The Rhode Island rental application form is a document that landlords and listing agents send out to a prospective tenant to determine whether they are a viable tenant. The information requested relates to rental history, income, and other details that are used for background screening purposes and an application determination.
- Application Fee – there is no limit to what landlords in Rhode Island can charge as an application fee. Application fees are non-refundable.
- Discrimination Laws – Rhode Island offers specific state protections against discrimination, in addition to federal law which makes it illegal in Rhode Island to ask about race, religion, marital status, sex, gender identity, disabilities, or familial status (with some exceptions).
- Consent for Credit Check – the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a prospective tenant to give written consent to check their credit history during the screening process.
Rhode Island Rental Application Laws
The following laws apply to the application and tenant screening process in the state of Rhode Island.
Collecting an Application Fee in Rhode Island
Rhode Island is a state without application fee limitations, allowing any sum to be charged to applicants as long as the cost is disclosed upfront.
Illegal Housing Discrimination in Rhode Island
Federal and state laws protect potential renters in Rhode Island from unfair discrimination during the application process.
Fair Housing Act
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
As a result, asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is not allowed.
Rhode Island Fair Housing Laws
Additionally, Rhode Island state law adds additional protections for the following classes:
- Marital Status
- Military/Veteran Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Domestic Abuse Victim Status
It is illegal to ask about or consider any of these classes on a rental application form.
Exemptions to Fair Housing Laws
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Rhode Island, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Age/Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on applicant age and/or if children will occupy the rented premises in any of the below cases:
- Two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
- Housing for Older Persons Exemption – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-restricted communities such as senior housing. This federal exemption, known as the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption, can apply to 55+ or even 62+ communities that meet the requirements.
- Mrs. Murphy Exemption – dwellings with four units or less where one unit is occupied by the owner are exempt from Fair Housing Laws, unless a real estate agent represents the landlord. Additionally, race cannot be a deciding factor as per the Civil Rights Act of 1866
- Religious Organizations – religion can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – private clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Federally, race is a non-exemption criteria that cannot have an influence on the choice of whether to rent to an applicant or not regardless of existing exemptions.
Consent for Credit Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (example template).
Rhode Island Security Deposit Law
If an applicant is approved, the following laws apply to the collection of security deposits in Rhode Island:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount: Rhode Island landlords can charge no more than 1 month’s rent as a security deposit.
- Receipt Requirements: There is no requirement to provide a receipt for the security deposit.
- Financial Holdings: There are no specified holding requirements for security deposits in Rhode Island.
Sending Rental Application Forms
Landlords can send rental application forms to tenants in one of two ways:
- Manually – using the PDF and Word templates available for free on our website (see the top right of this webpage), landlords can send a rental application form to tenants via a physical copy or email.
- With Software – most popular property management software services include an online rental application form that can automate the collection and screening process for landlords.
For reviews of popular property management software, click here.
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
Rhode Island Eviction Record Search
The landlord or agent conducting the background screening for an applicant may use a third-party service, or complete an eviction record search on their own for free using the public records kept by the Rhode Island Judiciary System.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the Rhode Island Judiciary Public Portal.
- Select Smart Search at the bottom of the page.
- Enter the applicant’s name and any other applicable information you may have, check the reCAPTCHA box, submit, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the case number to view the register of actions and case events.
Responding to Rental Applications
If an applicant meets all of your tenant screening criteria, then there’s nothing you need to do beyond notifying them and moving forward with the normal leasing process.
However, if you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and you make an “adverse action” against them (EVEN IF the report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for doing so), you are required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”.
An adverse action is defined as either rejecting the applicant or instituting additional/higher requirements than you have for another applicant (i.e. requiring a co-signer, larger security deposit, higher rent or an additional deposit).
In these cases, an adverse action notice is required to be sent to the applicant, and must include the following:
- The agency’s name, address and phone number that supplied the report.
- A statement explaining that the CRA didn’t make the decision for the adverse action themselves, and as a result, that they can’t explain why the decision was made.
- A statement explaining the applicant’s right to dispute such information and their right to a copy of the report in question within 60 days.
To learn more about requirements surrounding adverse action notices, see this article from the Federal Trade Commission. To get an idea of what an adverse action notice might look like, see this example letter.
Additionally, to protect against accusations of illegal discrimination, it is always recommended to include the exact reason why the application was not approved in the rejection letter.