Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Law

Looking for clear and concise information on Rhode Island landlord tenant law? Get all your answers from this plain English guide to the Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Act.

RI Landlord Tenant Law:

  • State of Rhode Island General Laws Chapter 34-18 - Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (Section 34-18-1 to 34-18-57)

Tenant Application

Application Fees

The landlord can ask prospective tenants for application fees to cover the costs of background and credit checks. The fee amount should be reasonable - We recommend charging around $30 per applicant. If the landlord did not run any tenant screening checks, the fees should be refunded.

Background and Credit Check

You can screen tenant applicants with a background check or full credit report from RentPrep.

A background check will show a person's history of addresses, evictions, bankruptcies, judgments and liens.

A full credit report comes with a basic background check, credit check plus criminal check. A basic background check shows a person's history of addresses, evictions and bankruptcies.

Landlords do not need the tenant or applicant's consent to run background and credit checks.  Fair Credit Reporting Act § 604(a)(3)(F)

Avoiding Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act disallows landlords from discriminating against prospective renters based on their race, color, religion, sex, *familial status, national origin or physical/mental handicap.  42 U.S.C. § 3604

*Familial status - pregnant women and families with person(s) under 18.

In addition, Rhode Island landlord tenant law disallows landlords from discriminating someone as a renter because of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status or ancestry. Servicemembers, military veterans and domestic abuse victims cannot be discriminated as well.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-37-4.(a)

However if the dwelling has four or less rental units and the landlord lives in one of them, then he or she won't have to follow the above Fair Housing laws.  42 U.S.C. § 3603(b)

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Tenancy Agreement

(also known as a lease agreement or rental agreement)

Whether you're a landlord or tenant, it's important to have a written lease agreement with terms and conditions that favors you and follows your state laws.

To save time and avoid mistakes, you can customize your own lease agreement at LawDepot. This site will ask you a set of questions related to your tenancy and create a state-specific agreement based on your answers.

What Landlord Must Disclose

Before entering into a rental agreement, Rhode Island landlord tenant law requires the landlord to disclose the following to the tenant:

  • House Code Violations: The landlord must inform prospective tenants of any existing house code violations  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-22.1.(b)
  • Disclosure and information of lead-based paint in the property (for housing built before 1978)

Required for Tenancy Agreement

Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-20 requires all tenancy agreements to contain the following details:

  • Name and address of person authorized to manage the property
  • Name and address or property owner or owner's agent (person authorized to act on behalf of owner)

Recommended for Tenancy Agreement

  • Name and address of tenant(s)
  • Number of people (occupants) staying on the property
  • Type of tenancy: month to month tenancy or fixed term lease
  • How much is the rent
  • When, how and where the rent is to be paid
  • When is rent is considered late and the penalties for late rent payment
  • How much is the security deposit and pet deposit (if any)
  • Who holds the deposit(s) and where will it be held
  • What utilities and services are provided and who pays for them
  • What are the landlord's and tenant's duties for property maintenance
  • Can the tenant sublet the property or assign the lease
  • When to inform the landlord if tenant will be away for a long time
  • Prohibited activities and items

Disallowed for Tenancy Agreement

According to Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-17, your lease agreement CANNOT:

  • make the tenant give up any legal rights or remedies under the Rhode Island Landlord and Tenant Act
  • permit the landlord to get a confession of judgment against the tenant (on a claim arising from the rental agreement
  • make the tenant pay for the landlord's attorney fees (unless ordered by the courts) 
  • dismiss or limit the landlord's liability when he or she has failed in his or her duties

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Security Deposit

Rhode Island landlord tenant law allows the landlord to ask for up to one month's rent as security deposit.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-19.(a)

There are no Rhode Island landlord tenant statutes on security deposit holding methods and security deposit interest.

Deductions and Returns

Rhode Island landlord tenant law requires the landlord to inform the tenant of the terms and conditions for security deposit deductions.
  
Valid reasons for security deposit deductions under Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-19.(b) include:

  • Rent owed
  • Property damage due to negligence, misuse or abuse by tenant, occupants or tenant's guests
  • Costs and losses incurred by landlord due to the tenant failing in his or her duties - See Tenant Responsibilities and Duties below

The landlord is NOT allowed to take money from the security deposit due to damage from *normal wear and tear. *Normal wear and tear is the natural deterioration of the property (and its contents) from normal everyday use.

Once the lease terminates and the tenant returns the property, the landlord must send the tenant a list of security deposit deductions and refund any remaining deposit within 20 days. This list has to individually account for all damages and rent owed in writing.
   
If the landlord fails to follow Rhode Island landlord tenant law for deducting and returning security deposit, the tenant can recover up to two times the deposit amount that was wrongfully withheld plus attorney fees.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-19.(c)

If Property is Sold

Once the property ownership is transferred, the new owner will be responsible for refunding any security deposit or prepaid rent to the tenant at the end of the tenancy.

The previous owner (and property manager) will no longer be responsible for the tenancy once he or she informs the tenant of the new owner's (and property manager's) name, address and phone number.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-23

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Providence, Rhode Island RI

Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Law

Rent

The tenant has to pay the rent without demand or reminders. As long as the landlord and tenant are agreeable, they can choose the time, place and method of rent payment.
   
By default, rent is payable once the tenancy begins and shall be paid at the start of the month. Rent is to be collected at the rental property.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-15.(c)

Late Rent

There are no Rhode Island landlord tenant statutes on imposing charges for late rent payments or bounced checks.

If the landlord wants to impose late rent charges, it has to be specified in the tenancy agreement. While there are no state laws on late fees, landlords cannot overcharge or impose unfair terms. Otherwise the tenant can refuse to pay and challenge the late fees in court.

Most states consider reasonable late fees to be around 3 to 5% of the rent amount. In addition, landlords should wait until rent payment is at least three days late before charging late fees.

Raising Rent

According to the Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Act, the landlord has to inform the tenant of a rent increase at least 30 days in advance. If the tenant is over 62 years old, the landlord has to inform him or her at least 60 days in advance.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-16.1

For a fixed term tenancy, the landlord isn't allowed to raise the rent until the tenancy expires.

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Property Maintenance

Landlord Duties and Responsibilities

The Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Act R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-22 requires the landlord to maintain the property in a safe and habitable condition:

  • Compliance: Obey all building and housing codes that affect health and safety
  • Repairs: Make all repairs to keep the property safe and habitable
  • Common Areas: Keep all common areas clean and safe
  • Maintenance: Maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, kitchen facilities in safe working condition
  • Waste Disposal: Provide outlets for waste disposal and arrange for waste removal
  • Heating: Supply running water, hot water and heating (as far as conditions allow)

Tenant Duties and Responsibilities

Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-24 also requires the tenant to keep the property in a clean and safe condition:

  • Compliance: Obey all building and housing codes that affect health and safety
  • Cleanliness: Keep the property clean and safe (as far as conditions will allow)
  •  Waste Disposal: Dispose all waste from the property in a clean and safe manner
  • Keep all plumbing fixtures in rental unit clean (as far as conditions will allow)
  • Proper Usage: Use all facilities and appliances properly. This includes all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, kitchen and common area facilities
  • Property Damage: Avoid property damage due to negligence, misuse or abuse by the tenant, occupants or tenant's guests
  • Neighbors: Avoid disturbing neighbors and also disallow others from disturbing neighbors
  • Illegal Activities: Avoid all illegal activities involving controlled substances or violence on or near the property

If Landlord Fails to Maintain Property

If the landlord fails to maintain the property, the tenant can give the landlord a written notice stating the problem and giving the landlord 20 days to fix it.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-30

If landlord fails to fix the problem within 20 days and the defect can be repaired for less than $125, the tenant can make the repairs and deduct the cost from rent. After repairs are made, the tenant has to submit an itemized statement to the landlord.

If Landlord Fails to Provide Essential Services

If the landlord fails to provide an essential service (such as heat, water, electricity, plumbing or sanitation), the tenant may give the landlord a written notice stating the problem and do ONE of the following:

  1. Obtain the essential service and deduct the cost from rent.
  2. Sue the landlord for damages (based on the property's decline in rental value).
  3. Move to substitute housing (that costs the same or less) and stop paying rent until the essential service is restored. The landlord has to pay the rent for the tenant's substitute housing.

In addition, the tenant can recover attorney fees from the landlord as well.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-31

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Property Access

When Tenant's Permission is Required

According to Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-26, the landlord is only allowed to enter the property for the following reasons:

  • Performing property maintenance or repairs
  • Supplying essential (or mutually agreed) services and utilities
  • Inspecting for damages
  • Showing the property to prospective buyers, tenants or contractors

In the above situations, the landlord must inform the tenant at least two days in advance before entering the property. The landlord can only enter the property with the tenant's consent and during reasonable hours.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-26.(c)

When Tenant's Permission is NOT Required

According to Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-26.(b), the landlord may enter the property without permission in the following situations:

  • Emergencies such as smoke, fire, flooding or explosion
  • Tenant has been away from the property for more than seven days (only to carry out necessary repairs and maintenance)
  • Court order granting landlord access to the property

If Tenant Refuses Landlord's Valid Request to Enter Property

The tenant cannot deny access if the landlord has a valid reason to enter the property.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-45.(a)

Otherwise the landlord can EITHER

  1. obtain a court order that requires the tenant to let the landlord in OR
  2. terminate the lease agreement by giving the tenant a written notice in advance.

In addition, the landlord can also sue the tenant for actual damages PLUS court costs and attorney fees.

If Landlord Enters Property Illegally

The landlord must have a valid reason and obtain the tenant's permission (whenever required) to enter the property.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-45.(b)

If the landlord fails to do so or harasses the tenant, the tenant can EITHER

  1. obtain a court order that stops the landlord from entering the property illegally or harassing the tenant OR
  2. terminate the lease agreement by giving the tenant a written notice in advance.

In addition, the tenant may also sue the landlord for actual damages PLUS court costs and attorney fees.

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Subletting

There are no specific Rhode Island landlord tenant laws on subletting.

We recommend that the landlord and tenant work out the following details and include them in the rental agreement:

  • Is the tenant allowed to sublet the property? If yes, is the landlord's written consent required before the tenant can sublet?
  • Is the landlord allowed to screen and reject every prospective subtenant?
  • Can the landlord ask for additional rent and security deposit if the tenant sublets?

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Pawtucket, Rhode Island RI

Pawtucket, Rhode Island RI

Termination of Tenancy

Number of Days for Notice to Quit

Before terminating a tenancy, Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-37 requires you to give the other party a written notice to quit in advance:

Week to week tenancy

10 days

Month to month tenancy

30 days

Year to year tenancy

3 months

TENANT

If you are the tenant, the following are the minimum number of days for giving your landlord a notice to quit:

Tenant is 65 years or older and moving to a care facility or elderly housing

45 days

Tenant is deployed in the armed forces

See below

Property damage due to fire, disaster or unavoidable accident

Immediate

Tenant is 65 Years or Older and Moving to a Care Facility or Elderly Housing

If the tenant is 65 years or older, he or she can terminate the rental agreement to move to an  assisted living facility, nursing facility or elderly housing.

The tenant must give the landlord a written notice to quit at least 45 days in advance. This notice must include a document of admission for the care facility or elderly housing.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-15.(e)

Tenant is Deployed in the Armed Forces

Rhode Island landlord tenant law R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-15.(f) allows a service member or service member's dependent to terminate the tenancy agreement if ONE of the following conditions is met:

  • Tenant entered military service during the tenancy 
  • Service member received orders for a permanent change of station for 90 or more days

The tenant may terminate the rental agreement by giving the landlord a written notice to quit AND a copy of the military orders.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-15.(f)(1)(iii)

If tenant is paying rent every month, the lease shall be terminated 30 days after the next rent due date (e.g. If the tenant gives notice to quit on 10 Jan and rent is due on 15 Jan, then the lease shall terminate on 15 Feb).

For all other types of tenancy, the lease shall be terminated on the last of NEXT month (e.g. If the tenant gives notice to quit on 10 Jan, then the lease shall terminate on 28 Feb).

In this case, the landlord has to return all security deposits and prepaid rents (after deductions) to the tenant. The service member will have to pay (pro-rated) rent up to the termination date.

Property Damage Due to Fire, Disaster or Unavoidable Accident

If the property is badly damaged by fire, disaster or unavoidable accident (that is no fault of the tenant or related people), the tenant can immediately move out and stop paying rent. The tenancy shall terminate once the tenant moves out. The tenant must inform the landlord that he or she intends to terminate the tenancy within 14 days of moving out.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-33

After the tenant moves out, the landlord must return the security deposit (after any deductions) to the tenant. The tenant won't have to pay rent starting from the date of the fire or disaster, so the landlord must also return any prepaid rent to the tenant.

If only part of the property is damaged, the tenant should move out of the damaged area. The rent amount will be lowered based on how much of the property is still livable.

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Eviction

According to Rhode Island landlord tenant law, the following are valid reasons for evicting tenants and the minimum number of days for giving them a notice to quit:

Tenant did not pay rent

5 days (See below)

Tenant violated tenancy agreement or didn't perform duties

20 days

Whether you are a landlord evicting someone or a tenant facing eviction, it's important that you handle matters correctly according to your state laws.

If you have any questions or doubts on eviction, you can ask a local landlord tenant lawyer online.

Tenant Did Not Pay Rent

If rent payment is late for 15 or more days, the landlord can send the tenant a five day written notice to terminate the tenancy. This notice must state the amount of rent owed and that the rental agreement shall be terminated if rent isn't paid within five days.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-35

If the rent is paid within five days, then tenancy shall continue. If rent isn't paid within five days, the landlord can file an eviction action ("Complaint for Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent") against the tenant.

Tenant Violated Tenancy Agreement or Didn't Perform Duties

If the tenant violates the tenancy agreement in a *significant manner, the landlord can send the tenant a 20 day written notice to terminate the tenancy. *Significant manner refers to situations that affects human health and safety.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-36

Similarly if the tenant fails to perform his or her duties (as required by Rhode Island landlord tenant law) in a significant manner, the landlord can also send the tenant a 20 day written notice to terminate the tenancy.

This written notice has to state what is the tenant's violation or failure in duty. If the tenant corrects the problem within 20 days, then the tenancy shall continue.

However if the tenant violates the tenancy agreement (or fails in his or her duty) in a similar manner within six months, the landlord can evict the tenant by sending him or her a written 20 day notice. In this case, the tenant must move out.

Unlawful Eviction

According to Rhode Island landlord tenant law, the landlord CANNOT force the tenant to move out by shutting off utilities (electricity, water, gas, sanitation), changing the locks, taking the tenant's belongings or taking possession of the property by force without a court hearing.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-44

If the landlord forces the tenant to move out with unlawful methods or shuts off utilities, the tenant can EITHER

  1.  regain possession of the property OR
  2. terminate the tenancy agreement

In addition, the tenant can also sue the landlord for up to three month's rent or three times actual damages (whichever is more) PLUS attorney fees.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-34

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Abandonment

When is it Abandonment?

If the landlord believes that the tenant has abandoned the property, the landlord shall send a certified letter (return receipt requested) to the tenant's last known address. This letter must state that the landlord shall re-rent the property unless the tenant replies within seven days. If the tenant fails to reply within seven days, the landlord can re-rent the property.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-40

As long as the landlord makes a proper effort to re-rent the property at a fair rate, the abandoning tenant will be responsible for paying rent until the tenancy ends. If a new tenant is moving in before the tenancy ends, then the abandoning tenant can stop paying rent once the new tenant moves in.

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Resources

Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Law: Rhode Island Residential Landlord and Tenant Act

Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Handbook: The Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Handbook

If you have any questions or need legal advice, you can ask a local landlord tenant lawyer online.

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