In Rhode Island, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Rhode Island varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Rhode Island law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Rhode Island
Landlord Responsibilities. As in most US states, landlords in Rhode Island are required to maintain their rental properties in a safe and livable condition, including when those units are occupied by tenants. Specifically, the state’s Housing Maintenance and Occupancy Code sets forth the kinds of amenities a landlord must provide to all tenants, as well as the kinds of repairs which must be provided to said amenities. These include the following:
- Clean and hazard-free common areas
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
- Adequate plumbing
- Proper sanitary facilities
- In-unit heating
- A garbage receptacle and routine garbage removal services
- A reasonable supply of hot and cold water
A Rhode Island tenant may request a repair to these listed amenities, as well as any others provided in their lease agreement, at any time during their tenancy. Upon receiving this kind of request, a Rhode Island landlord must perform the requested repairs in a “reasonable” amount of time based upon the issue’s severity. If those repairs are delayed or ignored entirely, the affected rental unit may become statutorily uninhabitable, which would then allow all tenants within that unit to break off their lease unilaterally.
Tenant Responsibilities. Rhode Island tenants are primarily tasked with keeping their rental unit and the surrounding area both clean and free of hazards that would put other tenants at risk for harm. In most cases, this responsibility requires the tenant to remove rubbish in an appropriate manner while also using all of the unit’s amenities in an appropriate manner that is not likely to cause them to be damaged.
A Rhode Island landlord may enforce these cleanliness standards in a manner comparable to other lease terms. With that in mind, a Rhode Island landlord should issue a 20-Day Notice to Cure when they observe a tenant behavior that does not adhere to the state’s cleanliness standard. That Rhode Island tenant must then change their problematic behavior within the following 20 days or face eviction at their landlord’s discretion.
Rhode Island tenants are also allowed to take certain kinds of alternative action against their landlord when they fail to provide essential amenities or fail to perform a necessary repair in a timely manner. Specifically, a tenant in Rhode Island may withhold rent payment amounts equal to the cost of obtaining an alternative utility when an essential utility system is inoperable. Alternatively, a Rhode Island tenant may perform a repair on their own before submitting an itemized list of the associated costs to their landlord as notice of an intended deduction.
Evictions in Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s statutory code allows landlords in the state to evict their tenant for any of the following reasons:
- Nonpayment of rent – Rhode Island requires tenants to pay rent at the time specified in their lease agreement. However, the state also allows tenants to pay rent up to 15 days after that due date without penalty. Even so, once that grace period has elapsed, a Rhode Island landlord may immediately issue a 5-Day Notice to Pay to any tenant who has not paid rent in full. If those outstanding rent payments are still not submitted by the conclusion of the 5 day notice period, the non-paying tenant may be subject to eviction if their landlord files a Complaint for Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent against them.
- Violation of lease terms – Landlords in Rhode Island are permitted to issue a 20-Day Notice to Cure to any tenant who is observed to be breaking a lease term during the course of their tenancy. This notice must specify which lease term or terms were broken, as well as how the tenant in question can remedy their behaviors. If the terms of that lease are not met by the start of the 21st day following the notice’s delivery, then that Rhode Island tenant may be forced to move out when a Complaint for Eviction for Reason Other than Nonpayment of Rent is filed against them by their landlord.
- Illegal Acts – Rhode Island landlords are permitted to file an Immediate Eviction Complaint against any tenant who participates in one of several illegal acts. These eviction notices go into effect immediately and may be issued in response to a documented instance of any of the following illegal acts:
- Involvement with illegal drugs
- Criminally violent actions
Evictions without a lease. “At-will” tenants in Rhode Island are given certain rights to notice before their impending eviction, even though they are not protected by the regular provisions of a lease. To that end, Rhode Island tenants who do not utilize a lease are entitled to receive the following amounts of written notice when they are being asked to move out without cause:
- Week-to-Week rental agreement – 10 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month rental agreement – 30 days of advance notice
- Yearly rental agreement without a fixed end date – 90 days of advance notice
Illegal Evictions. A Rhode Island tenant cannot be evicted for exercising any legally protected right. As such, a Rhode Island landlord cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for reporting a health or safety code violation to a local code enforcement authority. Also, Rhode Island landlords cannot evict tenants simply for joining a tenant union.
Along the same lines, Rhode Island tenants are protected from discriminatory evictions based upon any of the state’s numerous protected class traits. Domestic abuse victims in Rhode Island are also shielded from unwarranted evictions or lease non-renewals relating solely to their status.
Security Deposits in Rhode Island
Rhode Island currently requires landlords operating within the state’s jurisdiction to follow these standards and regulations relating to tenant security deposits:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Rhode Island prohibits landlords from charging security deposits valued at more than 1 months’ rent. This does not include pet deposits, which may be set at any rate in Rhode Island due to a lack of state statute addressing that kind of deposit.
- Interest and Maintenance – Rhode Island does not maintain any statutes governing how a landlord operating in the state maintains security deposits collected from their tenants. Similarly, this state does not regulate how interest is applied to and redistributed from the same deposits. As such, Rhode Island landlords are allowed to keep any interest that accrues on their tenant’s security deposits while they are in their possession.
- Time Limit for Return – A landlord in Rhode Island must return their tenant’s remaining security deposit funds with 20 days of their tenancy terminating. At the same time, a Rhode Island must also provide an itemized list of deductions that were made during the course of that tenancy.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Rhode Island landlord fails to follow a regulatory standard for maintaining a tenant’s security deposit or fails to return the rightfully owed amount in the proper time frame, they may be compelled to return the entire deposit plus double the value of any wrongfully withheld amount as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – Rhode Island landlords are primarily able to make security deposit deductions relating to the upkeep of a rental unit’s physical condition. As such, landlords in this state are fully able to make deductions for unpaid rent, cleaning expenses, trash removal, and physical damage repairs.
Lease Termination in Rhode Island
Notice Requirements. Rhode Island tenants who lease a dwelling from a landlord on a periodic basis must provide the following amounts of written notice in order for their move out request to be considered valid:
- Week-to-Week lease – 10 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 30 days of advance notice
- Yearly lease without a fixed end date – 3 months of advance notice prior to the end of the occupation year
That being said, Rhode Island tenants who are signed onto a lease with a fixed end date are not required to provide any kind of notice to their landlord due to the established nature of their move out date.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. An early termination clause written into a lease agreement can be the easiest and simplest way to break off a lease early. However, not all Rhode Island tenants qualify for early termination in this manner, while others simply don’t have an early termination clause in their lease in the first place. In those situations, a Rhode Island tenant can call upon these justifications to end their lease early if they apply to their situation:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Rhode Island landlords are tasked with maintaining a habitable premises in and around their rental units, including those that are occupied. This includes making necessary repairs in a timely manner and providing all essential amenities that the state outlines in its warranty of habitability. If either of these core duties are not performed, an affected Rhode Island tenant may push for an immediate lease termination on the grounds of an ongoing health or safety risk.
- Landlord Harassment – Landlords in Rhode Island are allowed to enter an occupied unit to perform regular business (such as to perform a repair), but they can only do so after providing 2 days of advance notice. Moreover, any entry that is approved by a Rhode Island tenant must occur at a “reasonable” hour of the day. If either of these entry standards are ignored or regularly broke, then an affected tenant may have grounds to terminate their grounds on the grounds a privacy invasion.
- Advanced Age or Health Issue – Rhode Island tenants who are 65 years of age or older may terminate their lease early (without needing to buy out the remainder of their lease) if they intend to move to a nursing home or assisted living facility. A request to do so must be filed in writing and can only be honored 45 days after the first rental period due date after the notice is submitted.
Rhode Island requires landlords to make all reasonable effort to re-rent their unit in the wake of a tenant vacating the dwelling. Such actions must preempt any attempt to charge that former tenant the remaining rent due over the course of their lease. If this latter option is taken, however, a Rhode Island landlord may have their debt paid down by any new tenant that takes over the lease.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Rhode Island
Rent control & increases. Rhode Island is one of only a small number of US states that neither explicitly allows local rent control ordinances nor outright preempts them. As such, landlords in the state are currently free to charge as much as they want for rent. However, that freedom could change in the immediate future if a local jurisdiction in the state decided to institute a rent control policy.
In any case, Rhode Island landlords are not free to raise rent prices whenever they want. To be specific, a landlord in Rhode Island must always provide at least 30 days of notice in advance of a new rent increase becoming active. However, if the affected tenant is 62 years of age or older, their landlord must provide the same kind of notice 60 days in advance of the rent increase becoming active.
Rent related fees. Rhode Island does not currently regulate how much or how often a landlord can charge a late rent payment fee. As such, landlords in the state can charge as much as they want, per diem and in total, when a tenant fails to pay rent on time, so long as the price and procedure for charging that fee are outlined in a lease agreement.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island does regulatorily limit how much a landlord in the state can charge for a returned check fee. When a tenant’s check bounces, they may charge their tenant a fee of no less than $200 but no more than $1,000. The precise amount of this fee is based upon a $25 base fee, plus a penalty equal to three times the check’s face value.
Housing Discrimination in Rhode Island
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. Rhode Island’s statewide fair housing protections exceed those outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act. Specifically, this state protects several more classes of tenants from a variety of discriminatory business practices. These state-specific protected classes include the following:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- Domestic abuse victim status
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Rhode Island Human Rights Commission is tasked with administering and upholding the state’s several civil rights laws. This includes dictating which housing practices can be considered discriminatory when they are targeted at a state or federal protected class of tenants. The following are a handful examples that this Commission has deemed worthy of reporting:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
- Falsely denying the availability of housing for inspection, sale, or rental
- “Steering” tenants towards or away from certain units or neighborhoods
- Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
- Failing to make a reasonable accommodation
The Rhode Island Human Rights Commission begins the process of investigating fair housing complaints after a tenant submits an Intake Questionnaire, which can be found on their website. From there, the Commission calls witnesses and determines the validity of the case’s core claim of discrimination. The Commission does not indicate how a complaint can be resolved, including if they or another government entity is able to levy penalties against misbehaving landlords.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Rhode Island
These following Rhode Island landlord-tenant laws don’t fit under a single category. Even so, they are important to understand in full before entering into a new lease agreement:
Landlord Entry. Landlords in Rhode Island are permitted to enter their tenant’s dwellings for a number of reasons, including to perform necessary repairs and to show the unit to a prospective renter. However, these kinds of standard entry must always be proceeded by 2 days of advance notice and occur at a reasonable hour of the day. However, in cases of emergency, a Rhode Island landlord is permitted to enter without notice to warn the inhabitants of the impending danger.
Small Claims Court. Rhode Island does accept some types of landlord-tenant disputes for trial in their state small claims courts. While this does not include eviction cases, acceptable cases for this venue can be valued at up to $2,500 at most. Also, landlords and tenants in this state may be better able to have their cases heard if they seek out mediation through a local housing court.
Mandatory Disclosures. Landlords in Rhode Island are only required to make two types of informational disclosure to their tenants at the beginning of their tenancy, either through the main lease agreement or a supplementary agreement. This includes the need to provide all tenants with the names and addresses of all relevant property owners, as well as the agents of those owners that may act on their behalf. Meanwhile, only tenants living in buildings built before 1978 need to receive information about the hazards of lead-based paint.
Changing the Locks. Rhode Island’s current landlord-tenant laws do not address any issues relating to the changing of locks during the course of a tenant’s lease. As such, a tenant in Rhode Island may be able to change their own locks if they receive permission from their landlord in advance. That being said, a Rhode Island landlord must be required to seek permission before changing a tenant’s locks due to the state’s prohibition on lockouts.
Local Laws in Rhode Island
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Providence Landlord Tenant Rights
Currently, Providence does not maintain any major local ordinances that impact the regulation of housing within the city. However, there is current legislation in the works to implement a city-wide band on discrimination based upon income source when it comes to rental housing. This ordinance may pass into effect as soon as 2020, so landlord and tenants in this city should keep an eye on the city’s website for further developments.