Steps of the eviction process in Rhode Island:
- Notice is posted to correct the issue/vacate.
- If uncured and tenant remains, the complaint is filed and served.
- Answer is filed.
- Hearing is held and judgment issued.
- If granted, writ of execution is posted.
- Possession of property is returned to landlord.
Evicting a tenant in Rhode Island can take around one to four months, depending on the reason for the eviction. If tenants file an appeal, the process can take longer.
Step 1: Notice is Posted
Landlords in Rhode Island can begin the eviction process for several reasons, including:
- Nonpayment of Rent – Once rent is past due, notice must be served giving the tenant the option to pay rent in order to avoid eviction.
- Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement – If a tenant violates a provision of a written lease or rental agreement, the landlord is required to give the tenant the opportunity to correct the issue before moving forward with the eviction process.
- No Lease / End of Lease Term (Tenant at Will) – If there is no lease or the term of the lease has ended, the landlord does not need any additional reason to end the tenancy as long as proper notice is given.
- Illegal Activity – If a tenant is engaged in illegal activity, landlords are not required to provide written notice prior to filing an eviction action with the court.
- Retaliatory Evictions. It is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for complaining to the landlord or to the appropriate local or government agency regarding the property. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for joining, supporting, or organizing a tenant organization or union.
- Evicting a Squatter. If the individual occupying the property did not have the permission of the landlord when initially moving in, does not have a lease (or verbal agreement) and has no history of paying rent, then a landlord/tenant relationship may not be established. As a result, the normal eviction process may not be applicable (read more).
Each possible ground for eviction has its own rules for how the process starts.
Eviction Process for Nonpayment of Rent
A landlord is allowed to evict a tenant for failing to pay rent on time.
According to Rhode Island law, rent is considered late the day after it’s due; grace periods, if any, are addressed in the lease or rental agreement. However, landlords may not give tenants a Notice to Pay until rent is 15 days past-due.
Once rent is 15 days past-due, the landlord must provide tenants with a 5-Day Notice to Pay if the landlord wants to file an eviction action with the court. This notice gives the tenant the option to pay the past due amount in full within five days to avoid eviction.
If the tenant does not pay the rent due by the end of the notice period and remains on the property, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process and file a “Complaint for Eviction of Nonpayment of Rent”.
Eviction Process for Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement
A tenant can be evicted in Rhode Island if they do not uphold their responsibilities under the terms of a written lease or rental agreement.
Rhode Island landlords must provide tenants with a 20-Day Notice to Comply, giving tenants 20 days to correct the issue in order to avoid eviction.
Typical lease violations under this category could include subletting a room without the landlord’s knowledge, damaging the rental property, having too many people residing in the rental unit, and having a pet when there’s a no-pet policy.
Material health and safety violations are also considered to be lease violations and could include letting trash pile up inside the rental unit, providing a harbor for rodents or bugs, or even things like damaging the electrical wiring in the rental unit.
Note that illegal activity is not included in this category.
If the same violation occurs within a six-month timeframe, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement with a 20-Day Notice to Quit.
If the tenant fails to correct the issue and remains on the property after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process and may file a “Complaint for Eviction for reason Other Than for Nonpayment of Rent.”
Eviction Process for No Lease / End of Lease
In the state of Rhode Island, if tenants “hold over,” or stay in the rental unit after the rental term has expired, then the landlord must give tenants notice before evicting them. This can include tenants without a written lease and week-to-week and month-to-month tenants.
Often this type of eviction applies to tenants who are at the end of their lease and the landlord doesn’t want to renew.
The amount of time required in the notice depends on the length and type of tenancy.
- Week-to-Week – If rent is paid on a week-to-week basis, a landlord must provide the tenant with a 10-Day Notice to Quit.
- Month-to-Month – If rent is paid on a month-to-month basis, a landlord must provide the tenant with a 30-Day Notice to Quit.
- Year-to-Year – If the tenancy is from year-to-year, tenants must be given a 90-Day Notice to Quit.
If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.
Eviction Process for Illegal Activity
Rhode Island landlords are not required to give tenants who are involved in illegal activity written notice before beginning an eviction action.
In the state of Rhode Island, illegal activity includes:
- Maintaining a narcotics nuisance on the rental property.
- The manufacture, sale or delivery of a controlled substance.
- The possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver.
- Murder, manslaughter, arson, mayhem or kidnapping.
- Rape or sexual assault.
- Assault with a dangerous weapon, assault or battery causing “grave” bodily injury, felony assault with intent to commit another crime, or any other violent crime.
Landlords in these instances may skip directly to step 2 below without giving tenants prior written notice.
Step 2: Complaint is Filed and Served
As the next step in the eviction process, Rhode Island landlords must file a complaint in district court or the appropriate housing court. In the state of Rhode Island, this costs $80 in filing fees.
The reason for the eviction determines when and how the summons and complaint must be served on the tenant.
For nonpayment of rent evictions, the summons and complaint must be served at least five days prior to the eviction hearing through one of the following methods:
- Giving a copy to the tenant in person;
- Leaving a copy with someone of “suitable” age at the rental unit;
- Posting a copy in a conspicuous place on the rental unit (only if tenant or a “suitable” person cannot be found); or
- Mailing a copy to the tenant via first class mail.
Mailing a copy must be done in addition to at least one other service method and can be done by the landlord or landlord’s attorney.
For all other evictions, the summons and complaint must be served by anyone authorized by law or appointed by the court to serve a summons prior to the hearing, through one of the following methods:
- Giving a copy to the tenant in person.
- Leaving a copy with someone of “suitable” age at the rental unit.
Rhode Island state law doesn’t specify how quickly the summons and complaint must be served on the tenant for the other eviction types.
Five days. For nonpayment of rent evictions, the summons and complaint must be served on the tenant at least five days prior to the eviction hearing.
Step 3: Answer is Filed
Tenants in Rhode Island must file a written answer in order to attend the eviction hearing.
The reason for the eviction determines when the answer must be filed. For nonpayment of rent evictions, the answer can be filed with the court any time prior to or at the hearing, which would give tenants about nine days to file their answer.
For evictions due to a lease violation, the answer must be filed within 20 days of the date the complaint was served on the tenant.
Tenants being evicted for holding over, or staying in the rental unit after their rental agreement or term has expired, must also file their answer within 20 days of the date they received the complaint.
Regardless of the reason for the eviction, if tenants fail to file their written answer with the court, the judicial officer may issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord, meaning the tenant will have to move out.
9-20 days. Tenants being evicted for lease violations or holding over must file their answer within 20 days of the date they received the summons and complaint. Tenants evicted for nonpayment of rent have about nine days to file an answer.
Step 4: Court Hearing and Judgment
For nonpayment of rent evictions, the hearing must be held on the ninth day after the complaint was filed with the court.
Rhode Island state law doesn’t specify how quickly eviction hearings for reasons other than nonpayment of rent must be held after the complaint is filed with the court, and it will depend on each court location’s trial schedule.
Regardless of the reason for the eviction, if the tenant fails to appear for the hearing, the judicial officer may issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord, meaning the tenant will have to move out.
If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, either through a default judgment or at an eviction hearing, a writ of execution will be issued and the eviction process will continue.
Tenants may appeal within five days of the date the judgment was entered in favor of the landlord.
Nine days after the complaint is filed with the court for nonpayment of rent evictions.
Step 5: Writ of Execution is Issued
The writ of execution is the tenant’s final notice to leave the rental unit, and gives them the opportunity to remove their belongings before the sheriff or certified constable returns to the property to forcibly remove the tenant.
If the court has ruled in the landlord’s favor, the writ of execution will be issued six days after the judgment is issued in favor of the landlord.
The writ shall be given to the landlord by the court, and it is the landlord’s responsibility to give the writ to the sheriff to execute the writ.
Six days. The writ of execution will be issued six days after the ruling in favor of the landlord.
Step 6: Possession of Property is Returned
Rhode Island state law doesn’t specify how quickly law enforcement officials must act on the writ of execution once it is received from the court. Tenants should be prepared to move out immediately, just in case.
A few hours to a few days. Rhode Island state law doesn’t specify how quickly the tenant must be evicted once law enforcement officials receive the writ of execution from the court.
Rhode Island Eviction Process Timeline
Below is a summary of the aspects outside of the landlord’s control that dictate the amount of time it takes to evict a tenant in Rhode Island. With that being said, these estimates can vary greatly, and some time periods may not include weekends or legal holidays.
- Initial Notice Period – Between 5 and 90 days, depending on the notice type and reason for eviction.
- Issuance/Service of Summons and Complaint – Five days prior to the hearing for nonpayment of rent evictions.
- Answer is filed – 9-20 days, depending on the reason for the eviction.
- Court Hearing and Ruling on the Eviction – Nine days for nonpayment of rent evictions.
- Issuance of Writ of Execution – Six days for nonpayment of rent evictions.
- Return of Possession – A few hours to a few days.
Tenant’s Defenses for Eviction Cases. A tenant may have a defense to fight or delay the eviction lawsuit. Below are some common defenses:
- The landlord does not maintain the rental unit.
- There was improper notice given to the tenant.
- The landlord shuts off essential services or utilities (i.e. heat, water, electric, etc.).
- The tenant has notified the landlord of a violation of building or housing codes on the rental unit that is affecting the health and safety of the tenant or others and the landlord has made no effort to fix the violation.
- The tenant has complained to a governmental agency and the landlord retaliates with an eviction suit.
- The tenant has become a member of a tenant’s union (or a similar organization) and the landlord retaliates with an eviction suit within six months of the tenant joining.
Flowchart of Rhode Island Eviction Process
For additional questions about the eviction process in Rhode Island, please refer to the official legislation, Rhode Island General Laws §§34-18-1 to 34-18-56, §9-12-10.1, and the Rhode Island District Court Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4, for more information.
- 1 RI Gen L §34-18-35 (2020)
- 2 RI Gen L §34-18-36 (2020)
- 3 RI Gen L §34-18-37 (2020)
- 4 RI Gen L §34-18-38.2 (2020)
- 5 RI Gen L §34-18-36 (2020)
- 6 RI Gen L §34-18-24 (2020)
- 7 RI Gen L §34-18-10 (2020)
- 8 RI Gen L §34-18-10 (2020)
- 9 RI District Ct Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4 (2020)
- 10 RI District Ct Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4 (2020)
- 11 RI Gen L §34-18-35 (2020)
- 12 RI Gen L §34-18-36 (2020)
- 13 RI Gen L §34-18-38 (2020)
- 14 RI Gen L §9-12-10.1 (2020)
- 15 RI Gen L §34-18-48 (2020)