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4 Students Sue Providence for Ban on Renting House Together

PROVIDENCE, R.I. ― Four college students are suing the city of Providence, Rhode Island, over an ordinance that bans them from living together in a single-family home. The Johnson & Wales University students are joined in the suit filed Tuesday by their landlord, and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The city council passed the rule in September after complaints about chronic, out-of-control partying by students in neighborhoods near the Roman Catholic school Providence College and the public Rhode Island College. There have also been complaints over the years about student behavior in other sections of the city around the Ivy league Brown University and the prestigious art school the Rhode Island School of Design.

Democratic Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, who pushed the rule, complained that renting single-family homes to students was eroding the character of the neighborhoods.

The lawsuit argues that there is no reason to believe that restricting the number of students who live in a single-family home will lead to safer, quieter and cleaner neighborhoods.

“On the contrary, the ordinance is an unconstitutional intrusion into the rights of college and graduate students to choose with whom they wish to live, and the rights of property owners to rent their homes to tenants of their choice,” lawyers Jeffrey Levy and Charles Blackmun wrote.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza said the city does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

Other college towns have passed such rules in the past, and some of those have been struck down, Levy said. A similar ordinance in Narragansett, Rhode Island, was held unconstitutional by a state superior court in 1994, as was one in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in 1993. He said Boston enacted a similar ordinance in 2008, but to his knowledge it has not been enforced or challenged.

Levy said his clients have not yet been the target of any enforcement action, and he is not aware of any actions against other student renters.

He said the ordinance will have the worst impact on students from low-income and middle-income families who can’t afford to pay more for rent.

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