GA approves bill prohibiting housing discrimination based on source of income

THE R.I. GENERAL ASSEMBLY has passed legislation that would bar landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants based on a legal source of income, such as federal housing assistance. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – The General Assembly on Tuesday passed legislation that prohibits housing discrimination against individuals that receive government assistance to pay rent.

The bills, introduced by Rep Anastasia P. Williams, D-Providence, and Sen. Meghan E. Kallman, D-Pawtucket, add “lawful source of income” to the state’s list of things that  landlords may not use as a basis for their decisions to decide whom to rent to, or to determine which rental units they will rent to an individual.

“This legislation is not only simple, but it is the right and moral thing to do because people who are down on their luck and need help to find a place to live should not be discriminated against when trying to find housing,” said Williams in a statement. “This problem has been further amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout that has resulted from this health crisis, forcing more of our residents to rely on the government assistance that too many landlords deem unacceptable payment. This was a problem before COVID-19, and now it is an even bigger problem that must be addressed.”

The legislation does not apply to owner-occupied dwellings of three units or less.

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If signed into law, the bill would apply to income from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, or any other federal, state or local general public assistance, including medical or veterans assistance, and housing assistance, including Section 8 Housing, as well as child support or alimony.

“With this legislation, Rhode Island is finally recognizing that refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers is discrimination, a pretext for keeping certain people out of certain areas. At this time, when our state is struggling with a housing crisis made worse by the pandemic, I am pleased that we are finally ending this practice. Income discrimination is unjust; it is a roadblock that hurts families, contributes to housing insecurity and perpetuates poverty,” said Kallman in a statement.

Under the legislation, landlords will still be able to ask whether prospective tenants are at least 18 years old, and will allow them to check a tenant’s income, its source and its expected duration for the purpose of confirming a potential tenant will be able to pay rent.

The bill was said to be part of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s seven-bill legislative package on housing in Rhode Island.

The bill now heads to Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s desk for approval.

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