Photo by Russ Hendricks
House bill 5137, deceptively named the Fair Housing Practices bill, which mirrors leftist-inspired legislation introduced in other states, is completely unfair to landlords. The legislation claims it seeks to end discriminatory housing practices because in the progressives’ land of social-equity, making a legitimate business decision should be a crime. Under the proposed law, any Section-8 lessee applicant (those whose rents are subsidized by the federal government) who are not accepted as a tenant, must have been discriminated against, and the landlord must be punished.
We all agree that if such discrimination were to be practiced … it would be wrong. However, this legislation is not necessary, as there already exists multiple state and federal laws that protect against discrimination. Additionally, there are multiple legitimate reasons for making certain business decisions.
The legislation would make it illegal for a landlord to inquire about a potential tenant’s source of income, or even whether they are an adult over the age of 18.
According to federal guidelines, acceptance of Section-8 vouchers is supposed be voluntary. Yet this Fair Housing Practices bill would unfairly impose a defacto state mandate on landlords to accept any Section-8 application they receive. Even if the landlord makes a legitimate and nondiscriminatory business decision otherwise, they would be at legal risk of being prosecuted for discriminatory racial actions.
Further, this legislation is a back-door RhodeMap RI type scheme to advance a social equity agenda that will only tear at the fabric of our society … by making innocent private property owners appear to be bigots.
Yes, once again, after failing in 2018, the social equity extremists are back; those who believe that their views of society should prohibit the free-choice and rights of property owners to make business decisions that are in their own best interests. Once again, RhodeMap Rhode Island and HUD (the federal department of Housing and Urban Development), and its local surrogate, the RI Housing authority, are at it again..
According to progressive logic, since people receiving Section-8 vouchers are typically low-income; and because many low-income individuals and families are minorities, then saying ‘no’ to a Section-8 applicant must be because of racism, and therefore must be discriminatory. The actual effect of this legislation, which seeks to extend government control into even more aspects of our personal and business lives, would be to subject landlords to lawsuits or other penalties by automatically assuming that discrimination was the motivating factor.
Based on conversations with landlords I know, there is a major, legitimate, and non-racial reason why some business prefer not to accept clients subsidized by public money and all the red-tape they would have to go through. In this case, once a landlord accepts a federally subsidized Section-8 tenant, that business is now subject to a whole new array of mandates, red tape, and risks that otherwise, it would not have to worry about.
Under this legislative mandate, landlords would be subject to unfair rules by HUD, which we know from the RhodeMap RI debate years ago, does not care about private property rights. HUD has corrupted its mission of putting low-income people into appropriate housing to the point where it routinely tramples on the rights of other private property owners.
Landlords would be forced to endure annual state inspections, they otherwise would not be subject to, and could even be at potential criminal risk if they did not appropriately “police” their own tenants and report to the state any potential violations Section-8 eligibility guidelines.
This legislation, avidly supported by Rhode Island Housing is a clear extension of the HUD and RhodeMap RI anti property-owner agenda.
Consider that this legislation automatically presumes that our neighborhood brothers and sisters are guilty of discrimination. Last year, our Center hosted a luncheon where the nationally acclaimed Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, spoke of the “solidarity of brotherhood”, where we should work together to help “start up” the lives of those in our community. But how can it possibly be “solidarity” to automatically and divisively claim that legitimate business decisions by business owners in our community are based on bigotry?
Private business owners should be free to make the business decisions that they feel are best for them – and none should be forced to comply with onerous federal regulations, if they are allowed to choose not to. Just because the progressive-left see inequities in every aspect of our society, does not mean that government should be stepping-in to tell people how to run their businesses.
Already suffering from one of the most hostile business and legal climates in the country, Rhode Island would become an even more dangerous place to operate as a landlord. Small ‘rental property’ business owners could be forced to spend money unnecessarily to become lawyered-up like a major corporation if they were to be sued … an expense and time most cannot possibly afford. In other states where similar legislation has already been enacted, property owners are indeed being sued, and they are routinely losing in court battles, even though they may have committed no wrong.
Our state would suffer greatly if the unintended consequences of this legislation might drive some landlords out of business, or out of state, and lead to fewer available housing units.
Once again, we ask lawmakers to consider the moral and real-world impacts of such presumptive and intrusive legislation, and to understand that the issue is not a real major problem – at least not for the stated discriminatory reasons.