Not knowing the law when you become a landlord or a tenant in the State of Rhode Island can have unfortunate and sometimes costly consequences for you down the road.
Here are a few facts that you may not have known to help you familiarize yourself with local law. As always, consult an attorney before entering into any lease or contract to protect your rights.
1. Always have a lease. A lease allows both parties to control certain aspects of the rental agreement, and prevents disputes between the parties regarding rights and responsibilities of either party. Once a lease is signed, the terms of the lease must be honored, even if the property changes hands. If the property is sold to a new owner, any security deposit or last month’s rent must be transferred to that new owner and he or she must honor the terms of the lease with the current tenants until the lease term expires.
2. In order to institute a rent increase, written notice must be given thirty (30) days before the effective date of the rent increase.
3. In order to terminate a lease that is for less than a year, written notice may be given via first class mail, postmarked more than 30 days prior to the termination date. For a lease that is for a period of a year or more, written notice may be given via first class mail more than three months before the termination date. Note that leases can only be legally terminated for certain reasons, contact an attorney before taking action.
4. A security deposit may be collected by the landlord before the tenant takes possession of the premises occurs. The security deposit cannot exceed one (1) month’s rent. The security deposit must be returned within twenty (20) days after the tenant moves out, returns the keys and leaves a valid forwarding address. When the security deposit is returned, the landlord must give an itemized notice listing all deductions withheld. The only legal deductions are for unpaid rent and damage done to the property by the tenant which is NOT ordinary wear and tear. If the security deposit is not returned in a timely manner, or an itemized list is not presented along with the remaining amount returned, a tenant may be able to collect twice the amount of the original security deposit plus attorneys fees.
5. A landlord who is not a resident of the state of Rhode Island must have an agent within the state (either a person or a corporation authorized to do business in the state). Written designation of the agent’s name and address must be filed with the secretary of state and with the clerk of the town where the rental unit is located.
6. If a landlord receives a housing code violation notice from the state he/she must send copies to his affected tenants. Likewise, if there are any outstanding housing code violations in the building where new tenants will be renting, the landlord must inform prospective tenants prior to their taking possession of the premises.
7. A landlord must give a minimum two-day verbal or written notice when he/she needs to enter a tenant’s rental unit. The landlord’s entry should be during reasonable hours and only for legitimate business reasons such as inspections, repairs, alterations, improvements, supplying necessary or agreed to services, or showing the unit to potential buyers/renters.
8. If a unit requires repairs, and the cost of said repairs is less than $125, the tenant may make the repairs or have them done. The repairs done must pass local housing and building codes. The tenant may then deduct the cost of the repair from the rent paid the following month. However, before the tenant makes the repairs they must: Notify the landlord in writing of the intention to correct the condition, wait 20 days as specified in the above mentioned notice to allow the landlord to correct the conditions, and submit a written statement listing actual costs of the repairs made (including cost of supplies) and pay the remaining rent owed.
9. If a rental unit is substantially damaged or destroyed by fire the tenant may move out immediately and notify the landlord in writing within fourteen (14) days the tenant’s intention to terminate the rental agreement. The agreement will have an effective termination date of the time the tenant moved out. If the unit is still habitable, the tenant may vacate the unusable portions and the rent must then be proportionately reduced by the fair rental value lost.
10. A tenant is responsible for keeping their rental unit up to certain minimum maintenance standards. In the situation where a health or safety problem arises for which the tenant is responsible, and no corrective action is taken, the landlord can make a written demand that the repairs, replacement or cleaning be done within 20 days. If it is an emergency situation the landlord may demand that the action is done immediately. If the repairs are not done as specified, the landlord then has the legal right to enter the renal unit, make the repairs as necessary, and charge the tenant for it. Contact an attorney before taking any action to ensure that your actions are protected.