When Is It Illegal for Landlords to Retaliate in Rhode Island?
It’s illegal for Rhode Island landlords to retaliate withraised rent,reduced services,orthreatened evictionagainst tenants who have taken one of the following protected actions in the past six months:
Complaining to the landlord or government about failure to maintain the property.
Participating in a tenant organization.
Pursuing rights or remedies given by the law or rental agreement.
The law allows an exception when the landlord can prove a non-retaliatory, good-faith reason for the alleged retaliatory action. For example, a landlord who raises rent proportionately in response to a large increase in property tax is not retaliating, even if a tenant has recently complained about maintenance.
What Can Tenants Do in Response in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island tenants cancancel the rental agreementorretake possessionof the property if they’re illegally retaliated against. In either case, the tenant can also sue for triple the monthly rent or triple the actual costs caused by retaliation (whichever amount is greater), plus attorney fees.
“(a)Except as provided in this section, a landlord may not retaliate by increasing rent or decreasing services or by bringing or threatening to bring an action for possession because: (1)The tenant has complained to a governmental agency charged with responsibility for enforcement of a building or housing code of a violation applicable to the premises materially affecting health and safety; or (2)The tenant has complained to the landlord of a violation under § 34-18-22; or (3)The tenant has organized or become a member of a tenants’ union or similar organization; or (4)The tenant has availed himself or herself of any other lawful rights and remedies.”
“(b)If the landlord acts in violation of subsection (a), the tenant is entitled to the remedies provided in § 34-18-34 and has a defense in any retaliatory action against him or her for possession. In an action by or against the tenant, evidence of a complaint within six (6) months before the alleged act of retaliation creates a presumption that the landlord’s conduct was in retaliation. The presumption does not arise if the tenant made the complaint after notice of a proposed rental increase or diminution of services. “Presumption” means that the trier of fact must find the existence of the fact presumed unless and until evidence is introduced which would support a finding of its nonexistence.”
“If a landlord unlawfully removes or excludes the tenant from the premises or willfully diminishes services to the tenant by interrupting or causing the interruption of heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas, or other essential service, the tenant may recover possession or terminate the rental agreement and, in either case, recover an amount not more than three (3) months periodic rent or threefold the actual damages sustained by him or her, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney’s fees.”