The eviction laws vary slightly from county to county, but the eviction process remains nearly the same:
- Send a clear written notice
- Fill out the forms
- Serve the documents
- Attend the trial
- Wait for judgment
This article details a summary for a Rhode Island landlord to refer to when evicting a tenant. Alternatively, a landlord can use the help of an attorney if they have any questions on landlord-tenant law.
An eviction notice is usually a form that is filled out by landlords. The notice must detail a tenant's violation and whether or not tenants can fix the issue.
The notice period depends on the reason the tenant is being evicted for. This form is important because, without it, the tenant may easily win the case.
1. Failure to pay rent or nonpayment of rent
The most common reason for getting evicted in a Rhode Island eviction process is failure to make a timely rent payment. Landlords can evict a tenant for failing to pay the rent due.
Rent is considered late in Rhode Island 15 days past its due. Before a landlord can start with the eviction action for not paying rent, the landlord must provide the tenants a written eviction form called a 5-Day Notice to Pay after 15 days of non-payment of rent.
This notice informs the renters that they haven't paid the complete rent amount in 15 days and are required to move out of the property or pay the amount indicated in the rent in 5 days in order to avoid facing an eviction action.
If tenants who are being evicted for failing to pay rent on time manage to pay the entire rental amount in full to the landlord before the five days are up, the entire eviction process stops and they can continue staying within the rental premises.
2. Violation of the lease/rental agreement
A lease agreement can vary between tenants. Landlords and tenants are required to uphold the terms of the lease agreement at all times.
The landlord can evict the tenant for a lease violation. The landlord must provide the tenant a 20-Day Notice to Comply. The written notice must allow the tenant to fix the issue within 20 days.
Lease violations include:
- Damage to the rental unit
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Material health/safety violations
- Too many people are living inside the rental unit
- Housing a pet in a pet-free rental unit or rental premises, etc.
The landlord may file an eviction if the tenant fails to resolve the violation within 20 days and remains inside the rental unit after the given notice period.
3. Rental property is foreclosed
Even if a Rhode Island rental unit is being foreclosed, the tenant cannot be evicted by the landlord. There must be a valid reason for evicting the tenant before foreclosure.
In cases involving the foreclosure of the rental property AND a valid reason to evict a tenant, then the landlord must provide a 30-Days' Notice to Quit.
Should the tenant remain in the rental property after 30 days, then the landlord may continue to file for eviction.
4. Conducting illegal activity
If a tenant has engaged in illegal activity on the rental premises, the landlord is not legally obligated to give them any notice. Landlords may proceed directly to the next step in the eviction process and file a complaint.
Examples of illegal activity include, but are not limited to:
- Murder, manslaughter, rape, assault (sexual, felony, etc.)
- Kidnapping, arson, mayhem
- Possession and/or firing of an illegal firearm
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
5. Non-renewal of lease after the end of the rental period
A Rhode Island eviction process does not allow a landlord to evict a tenant without good cause. As long as the tenant does not violate any rules, they can stay until their rental period ends.
However, a tenant can be evicted if they stay in the property even a day after their written lease ends (and have not arranged for a renewal).
This type of eviction notice usually only applies if the landlord wants to end the tenant's lease. The required notice time given to a tenant depends on their tenancy type and can be a 14-Day Notice to Quit, a 30-Day Notice to Quit, or a 90-Day Notice to Quit
Should the tenant remain in the rental premises even after their notice period ends, landlords may continue to file for an eviction action in order to evict the tenant from the property.
Filing a Complaint
In a Rhode Island Eviction process, the landlord may file a complaint once the notice period has passed. Successful evictions rely on correct filings, so the landlord must file all the forms correctly.
1. Steps in filing
- Proceed to the district court the rental property belongs to
- Fill out the forms
- Pay the filing costs. Filing costs in Rhode Island are about $80.
It takes between 5-90 days before a landlord can file a complaint. This depends on the notice given to the tenant.
Serving the Tenant
The Summons and Complaint must be served to the tenant. The landlord must not serve this document themselves. The document should contain information such as the date and time of the court trial.
Rhode Island allows authorized citizens/employees to serve the document. It has to be delivered at least 5 days before the eviction hearing is scheduled if the eviction is about failure to pay timely rent.
1. How to serve documents to a tenant
The summons and its corresponding documents have to be served through one of the following methods:
- Personal Service: The Summons and Complaint is served to the tenant in person. This method can be used for any eviction regardless of the reason.
- Substituted Service: A copy of the Summons and Complaint is left at the tenant's place of residence or rental unit with someone who is of an “appropriate” age. This method can be used for any eviction regardless of the reason.
- Posting Service: A copy of the documents is left in a secure and visible position by the entrance to the tenant’s rented property. This method is only applicable for evictions about nonpayment of rent.
- Mailing Service: The server mails the documents via first-class mail. If used, another service method must also be implemented to ensure the tenant receives the Summons and Complaint. This method is only applicable for evictions about nonpayment of rent and allows the landlord or the landlord’s attorney to do the mailing.
2. After serving the Summons and Complaint
In Rhode Island, once the tenant receives the Summons, they must take action and file for an appearance so that they may attend the eviction hearing. The amount of time tenants have to file a written answer depends on the reason for the eviction process:
The Summons must be served at least 5 days before an eviction hearing for evictions about non-payment of rent. The tenant has 9-20 days to file an answer in order to appear at the court hearing.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to get a Judgment for Possession
A landlord has to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against their tenant in order to win a Rhode Island eviction lawsuit. Should the tenant fail to show up to the trial, the landlord may win by default.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and filed an answer
If the case was about nonpayment of rent, the hearing is scheduled to happen exactly 9 days after the court received the complaint from the landlord. There is no clear timeframe for other types of evictions.
During the court hearing, the landlord has to support their claim with evidence and show it to the judge. This includes, but is not limited by the following:
- Copy of the deed and the lease/rental agreement
- Rent receipts
- Rent ledgers
- Bank statements
- Witness statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations committed by the tenant
Attorneys can also be hired to assist landlords and tenants during the hearing. The tenant may file an appeal in 5 days once a judgment is passed in favor of the landlord.
A hearing for nonpayment of rent is scheduled within 9 days after the landlord filed the complaint. An appeal can be filed within 5 days after the judgment is passed.
1. After the landlord wins the case and gets a Writ of Execution
Once the landlord wins the case and provided the tenant does not file for an appeal or reconsideration, the court will issue a Writ of Execution 6 days after the district court judge grants the win in favor of the landlord.
The Writ of Execution is a court order which dictates the tenant must move out of their housing on the property or else they will be forcibly evicted.
2. Move out process
This final step in the eviction process is to move the tenant out of their dwelling unit. Rhode Island law does not dictate how long a tenant has to move out of the premises.
This information is usually announced by the court after Judgment for Possession is given to the landlord. Nevertheless, a tenant must pack up their things and leave within a few hours to a few days, depending on the efficiency of the law enforcement officials.
The Writ of Execution is issued 6 days after the landlord wins the case. Once the tenants receive the Writ from the law enforcement officials, they have a few hours to a few days to vacate the premises, depending on when the law enforcement officials will come back to check whether they’ve vacated or not.
Rhode Island Eviction Process Timeline
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the eviction request and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This can become very difficult to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also, show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. Even though it may not be needed, it is good to show that the tenant was aware of the situation beforehand. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will normally win this dispute.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. It is not necessary to have every specific term written out in the agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. As a good practice though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement.
Can you kick someone out without an eviction notice in Rhode Island?
No. A landlord can be sued for forceful eviction of a tenant in Rhode Island because it is against the law. This is otherwise known as the use of a self-help eviction.
Consequences for the use of a self-help eviction can include being sued for three months’ worth of rent or three times the actual damages, whichever is greater. Landlords may also be sued for attorney fees.
What is a self-help eviction?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity. Many states specify how much money a tenant can sue for if the landlord has tried to illegally evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure. Rhode Island state laws also provide for tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to stay in the rental unit.
Can I force a tenant to move out in Rhode Island?
In almost every state in the US, a landlord must never try to force a tenant to move out of the rental unit. Only after winning the court case can the tenant be evicted from the property. Even then, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a sheriff or constable. Rhode Island law has made it illegal for a landlord to personally remove the tenant from the rental unit.
What are the potential penalties for a self-help eviction?
According to the Rhode Island Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
What other laws should I be aware of?
Landlords must be aware of an update regarding COVID-19 Eviction Policies in Rhode Island. Due to COVID-19, there may be an eviction moratorium or the government may be offering rent relief efforts to help tenants in eviction protection.
Landlords must also check out information about laws on Security Deposits so that they understand how it can help them in case a tenant is unable to pay for rent or repairs.
The Landlord-Tenant Law may also be used as a valid source for legal advice when the tenant has committed an offending behavior or another violation of the lease terms.