The following is taken from the Landlord/Tenant Handbook and is a general reference on landlord-tenant relationships based on Rhode Island General Law (RIGL) Chapter 34-18, entitled the "Residential Landlord Tenant Act," effective since January 1, 1987.
A. Security Deposits and Other Prepayments
A landlord can take a security deposit from a tenant at the beginning of a new rental term but it cannot exceed one month's rent. Taking a greater sum subjects the landlord to a possible suit under section 56f of the "Act." The deposit must be returned within twenty days after the tenant gives proper notice, moves out, returns the key, and provides a forwarding address. When returning the deposit, the landlord must send the tenant an itemized notice listing any legal deductions withheld from the money being returned. Such deductions can only be for unpaid rent (not future rent that might be legally owed), and physical damages other than ordinary wear and tear.
If the landlord fails to comply with the law concerning the return of a security deposit, the court may require a damage payment to the tenant of twice the amount illegally withheld, plus attorney fees. When rental property is sold, security money should be transferred to the new owner since it is this individual who will be held legally responsible for the return of funds when the tenant moves.
Separate amounts of money can be requested from a new tenant for prepaid rents, etc. Since the state law does not specifically govern such payments, disputes must be settled in Small Claims Court or through a civil court action like any other monetary dispute or by bringing an action in the local district court by filling out and submitting a Landlord-Tenant Complaint form (see section 56f under titles in appendix).
At or before the time a tenant moves into a new unit, the landlord must provide the name, address, and phone number of the person owning or legally responsible for managing the rental premises and to whom legal notices and court orders should be sent. This information must be kept current or the person failing to do so automatically becomes responsible for receiving/sending all notices and demands. In such a case, this person would also be responsible for all other landlord obligations and agreements to the tenant as well.
C. Delivering Possession
At the beginning of a rental term, the landlord must make the dwelling unit available to the tenant as per the rental agreement (if a rent payment has been made). If a former tenant or occupant in that tenant's household has not vacated the unit although given legal notice to do so, it is the landlord's responsibility to bring a court action to gain possession.
D. Maintaining Premises
Landlords must comply with the state building code (RIGL 23-27.3) requirements concerning all new construction, additions, or repairs that are done or needed. It is also extremely important that rental units be kept in a continually fit and habitable condition. When a unit is initially rented and during any period of occupancy, state law requires that a unit meet the housing standards of the Rhode Island Housing and Maintenance and Occupancy Code (RIGL 45-24.3), as well as local related ordinances. If a unit is substandard and repairs are not made in prompt and satisfactory manner, there are certain options available to the tenant under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act as well as under the aforementioned housing code laws.
The landlord is responsible for maintaining all common areas both inside and outside the dwelling. It is also the landlord's responsibility to make sure all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, and other facilities (and appliances provided as part of the rental agreement) are kept in operable condition and meet housing code standards. The landlord must provide rubbish containers (or other storage facilities) for occupants if there are four or more rental units in the dwelling. He or she is also obligated to provide hot and cold running water at all times and must provide heat (68 degrees minimum but it may be higher under some local ordinances) between October 1st and May 1st, except when heat or hot water are generated by an installation controlled solely by the tenant and supplied directly by a public utility connection.
Generally, minor repairs of structural nature are the responsibility of the landlord (if needed as a result of wear and tear) as well as all major repairs. As will be mentioned elsewhere, certain minor repairs, as well as cleanliness, and repairs needed as a result of the tenant's (or guest's) negligence or purposeful destruction are usually the tenant's responsibility. There can be a written agreement made between a landlord and a tenant which allows the tenant to do specified repairs, maintenance, alterations, and remodeling. But such an agreement must be made in good faith, in writing, signed by both parties, and supported by adequate compensation. The agreement cannot be made so the landlord can avoid his or her responsibility under applicable building and housing codes, nor does it in any way diminish or affect the landlord's obligation to other tenants on the premises.
E. Duty to Notify Tenant of Violation
Within 30 days of getting a housing code violation notice from the state or municipality, a landlord must send copies to affected tenants, unless violations have been corrected to the satisfaction of the housing code inspector.
By law, a landlord must inform a prospective tenant of any outstanding housing code violations which exist on the building where the rental is going to be.
F. Limitation of Liability
An owner will be relieved of legal responsibility for a rental unit as of the date it is sold if proper written notice has been given to the tenants. This notice must include the name, the address, and telephone number of the person or persons purchasing the property. Likewise, a manager is relieved of liability upon termination of employment if the tenants have been informed of the effective date and have been told who will be assuming responsibility at the time.
If applicable, an owner must also include in the notice that housing code violations have been eliminated or that the buyer, or lessee, has been provided with copies of all outstanding violations and that the local housing code enforcement office has been notified of the sale and name of the buyer or lessee.