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Signing a Lease in Rhode Island


The following information is taken from The Landlord-Tenant Handbook prepared by the R.I. Department of Administration, Division of Planning. The handbook is a general reference on landlord-tenant relationships based on Rhode Island General Law, Chapter 34-18, entitled the "Residential Landlord and Tenant Act," effective since January 1, 1987.


A lease is a contract in which one party permits the other to occupy and use certain premises in exchange for payment of rent. The terms of a lease are openly agreed upon at the beginning of tenancy. The lease need not be technically formal, but must include for the tenant a use, occupation, or possession clause. A lease involves the transfer of interest in real estate and must be in writing to protect all parties. If it is not in writing, the lease is to be considered to be a "Tenancy-at-Will" and may be canceled by either party by sending prior written notice. "Tenancy-at-Will" is useful in obtaining a nine-month lease to coincide with the academic year, but for obvious reasons, may be less secure. Since agreement is oral, unanticipated problems must also be resolved by oral agreement as they arise and might well result in the loss of the apartment. Tenants without a written lease may be evicted for any reason with few exceptions.Tenants without a written lease may be evicted for any reason with few exceptions. Rents under written leases cannot be increased unless there are provisions for it in the lease. One month's notice automatically increases the rent for a "Tenant-at-Will."

Prior to signing a lease, make a careful inspection of the apartment, preferably with the landlord or his agent present. If the landlord does not agree, in writing, to make repairs by a certain date, it would be wise to reconsider renting the apartment. The City of Providence has a Building Inspectors Department and a Division of Code Enforcement, which orders corrections of defects and sets a time limit in which defects must be rectified. But remember, the apartment is being rented "as is" with all existing faults and the rule of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) holds true.

Generally, unless there is a written agreement or promise (covenant) obligating the landlord to repair the premises, he is not bound to do so.

Any part of the agreement which is illegal is not binding. Study a lease before signing it. Make sure you get a copy of the lease at the time of signing or a reasonable time thereafter.

The landlord and the tenant both have certain rights and responsibilities which are defined by law. Both parties should realize that a failure to fulfill any or all responsibilities may lead to a liability to the other party. If you are one of a group of tenants occupying the same unit, check the wording of your lease carefully to determine whether or not you alone can be held responsible for the actions of one or more of your house mates.

Know your responsibilities!

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