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Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Laws

Navigating Landlord Tenant Laws in Rhode Island

Renting can be a sticky wicket for both tenant and landlord, so the good state of Rhode Island has created to statutes to help protect the interests of both parties. Rhode Island statute Residential Landlord and Tenant Act ref. § 34-18 covers many situations and issues that are common in a landlord tenant relationship. Additional ordinances that are relative regarding remedies for grievances are covered under Limited Actions statute § 9-1-13. These rules and regulations that govern landlord tenant relationships protect both parties, ensuring that should something go awry, there are legal remedies in place to help injured parties.

When looking for a rental property in Rhode Island, contacting the Rhode Island Association of Realtors can help you find the perfect place, and help you understand the terms of a lease. We have compiled some of the most common regulations here, but if you have an issue with your landlord, you should seek advise and do your own research.

The Importance of the Lease

Although many rent without signing a lease, it is a really bad idea. A lease is a legal contract that binds both the tenant and landlord to adhere to a set list of behaviors and actions that are related to the tenancy. For example, a lease will contain a move in date, the length of the leasing period, what is allowed such as pets or smoking, the day rent is due and how much, grace periods, the amount of the security and pet deposit, any fees, and a copy of the move in walk through checklist. Many of these items are often regulated by states to help keep things fair and equitable between landlord and tenant. There is no statute governing a copy of the lease, so make sure you ask for yours and receive it to protect your rights.

In Rhode Island, the rental due date is governed by statute § 34-18-15(c) and is to be paid according to the lease or at the beginning of the month if no lease exists. There is no statute governing a grace period, but it is not uncommon to have a 5 day grace period written into the lease. The landlord is allowed to charge 25 dollars for a returned check fee collection fee if the returned check is not made good within thirty days. The landlord may charge the tenant three times the amount of the check but no less than $200 but no more than $1000.

If the landlord wishes to raise the rent, a 30 day notice must be given before the date of the increase unless the tenant is 62 years or older. In this case, a 60 day notice is required. There are no statutes governing late fees, but your landlord may include them in the lease. Prepaid rent is to be returned for any period after the termination of the lease must be returned within 30 days of the end of tenancy according to statute § 34-18-15(5).

If the landlord fails to provide the tenant with essential services such as water, heat and trash removal when the lease requires, a tenant can deduct the amount needed to supply the services from the amount of rent paid, but must follow the guidelines in statute § 34-18-31. When landlords fail to affect timely repairs, tenants are allowed to make the repairs after giving a 20 day notice if the repairs will cost less than $125. Additionally, the tenant must supply the landlord with and itemized list of costs incurred making the repairs § 34-18-30.

When a tenant abandons the property or the lease is terminated early the landlord may not impose a fee, but may collect any unpaid rent or other obligation such as costs of summonses after the tenant vacates the property§ 34-18-15(4). In this type of situation, landlords are required to make a reasonable attempt to reduce the amount of damages to the tenant by re-renting the property to reduce the amount of rent left in the lease period § 34-18-40. Finally, statute § 34-18-38 allow landlords to recoup legal fees as they relate to eviction for remaining in the property after the lease has terminated, or failure to release the property.

Security Deposit

Security deposit rules vary widely from state to state. In Rhode Island, a security deposit is limited to the amount of one month’s rent according to statute § 34-18-19(a). Although some states have statutes requiring the security deposit be deposited into a separate account and the accrued interest is regulated as well as rules governing the receipt of the deposit or deposit withholding. Statute § 34-18-19(b) regulates how landlords may use deposits and limits us to repairing damages outside of normal wear and tear and for unpaid rent. A written list and description of damages and costs must be sent to the tenant under statute § 34-18-19(b). Landlords must return security deposits within 20 days of lease termination and vacancy of the property or when the tenant provides a forwarding address for the deposit to be sent § 34-18-19(b).

If for any reason the landlord fails to comply with the rules regulating the return of the deposit, the tenant may seek reparations in small claims court. Tenants may sue for the amount of deposit due, plus twice that amount in damages § 34-18-19(c). In Rhode Island the maximum award is $2,500.

Notices and Landlord Entry to the Property

Often a bone of contention between landlord and tenant is entry to rental property by the landlord. Rhode Island has passed a number of statutes that govern notices and entry of the property, which helps both parties know what to expect, reducing conflicts. No statute governs fixed end date lease. There is also no statute governing notices for move in or out inspections that specify date and time. There is also no statute governing entrance for pest control.

The landlord must notify tenants of the address and phone number of the property manager for the purpose of receiving notices § 34-18-20. Statute § 34-37-1 protects domestic violence victims from lease termination or refusal to renew.

There are a number of regulations that pertain to entering the property, notices regarding failure to comply with the conditions of the lease and many other circumstances. Rhode Island Statute § 34-18-37(c) requires tenants to provide a 90 day notice of intent to vacate on leases with a year lease period. For a month to month, a 30 day period is required § 34-18-37(b) and a 10 day notice is required on weekly rental periods§ 34-18-37(a).

If the tenant fails to maintain the property according to Tenant Duties, the landlord may enter to affect repairs and send the tenant a notice asking for the cost of the repairs § 34-18-39. If the tenant fails to pay rent, after fifteen days the landlord may give the tenant a five day notice of eviction. Eviction may commence on the 6th day after mailing said notice § 34-18-35.

A landlord may give the tenant a 20 day notice to quit tenancy if the tenant has violated the lease. During these 20 days, the tenant may remedy the breach and remain in the property unless the notice is for participating in drug activity or a violent crime. If the tenant commits the same sort of violation again within six months, the landlord may evict with a 20 day notice and the tenant is not allowed to remedy the violation § 34-18-36.

The landlord is allowed to enter the property for maintenance, showings and other official duties either in an emergency or non-emergency after giving tenant the appropriate 2 day notice and may make entry during reasonable hours according to statutes § 34-18-26(a), § 34-18-26(b), and § 34-18-26(c).

The landlord is not allowed to effect an eviction using lockouts and statute § 34-18-34 provides tenants with remedies should the landlord attempt this tactic. Similarly, the landlord may not shut off utilities either and the same statute provides remedies if this tactic is attempted.

Other Regulations and Requirements

If a tenant violates certain laws, such as drug possession, commits a violent crime or has violated a city ordinance or violated the terms of the lease by disturbing the peace, the landlord may file to evict immediately without any notice § 34-18-36(f). Statute § 34-18-22.1 requires landlords to notify tenants in the event of a code violation within 30 days to every tenant unless the violation is remedied within that 30 day period. Any tenant moving into a building with a current code violation must be notified.

There are several regulations and requirements covered in statute § 34-37-1, which covers the Landlord Duties. Tenant Duties are described in statute § 34-18-24. These duties are numerous and relevant so each party should read the statutes to be fully aware of the obligation each party has. Some of the items included determine the landlord’s responsibilities regarding trash, maintenance, common areas, basic services and repairs. The tenant’s duties include cleanliness, lawful activity, controlled substances, and retaliation.

As mentioned, we can only cover some of the most asked about issues. We highly recommend that you research the statutes completely to understand your rights and responsibilities as landlord/ tenant.

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Karen - September 18, 2016

My new landlord wants to charge me a three month security deposit for a dog. Is this legal?

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Karen - September 18, 2016

My new landlord wants to charge me a three month security deposit for a dog. Is this legal? Where is it stated in the Rhode Island law specifically about deposits on pets?
Thanks.

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