The Rhode Island Landlord and Tenant Act of 1987 sets up a specific procedure landlords must follow if they want to evict tenants. While the law gives landlords some leeway in allowable reasons for eviction, it does require them to abide by the conditions of the lease and will not allow them to evict tenants for trying to protect their rights.
Nonpayment of Rent
One of the simplest reasons a landlord can evict a tenant according to Rhode Island law is for nonpayment of rent. If a tenant hasn't paid rent within 15 days of the time it was due, the landlord can send a written notice demanding payment to avoid eviction. The notice must state the specific amount due and inform the tenant of a five-day deadline from the date the notice was mailed before the landlord can go to court to begin eviction proceedings. The tenant can stop eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent by paying all the back rent before or at the eviction hearing. A judge will not evict a tenant who can prove he or she tried to pay rent but was rejected.
Failure to Abide by Rental Agreement
Landlords can also evict tenants for failure to comply with specific obligations set up in the lease, such as paying for repairs or making changes to the unit. If this is the case, the landlord must send the tenant written notice pointing out the specific problem and what the tenant must do to address it. If the tenant takes no action within 20 days, the landlord may begin eviction procedures. If, however, the violation is the tenant's second within a six-month period, the landlord may begin eviction without the 20-day notice.
Tenant's Illegal Activity
Landlords can evict a tenant without legal notice if the tenant has engaged in certain illegal activity on or near the rental property. Such illegal activities include any involvement with illegal drugs or other illegal substances on the property or on adjacent public property and any crime or violence in the unit or on the property, according to the Rhode Island Landlord-Tenant Handbook.
Unlawful Possession of Unit
Tenants can be evicted for staying in a rental unit without the landlord's consent after the lease expires or after a date the landlord has given in a legal notice. Eviction proceedings for unlawful possession of the unit can begin on the day after the rental agreement expires.
Regardless of the landlord's reason for eviction, the eviction proceedings must follow specific legal guidelines. The landlord is required to file forms specific to the reason for eviction at the local district court. The court must then send copies of the summons and complaint to the tenant, who has the right to file a legal answer with any supporting evidence showing that the landlord has misstated the tenant's noncompliance with the lease. The final decision will be made by a judge at a public hearing, at which an evicted tenant can be legally required to pay court fees and fines of up to three months rent.
Landlords are not legally allowed to shut tenants out of apartments without going through the eviction proceedings outlined in the law. If a landlord changes the locks, shuts off the gas or takes other actions meant to force the tenant to leave, the tenant can get a judge to force the landlord to allow him back into the apartment and sue the landlord for monetary damages. Landlords are also legally prohibited from evicting tenants for calling the code office, forming a tenant organization or any other legal activity meant to protect the tenants' rights.
- State of Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Landlord-Tenant Handbook
- Rhode Island Legal Services: Rhode Island Fair Housing
- NOLO. "How Evictions Work: What Renters Need to Know." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- MassLegalHelp. "When Can Landlord Evict." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- VA Legal Aid. "Evictions (including Lockouts and Utility Shutoffs)." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Kreis-Enderle. "Evictions 101: Possession Judgments Vs. Money Judgments." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Pew. "How Free Legal Help Can Prevent Evictions." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Eviction Lab. "What Is the Eviction Process Like?" Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Legal Aid of North Carolina. "Eviction Guide." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- NOLO. "Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Virginia." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Harvard Law Review. "The Limits of Unbundled Legal Assistance." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Eviction Lab. Email. Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Harvard. "Documenting the Long-Run Decline in Low-Cost Rental Units in the US by State." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Brookings. "Is the rent “too damn high”? Or are incomes too low?" Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Govtrack.us. "H.R. 748: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act." Accessed August 14, 2020.
- CBPP. "Extend CARES Act Eviction Moratorium, Combine With Rental Assistance to Promote Housing Stability." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020
- CNBC. "Trump’s order does little to stop impending eviction crisis, experts say." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Urban Institute. "The CARES Act Eviction Moratorium Covers All Federally Financed Rentals—That’s One in Four US Rental Units." Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- Federal Register. "Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19." Accessed Aug. 9, 2020.
Elaine Severs is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally since 2001. She has written about politics, health, education, travel and general interest topics for several newspapers and travel guides, including the "New York Times" and Insight Travel Guides. She has a Master of Science in journalism from Columbia University.