Rhode Island Habitability Laws

Last Updated: December 14, 2021 by Elizabeth Souza

QUICK FACTS
  • Landlord Responsibilities. Maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators in good condition (read more).
  • Making Repairs. Landlords are required to make and pay for repairs for items under their responsibility. They must do so within 20 days after receiving a written request from tenants (read more).
  • Tenant Options. If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, tenant can’t withhold rent, but does have right to repair and deduct, report the issue to a public official or file a lawsuit (read more).
  • Retaliation. If a landlord is reported to a local city or county inspector for housing code violations, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate, such as by threatening eviction (read more).

The implied warranty of habitability in Rhode Island does not apply to all types of dwellings. See the table below for which are and aren’t included.

Dwelling Type Landlord/Tenant Laws Apply?
Single family Yes
Multi-family Yes
Fraternities/Sororities/Clubs No
RV parks Not addressed
Mobile home parks Not addressed
Condos Not addressed
Hotels/Motels No

Additionally, rental agreements are not allowed to include any provisions that waive the tenant’s right to live in a habitable residence.

Questions? To chat with a Rhode Island landlord tenant attorney, Click here

Landlord Responsibilities

The following chart lists possible landlord responsibilities when it comes to habitability.  Not all of them are requirements in Rhode Island, as indicated below.

Note: Some of the below items may not be addressed at the state level but may be addressed on a county or city level. Check your local housing codes to see which additional requirements may apply.

Habitability Issue Landlord Responsibility?
Provide windows and doors that are in good repair. Yes
Ensure the roof, walls, etc., are completely waterproofed and there are no leaks. Not addressed
Provide hot and cold running water. Yes
Provide working HVAC equipment. Yes
Provide working plumbing and electrical wiring/outlets/ lighting. Yes
Provide working gas lines if used for utilities/cooking Not addressed
Provide working sanitation facilities (bathtub/shower, toilet). Yes
Provide a trash can (for trash pickup services). Four or more dwelling units
Ensure that any stairs and railings are safe. Not addressed
Ensure that all floors are in good condition and safe. Not addressed
Provide fire exits that are usable, safe, and clean. Not addressed
Ensure storage areas, including garages and basements, do not house combustible materials. Not addressed
Provide working smoke detectors Not addressed
Provide a mailbox. Not addressed
Provide working wiring for one telephone jack. Not addressed
Provide working kitchen appliances. Yes
Provide working carbon monoxide detector. Not addressed
Provide a working washer/dryer. Not addressed

Landlords must comply with all housing and building codes that affect the health and safety of tenants.  All necessary repairs should be made to keep the dwelling unit and all common areas in a fit and habitable condition.

Minimum Standards for Basic Facilities and Equipment

Every dwelling unit in Rhode Island must have a room (or portion of a room) which food may be prepared or cooked and shall have adequate circulation.  Dwelling units must contain the following:

  • A kitchen sink that supplies heated and unheated water and connected to a septic tank or sewer system.
  • A stove or a similar appliance for cooking food.
  • A refrigerator or a similar devise to safely store food at less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (but more than 32 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Shelves and/or cabinets that can store utensils and eating and drinking equipment.
  • A bathtub or shower that is connected to a water supply system which supplies unheated and heated water that is connected to a sewer system or septic tank.
  • An uninhabitable room that contains a flush water closet that is connected to a sewer system or septic tank and the room must contain a bathroom sink.
  • Any unit that is above the first floor must have an exit with a minimum head room of six feet, six inches that leads to an open, safe space at ground level.

Minimum Standards for Ventilation and Light

Every habitable room must have at least one window or skylight that can be easily opened so there is enough ventilation for the room. Each bathroom or unhabitable room that is used for food preparation must follow the above requirements, unless it is adequately ventilated.

If electricity used from power lines are less than 300 feet from the dwelling unit (including common areas), it must have electrical outlets and fixtures that are maintained in good condition. Every habitable room must have outlets or fixtures that provide the tenant with three watts per square foot of floor area.

Every room (including unhabitable rooms) that are used for food preparation must have at least two outlets either on the wall or floor and must provide electricity for every 60 square feet of floor area. Public halls, water closet rooms, furnace room, kitchens, kitchenettes, bathrooms, laundry rooms must have at least one wall or ceiling light fixture. In multiple dwelling units, all public hallways and stairways must have six footcandles of light at floor level.  Finally, any hallway or stairway that has three or less dwelling units must have easily accessible light switches.

Heat

A landlord must supply adequate heat (at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit) between October 1st and May 1st, unless the tenant supplies heat themselves.

General Liability Insurance

Landlords must obtain $100,000 of general liability insurance for people who may be injured on the premises due to the landlord’s negligence.

Rodent-Proofing

Landlords are required to provide rental units that are “rodent-proofed.”

Lead-Based Paint

Rhode Island landlords are required to mitigate lead-based paint for rental properties built prior to 1978, if the presence of the lead-based paint presents a “clear and significant health risk.”

Making Repairs

Landlords are required to make and pay for any repairs to make the unit livable that are not caused by the tenant.

  • Sending Notice – If a tenant request repairs, they must put their request in writing to the landlord. The landlord will then have 20 days to make any necessary repairs after receiving written notice.
  • Landlord Access – Tenants are required to give the landlord access to the property to make necessary repairs during reasonable hours. However, a landlord must give tenants two days’ notice unless:
    • The tenant no longer occupies the property.
    • It’s under extreme circumstances.
    • It’s an emergency.
Questions? To chat with a Rhode Island landlord tenant attorney, Click here

Tenant’s Options if Repairs Aren’t Made

If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, the tenant has a few possible options for resolving the issue.

  1. Withhold Rent – Rhode Island landlord tenant law do not permit tenants to withhold rent when a landlord fails to make repairs or violates any other provision of the Landlord Tenant Act.
  2. Repair and Deduct – Tenants do have the right to repair the issue themselves after 20 days of notice (or less in the case of an emergency).  The tenant must first notify the landlord that they intended to cure the issue at the landlord’s expense. The tenant may deduct a reasonable amount for the repair from the following month’s rent if the reasonable cost of repairs is less than $125 and the tenant has provided the landlord with an itemized list of the cost of the repair. If the rental agreement states that the landlord shall supply essential services (i.e., heat, water, electricity, etc.) but fails to do so, the tenant may obtain those services and deduct the actual and reasonable amount from the period rent.
  3. Substitute Housing – The tenant has the option to seek substitute housing during the landlord’s noncompliance with supplying heat, water, hot water, or other essential services.  Until the landlord is compliant with supplying those services, the tenant does not need to pay rent.
  4. Lawsuit – Tenants can pursue legal action for damages resulting from habitability issues.
  5. Reporting to Public Officials – Landlords can be reported on a city or county level to housing inspectors if they are found to be in violation of any local housing codes.

Landlord Retaliation

It is illegal for a landlord to retaliate by increasing rent or decreasing services or by bringing or threatening to bring an action for possession because the tenant:

  • Complained to a governmental agency such as a building or housing inspector of a housing violation affecting health and safety.
  • Complained to the landlord about habitability issues.
  • Joined or organized a tenants’ union or similar organization.
  • Exercised their lawful rights.

Sources