Knowing your rights as a renter (often referred to as tenant rights) helps protect you from housing discrimination or unfair practices like rent or fee gouging. It also helps ensure you always have a clean, safe place to live and that there's no confusion about which responsibilities are yours and which are your landlord's.
Every state's laws are a little different; read on for details about Rhode Island's.
While lease agreements tend to be pretty lengthy, we strongly recommend you get yourself a tasty beverage, find a comfortable chair, and read the lease—at least three times. If this is your first time renting or the lease feels especially overwhelming, fear not. We’ll walk you through a couple of things to look out for.
Now to the most important part: rent. As a renter, you have essentially agreed to pay a monthly rent to the owner of the house or apartment serving as your home. First and foremost, pay this rent! By signing a lease, you’re contractually obligated to submit this payment each and every month that you live at this home.
While rent is your number one responsibility, there may be other things that you need to take care of, depending on what you agree to in your rental agreement/lease. For example:
- Yardwork (Cutting the grass, trimming the trees, etc.)
- Renter insurance
- Cable & Internet
- Snow removal (if applicable)
Depending on how your lease reads, you may be expected to pay for or perform the work yourself. If you’re not comfortable doing so, try to negotiate in advance of signing a lease. (Some cities also required landlords to cover the cost of certain utilities so check your city or state website to confirm.) It’s okay if you are not comfortable paying for or performing these responsibilities—try and negotiate with the landlord if possible. If you cannot come to an agreement on the terms of the lease agreement, shop around for a home and landlord that is willing to work with you.
Your landlord's responsibilities
Your landlord’s responsibilities begin when the lease is signed and continue until shortly after you move out. At a minimum, the landlord is responsible for providing you with an acceptable place to live. This means the rental unit must be, by legal standards, relatively clean and safe.
The landlord must also take care of things like trash and utilities (basically, everything mentioned above under “Renter Responsibilities”) unless they’ve been specifically outlined as your responsibility in the lease. If there’s no language in the rental agreement that specifically requires you, as the renter, to mow the grass outside your rental unit, it is safe to assume that your landlord will take care of it. If there is any confusion about who is responsible for what, it’s a good idea to talk with your landlord before signing the lease.
Under Rhode Island law, landlords are also required to share specific information with you, like which deposits or fees are non-refundable and who is allowed to perform work on your unit on behalf of the landlord. Landlords will generally satisfy this legal requirement by noting it somewhere in the lease agreement. Here are a few other Rhode Island requirements:
- Rental Agreement - Your landlord must give you a written version of your rental agreement (lease) and it should include things like who the manager of premises is or anyone authorized to act on behalf of the manager (RI Gen L 34-18-15);
- Possession of rental unit - This might seem a little obvious, but your landlord must “deliver possession” of the premises to you, i.e. provide you with keys (RI Gen L 34-18-21);
Maintenance of premises - The condition of your unit must be reasonably maintained (again, more on this later) (RI Gen L 34-18-22).
Rental repairs and maintenance
In general, most landlords want to keep their rental units in decent shape. The longer they delay repairs, the more it costs them in the future. Here's Roost's guide on how to request repairs from your landlord, and here’s what you need to know specifically about Rhode Island:
- If you find that your landlord has placed clauses in your rental agreement that make you responsible for something they should be doing themselves, this is not acceptable under Rhode Island State law.
- If a landlord does not fix a much-needed repair, you do have some options as a renter. These options include termination of the lease or other legal remedies.
- In terms of when they can enter your home, there are a couple of requirements. Unless it’s an emergency, an Rhode Island landlord must provide you with reasonable notice that they need to come in to make repairs or conduct maintenance. In addition, they can’t show up at any old hour—it must happen during a “reasonable” time of day.
Who’s usually responsible?
A leak in the roof or ceiling
Paint mistakenly splashed on the walls
Broken steps to the front door
Light bulbs burned out in your unit
Broken water heater or dishwasher
Power Outage due to loose wiring
Rental security deposits
If you are required to pay a security deposit for a rental unit in Rhode Island (which is very common), your landlord can only charge up to one month’s rent (RI Gen L 34-18-19). (For alternatives to paying a full upfront security deposit, check out companies like Rhino and The Guarantors.)
When do you get your security deposit back after you move out? Assuming you leave your unit in good shape and have not missed any rent payments, your landlord must return your security deposit (minus any deductions) within 20 days after you have moved out of your apartment (RI Gen L 34-18-19). Read Roost's How to get your security deposit back for additional tips.
Rental agreements: rent increases, payment, and fees
If you’re getting ready to sign a lease on your new place, take an extra minute to review the full costs of your new living arrangement. While most people tend to base their decision on the rent amount, don’t be surprised if your landlord requires you to pay other fees. These include:
- Security deposit - Again, the maximum is one month’s rent.
- Late rent fees - Late fees are allowed under Rhode Island law, but must be reasonable and listed in your rental agreement.
- Cleaning fee - Allowed but it must have been outlined in the lease agreement ahead of time.
- Rent Increases - Rhode Island landlords have to give 30 days’ notice, to increase the rent. If the tenant is over the age of 62 years of age, the landlord must provide 60 days’ notice (RI Gen L 34-18-16.1).
- Pets - Check your lease before you get a pet. Rhode Island law doesn’t require landlords to accept pets, and if you don’t get permission in advance, it can be considered a violation of your lease and be cause for eviction. Additional pet rent or pet security deposit is not uncommon.
- Emotional support and service animals - If you have a mental or emotional disability, federal laws state landlords must make “reasonable accommodations”, which can include an emotional support or service animal. There are a few exceptions and this tends to be a pretty tricky area for both renters and landlords to navigate together, so be upfront about what you need and follow all required steps. Landlords cannot charge you extra for an emotional support or service animal.
Read Roost's What to know before signing that rental lease for additional tips.
Rent termination and eviction
Once you’ve moved into your rental unit, the place is yours until your lease is up, your landlord terminates the rental agreement early, or you’re evicted. Eviction is an unpleasant process for everyone, so it’s best for you and your landlord to do everything you can to avoid it. Being evicted makes it hard to find housing, can affect your credit, and does not relieve you from paying rent unless the landlord finds someone new to move in.
Your landlord can only evict you under certain circumstances. The most common reasons for eviction are missing rent or violating the lease (unauthorized pets or occupants--things like that). However, they can’t simply change the locks, dump your stuff on the front yard and kick you out. In order to legally evict you, a landlord must follow proper procedures and serve you an eviction notice before you are required to move out of your rental unit. In other words, the landlord has to tell you that you’ve violated the lease and that it will be terminated if the problem is not fixed within 5 days. Examples of lease violations include:
- Providing false information on the rental application
- Too many people living in the rental unit versus what was originally agreed to
- Not maintaining the unit enough to reach the level of a breach of the lease
Renting with roommates
Sometimes your roommate situation just doesn’t work out. Unfortunately, you’re both responsible for the lease, and in many ways, you’re both responsible for each other’s actions. Depending on how your rental agreement is written, if your roommate bails, you could be stuck having to pay the full rent on your own. While you can use legal action to go after your former roommate, you may still have to pay full rent when it’s due.
One of the most common questions that arise when there’s a problem with a roommate is whether you can evict them. In short: no. If your roommate’s name is on the lease as a tenant, you cannot kick them out, so sending an eviction notice would be pointless. If they are not on the lease, they may not be considered a tenant, which technically means they don’t have any legal obligations to fulfill in regards to your lease anyway.
Rental housing discrimination
Thanks to Fair Housing laws in Rhode Island, you’re protected from discrimination when applying for rental (42 U.S.C. 3601). This means that the landlord or property manager can’t base their decision any of the following:
- National Origin
- Gender Identity
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Presence of Children
- Military/Veteran Status
This federal law has been adopted by Rhode Island to prevent discrimination. If you feel like discrimination may have occurred, best to talk with an attorney.
On March 19, 2020, the Governor of Rhode Island and the state’s Director of Health suspended evictions until at least mid-April. This time frame was extended to May 17, 2020. However, after June 1st, the District Court may start processing evictions again.
It is important to know that the prior suspension did does not relieve the tenants from their obligations to pay their rent. For additional resources regarding how Rhode Island is handling the current pandemic with respect to housing, learn more.
The Trump administration recently announced a new executive order for a rent moratorium through the end of the 2020 year. The order was put forward by the Centers for Disease Control to help prevent Covid-19 spread. Under the updated directive, families must prove they tried to pay their rent and that eviction would force them into a shelter or close quarters with others. If this covers you, then you’ll need to attest to your situation and a substantial loss of income on a form. Forms are to come available via the CDC website.
The order does not waive any rent debt — it just defers it — still leaving many renters vulnerable. And, it still allows landlords to charge fees, penalties, and interest, according to the draft document posted on September 1st.
The executive order covers more renters than the former CARES Act moratorium which only protected those living in housing with a federally backed mortgage loan, public housing, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for people with disabilities, rural rental housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, USDA housing voucher, or VA voucher. That Act protection expired on July 25, 2020.
The executive order covers more renters than the former CARES Act federal moratorium on evictions which only protected those living in housing with a federally backed mortgage loans, public housing, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for people with disabilities, rural rental housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, USDA housing voucher, or VA voucher. That Act protection expired on July 25, 2020.
Stay tuned... Congress is currently working on a bill called the CARES Act 2, which could afford more protection for renters if passed.
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If you need some more information, check out some of the resources listed below:
- Rhode Island Housing
- State of Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development
- Fair Housing RI
State rules and regulations
Your renters rights, in your state.
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- Washington, D.C. Renters Rights
You probably already know that we’re not a law firm, but just to make sure we get this out of the way: We can’t provide any advice or opinions about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms, or strategies. And by hanging out with us here at Roost, you agree to our Legal disclaimer.