person’s disability
  • An owner cannot refuse to allow a disabled person to keep a guide dog or personal assistive animal
Additionally, the law required that any housing accommodation with four or more units, constructed after March 13, 1991, be designed and built in compliance with certain minimum accessibility standards. These standards are as follows: 
  • Any public or common-use areas of the dwellings must be accessible to a person with a disability.
  • Any and all doors/entry points into the building must be usable by a person in a wheelchair.
  • Dwelling must have an accessible route into and through the building. 
  • Environmental controls (light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, etc) must be in accessible locations. 
  • Bathroom walls must be reinforced to support grab bars. 
The requirements apply to all ground-floor dwellings in housing accommodation with four or more units. However, if the building has elevators, the dwellings on every floor must adhere to these rules. 
If your dwelling does not adhere to these requirements, you can report the issue by following the proper housing complaint protocol as described below. 

How to file a fair housing complaint in Rhode Island

If you feel that you have been the victim of a fair housing violation, you’ll want to report the matter to the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (RICHR). Here’s how:
  • During normal business hours, contact the RICHR by phone at (401) 222-2661 or visit them in person at their office—which is located at 180 Westminster St, Providence, RI 02903
  • You will speak to an information officer who will provide you with an Intake Questionnaire (IQ)—you’ll need to complete this to proceed
  • Once the IQ is completed, return it to the RICHR
  • Your claim will be reviewed. If accepted, a formal charge will be made, and the case will be assigned to an investigator
  • The investigator will conduct a thorough investigation to gather all the relevant information and evidence
  • Depending on what the investigation uncovers, the case may be dropped, go to court, or be settled 
It’s important that you’re proactive when filing a complaint—you only have one year to do so. Once submitted, though, the investigation could take any amount of time, depending on the case's complexity. 

State agency vs. local offices

Most fair housing issues are handled by the RICHR or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Depending on where in Rhode Island you live, however, there may be one or two local agencies that you can go to first. 
Here’s a look at the local agencies that deal with housing discrimination in Rhode Island:
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How to save money on home and renters insurance in Rhode Island

State and federal laws are designed to protect you from housing discrimination and help you find suitable living accommodations. Once you find a place, though, it's up to you to keep it in good shape and protected by homeowners insurance or renters insurance
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You can report your Rhode Island landlord for housing discrimination by contacting the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights at (401) 222-2661. Or, to handle things at the federal level, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 202-708-1112.

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