The most common reason landlords have for starting an eviction is nonpayment of rent. A landlord, however, may not self-evict a tenant by bypassing state laws that specifically detail how the Rhode Island eviction process must be followed.
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Self or constructive eviction is unlawful. Even if a tenant is habitually late on paying rent or is engaged in any activity that disturbs the peaceful enjoyment to which other tenants are entitled or any other lease violation, the landlord is still obligated to follow the procedures set forth in the state statutes.
Constructive eviction are acts undertaken by the landlord to force the tenant to vacate. Examples include shutting off utilities or essential services, entering the unit and removing the tenant’s personal belongings or denying the tenant access to the unit. A landlord in these circumstances may be liable to the tenant to 3 times the rent or 3 times the damages sustained by the tenant, whichever is greater; and the tenant may terminate the lease.
5-Day Notice of Eviction For Nonpayment of Rent
The Rhode Island eviction process for nonpayment of rent begins with the tenant being more than 15-days overdue in payment. At this point, the landlord must serve a Rhode Island eviction notice called a 5-Day Demand Notice for Nonpayment of Rent. The notice must be state that the rent is more than 15-days in arrears and that the tenant must pay all amounts due within 5-days of the date the notice was mailed or a court action will begin. It must also state the amount that must be paid.
Opportunity to Cure Rent Arrearages
The tenant still has an opportunity to prevent the eviction from going forward if he or she pays the rent before the landlord files a Summons and Complaint, even if the rent is paid beyond the 5-day period.
Also, if the tenant has not received a 5-Day Notice within 6-months before the landlord has filed a Summons and Complaint, the tenant can cure the failure to pay rent by tendering the entire amount due together with court costs at the time of the hearing.
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20-Day Notice of Noncompliance
A Rhode Island Eviction for lease violations (other than nonpayment of rent), requires the landlord to serve or mail a 20-Day Notice stating the omissions or acts that are in violation of the lease and that he or she has 20-days from the date of mailing of the notice to remedy the violation. If the same violation is the subject of this notice within the past 6-months, the tenant loses the right to remedy the violation. If there is noncompliance, the notice must state that court action will ensue.
Noncompliance must be for a material breach of the lease such as the following:
- Conduct that disturbs the peaceful enjoyment of other tenants
- Criminal violence on the premises or on property adjacent to it
- Engaging in narcotics violations such as the possession, sale, manufacture, or delivery of controlled substances
- Failure to maintain the residence in a safe and clean condition
- Deliberate or negligent destruction or damage of any part of the premises
The landlord can send a 30-day Notice to Terminate Tenancy if the lease is month-to-month. No reason needs to be given so long as it is not for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation for the tenant’s exercising his or her rights. This Rhode Island eviction process can be much longer if the tenant refuses to leave or contests the eviction since the tenant has 20-days to file an Answer to a Summons and Complaint that must be filed by the landlord. If the tenant takes this action, a court date will be scheduled after a minimum of 10 days.
Summons and Complaint for Nonpayment of Rent
After the 6th day after mailing the notice and the tenant has not paid the rent, the landlord must file and serve a Summons and Complaint for Nonpayment of Rent. The Summons will provide the date and time of the hearing and advise the tenant that an Answer may be filed before or at the time of the hearing. The Summons and Complaint must be served by either a process server or sheriff’s deputy.
If an Answer is filed before the hearing and the tenant wishes to conduct discovery, the court may continue the hearing to allow a reasonable time for discovery to be completed. Discovery is defined as scheduling depositions and/or submitting written interrogatories and requests for documents to the landlord. The court may order that interim rent be paid during this period.
Summons and Complaint for Eviction for Reason Other Than for Nonpayment of Rent
A Summons and Complaint for eviction other than nonpayment of rent can be filed on the first date following the lease termination date stated in the notice. It must state that the tenant has 20-days to file an Answer or be in default. The landlord can recover all actual damages and possibly attorney’s fees along with regaining possession.
Rhode Island Eviction Hearing
An eviction hearing is a trial before a judge who will listen and consider evidence from both parties. The landlord must prove by preponderance of the evidence the landlord’s allegations. Such as that the tenant failed to pay rent when due beyond the 15-days, that there was a material breach of the rental agreement, or that the tenant has not vacated beyond the 30-days if a month-to-month tenancy.
The tenant can present evidence to refute the landlord’s claims. Examples would be that the landlord did not serve the appropriate notice, or that there was no material breach of the lease. The tenant may argue that the landlord did not remedy dangerous conditions or provide essential services despite a written request. Or maybe that the eviction is for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation for a valid right exercised by the tenant.
Writ of Restitution
If the landlord prevails, the court will order the tenant to vacate by a certain date. A Writ of Restitution may be issued by the court, which the landlord must give to the sheriff. This gives the sheriff authority to forcibly remove the tenant if he or she remains beyond the time specified in the court order.
Unilateral Termination by Tenant
There are instances where a tenant may unilaterally terminate the lease agreement if the landlord’s actions or omissions are egregious enough to affect the health and safety of the tenant.
In cases where the cost of compliance is less than $125.00, the tenant can perform the repairs or hire someone to do it. But the tenant must inform the landlord of his or intention to make the repairs at the landlord’s expense and the landlord must have failed to make the repairs within 20-days of the notice. The tenant must submit an itemized statement of the costs of the repairs and can deduct the amount from the next rent owed.
Tenant Termination for Serious Landlord Violations
For more serious violations, the tenant cannot terminate the lease before first delivering a written notice to the landlord. The notice must specifically outline the violations that are in breach of the lease. It must state that the lease will be terminated not less than 30-days after the landlord’s receipt of the notice provided the landlord does not remedy the violations within 20-days.
If the same condition that was remedied for which a prior 30-day notice was given occurs again within the following 6-months, Rhode Island Landlord-Tenant Law says the tenant can now terminate the lease after giving only 14-days written notice. This 14 day notice must specify the violation and the date on which the lease will terminate. No 20-day remedy period is necessary.