Tenants in Rhode Island have the legal right to repairs for issues that place the property in violation of state health and safety standards. To exercise this right, they must properly notify the landlord in writing and allow 20 days for the repairs to be made.
Rhode Island Landlord Responsibilities for Repairs
Rhode Island landlords are responsible for keeping all of the following in good working condition:
Electricity (if provided).
Heating (from May 1 to October 1).
Plumbing (kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilet, and shower / bathtub).
Hot / Cold water.
Laundry, kitchen, and bathroom lights.
Features that impact health, safety, or habitability.
What Repairs Are Tenants Responsible For in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island tenants are responsible forrepairing issues with health and safety that they caused themselves.If it’s not an emergency, tenants can usually wait until the landlord asks in writing for repairs.
On a case by case basis, the landlord and tenant can agree beforehand, in writing, for the tenant to take on responsibility for specific maintenance. This is only an option if the property is already up to code.
Requesting Repairs in Rhode Island
Rhode Island tenants must request repairs by givingnotice of the issue in writing.To reserve relevant legal options, the tenant must also state actions they might take if the landlord does not make timely repairs, such as to repair (themselves) and deduct from rent, or cancel the lease altogether.
An example of language a tenant might use to state these intentions is: “If the issue isn’t fixed, the tenant may exercise his right to repair and deduct, or to cancel the rental agreement thirty or more days from today.”
How Long Does a Landlord Have To Make Repairs in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island landlords have20 daysto make repairs after getting written notice from a tenant about an issue.
For emergencies involving repairs under $125 value(for example, if the lock on the front door breaks by accident), the landlord has to make repairsimmediately upon receiving notice,or else the renter can repair and then deduct from rent.
Can the Landlord Refuse To Make Repairs in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island landlordscannot refuse to make repairsthat are their responsibility. It doesn’t matter if the tenant is behind on rent or otherwise breaking the terms of the rental agreement.
Do Landlords Have To Pay for Alternative Accommodation During Repairs in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island landlordsgenerally needn’t pay for alternative accommodationduring repairs. However, if the landlord’s deliberate or careless action creates issues with heat, utilities, or other essential services, the renter can stop paying rent, move to alternative accommodation, and sue the landlord for the cost.
Tenant’s Rights if Repairs Aren’t Made in Rhode Island
Rhode Island tenants can do one of the following if a landlord does not make timely repairs:
Repair the issue themselves and deduct from rent.
Cancel the rental agreement.
Reduce rental payments (in special cases).
Get substitute housing and withhold rent (in special cases) .
Can the Tenant Withhold Rent in Rhode Island?
A tenant in Rhode Island can only withhold rent if the landlord deliberately or carelessly creates issues with heat, utilities, or other essential services. If this happens, the tenant can notify the landlord of the issues, stop rent payments, and move temporarily into substitute housing.
Can the Tenant Repair and Deduct in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island tenantscan repair and deductin one of two situations, depending on the cost of repairs:
For repairs under $125 total,tenants can repair and deduct if this intention was included in the repair request and the landlord hasn’t fixed the issue within 20 days (or immediately in emergencies).
For repairs over $125 total,tenants can repair and deduct only when the landlord deliberately or carelessly withholds heat, utilities, or other essential services and doesn’t fix the situation after getting proper notice.
Can the Tenant Break Their Lease in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island tenantscan break their leasesfor one or more of the following reasons:
Repairs aren’t made 20 days after written notice.
Violations of the rental agreement.
Issues that threaten health and safety on the property.
The landlord deliberately causes issues with heat, utilities, or other essential services.
Can the Tenant Sue in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island tenantscan sue to force repairsand recover costs, when the landlord doesn’t make timely repairs.
Even if the lease has an arbitration provision, the tenant may be able to challenge this in court and sue anyway. Rhode Island gives a specific right to sue on various grounds, so lease terms that require binding arbitration for an issue protected by statute are arguably illegal and unenforceable.
Can the Tenant Report the Landlord in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island tenantscan report landlords for code violationsthat affect the health or safety of a property. Tenants should usually report potential violations to the inspections or code enforcement department of their local town or city.
If an inspecting officer finds a code violation, the tenant could cancel the rental agreement, or sue to force repairs. If the violation affects essential services like heat or utilities, the tenant could even move into substitute housing until the issue is fixed.
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.
“(a)Except as provided by this chapter, if there is a noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or a noncompliance with § 34-18-22 materially affecting health and safety, the tenant may deliver a written notice to the landlord specifying the acts and omissions constituting the breach and that the rental agreement will terminate upon a date not less than thirty (30) days after receipt of the notice if the breach is not remedied in twenty (20) days, and the rental agreement shall terminate as provided in the notice subject to the following: R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-28(a) (2022)
“(1)If the breach is remediable by repairs, the payment of damages or otherwise and the landlord adequately remedies the breach before the date specified in the notice, the rental agreement shall not terminate by reason of the breach.
“(2)If substantially the same act or omission which constituted a prior noncompliance of which notice was given recurs within six (6) months, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement upon at least fourteen (14) days’ written notice specifying the breach and the date of termination of the rental agreement.
“(3)The tenant may not terminate for a condition caused by the deliberate or negligent act or omission of the tenant, a member of his or her family, or other person on the premises with his or her consent.”
“(b)Except as provided in this chapter, the tenant may recover actual damages and obtain injunctive relief for noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or § 34-18-22. If the landlord’s noncompliance is willful, the tenant may recover reasonable attorney’s fees.”
“(a)A landlord shall… (4)Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord; … (6)Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times as required… and reasonable heat as required… between October 1 and May 1…”
“(1)Every dwelling must have heating facilities properly installed and maintained in safe and working condition, and capable of safely and adequately heating all habitable rooms, bathrooms, and water closet compartments in every dwelling unit located at a distance of eighteen inches (18″) above the floor level under average winter conditions to a temperature of at least sixty-eight degrees (68 °) fahrenheit.”
“(1)Every dwelling unit must have… (i)A kitchen sink in good working condition… connected to a sewer system or septic tank…
“(2)Within every dwelling unit there must be a nonhabitable room which is equipped with a flush water closet and lavatory basin in good working condition… connected to a sewer or septic system approved by the appropriate authority.”
“(1)Every dwelling unit must have… (iii)A stove, or similar device, for cooking food, and a refrigerator, or similar device, for the safe storage of food at temperatures less than fifty degrees (50 °) fahrenheit, but more than thirty-two degrees (32 °) fahrenheit, under ordinary maximum summer conditions, properly installed with all necessary connections for safe, sanitary, and efficient operation; provided, that the stove, refrigerator, and/or similar devices, need not be installed when a dwelling unit is not occupied and when the occupant is expected to provide these on occupancy, and that sufficient space and adequate connections for the safe and efficient installation and operation of the stove, refrigerator, and/or similar devices is provided.”
“A landlord shall: (1)Comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes affecting health and safety; (2)Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.”
“If there is noncompliance by tenant with § 34-18-24 materially affecting health and safety that can be remedied by repair, replacement of a damaged item, or cleaning, and the tenant fails to comply as promptly as conditions require in case of emergency or within twenty (20) days after written notice by the landlord specifying the breach and requesting that the tenant remedy it within that period of time, the landlord may enter the dwelling unit and cause the work to be done in a skilled manner and submit the itemized bill for the actual and reasonable cost or the fair and reasonable value thereof as rent on the next date periodic rent is due, or if the rental agreement has terminated, for immediate payment.”
“(c)The landlord and tenant of a dwelling unit may agree in writing that the tenant perform specified repairs, maintenance tasks, alterations, and remodeling but only if: (1)The agreement of the parties is entered into in good faith and set forth in a writing signed by the parties and supported by adequate consideration; (2)The work is not necessary to cure noncompliance with subsection (a)(1); and (3)The agreement does not diminish or affect the obligation of the landlord to other tenants in the premises.”
“(a)If the landlord fails to comply with subsection of § 34-18-22(a)(1), (2), (4), (5), or (6), and the reasonable cost of compliance is less than one hundred twenty-five dollars ($125), the tenant may cause repairs to be done in a skilled manner, in compliance with applicable state and local codes, and deduct from his or her rent the actual and reasonable cost or the fair and reasonable value of the repairs if: (1)The tenant notifies the landlord of his or her intention to correct the condition at the landlord’s expense; and (2)The landlord fails to comply within twenty (20) days, or fails to demonstrate ongoing, good faith efforts to comply, after being notified by the tenant in writing; or, in the case of emergency, the landlord either cannot be reached by the tenant, or the landlord fails to comply as promptly as conditions require; and (3)The tenant submits an itemized statement to the landlord of the cost or the fair and reasonable value of the repairs made.
“(b)A tenant may not repair at the landlord’s expense if the condition was caused by the deliberate or negligent act or omission of the tenant, a member of his or her family, or other person on the premises with his or her consent.”
“(a)If, contrary to the rental agreement or § 34-18-22, the landlord willfully or negligently fails to supply heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas, or other essential service, the tenant may give reasonable notice to the landlord specifying the breach and may:
“(1)Take reasonable and appropriate measures to secure reasonable amounts of heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas, and other essential service during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance and deduct their actual and reasonable costs from the periodic rent; or
“(2)Recover damages based upon the diminution in the fair rental value of the dwelling unit; or
“(3)Procure reasonable substitute housing during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance, in which case the tenant is excused from paying rent for the period of the landlord’s noncompliance.”
“(b)In addition to the remedy provided in subsection (a)(3) of this section, the tenant may recover the actual and reasonable cost or fair and reasonable value of the substitute housing not in excess of an amount equal to the periodic rent, and in any case under subsection (a) of this section, may recover reasonable attorney’s fees. …
“(d)Rights of the tenant under this section do not arise until he or she has given notice to the landlord, nor does this section apply if the condition was caused by the deliberate or negligent act or omission of the tenant, a member of his or her family, or other person on the premises with his or her consent.”
“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.”
“(a)If the dwelling unit or premises are damaged or destroyed by fire or casualty to an extent that enjoyment of the dwelling unit is substantially impaired, the tenant may:
“(1)Immediately vacate the premises and notify the landlord in writing within fourteen (14) days thereafter of his or her intention to terminate the rental agreement, in which case the rental agreement terminates as of the date of vacating.”
“(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.”