Breaking a Lease in Rhode Island – Know the Laws

As a property owner in Rhode Island, it’s essential you familiarize yourself with the State’s laws and regulations. This includes the rules and regulations guiding a tenant breaking their lease.

Learning that your tenant has broken their lease can be disheartening. The process of securing a reliable tenant involves considerable effort, including advertising, property showings, and tenant screening, which can cost you time and money under the rental laws.

However, it is crucial to recognize that each situation is unique. There may be legitimate reasons for a tenant to terminate their lease, such as becoming an active-duty service member. Other reasons, like refusing to pay rent, don’t qualify.

In this article, we’ll go into the reasons for early lease termination regarding your rental property. This will provide you with an understanding of the options available to both you and your tenant in the event of breaking a lease.

Lease Agreement in Rhode Island

As a landlord, it’s important to have a detailed lease agreement even before Rhode Island lease termination. Beyond covering the essentials, it is equally necessary for a rental agreement to clearly outline the tenant’s obligations and responsibilities in the event of early lease termination. 

In addition, let them know about the notice requirements. Rhode Island landlord-tenant law (R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-37) requires tenants to provide the following notices before Rhode Island lease termination.

·         A 10-day written notice before terminating a week-to-week lease.

·         A 30-day notice before terminating a month-to-month tenancy.

·         A 3-month notice prior to terminating a yearly lease with no end date.

You should also include the need for you to re-rent the unit quickly. Rhode Island law requires landlords to “mitigate damages” by making reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit after a tenant terminates their lease. If you’re able to re-rent the unit quickly, then the tenant will only be liable for the amount of time the unit was vacant.

Finally, mention whether or not the tenant is able to sublet the unit, no matter if it’s a month-to-month tenancy or longer term. Under state law, tenants may be in the clear to do so if the lease doesn’t prohibit it. Include a clause in the agreement that specifically mentions your right to accept or reject a sublet.

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in Rhode Island

The following reasons don’t give a tenant enough justification to break their lease without penalty or refuse to pay rent.

·         Moving into the house they bought.

·         Relocating for a job or school.

·         Moving into another dwelling unit with a partner.

·         Moving to get closer to family.

·         Moving out after changing their mind.

Generally speaking, breaking a lease for any of these reasons will result in penalties for tenants. For the best outcome, the tenant should seek mutual termination with the landlord. It’s important to remember that evicting a tenant is different from breaking a lease.

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Rhode Island

The following are the legally justified reasons for breaking a lease in Rhode Island. So long as the tenant fulfills the requirements associated with breaking lease agreements with the justified reason, they will be able to terminate their lease early without penalty.

1.  Active Military Duty

Service members can terminate their lease early thanks to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The relief act protects service members who need to break their lease after being deployed or receiving a permanent change of station.

The tenant must fulfill a number of requirements under the relief act. Including, providing the landlord with written notice accompanied by a letter from the commanding officer to relieve them of rent payments.

The Rhode Island lease termination becomes effective 30 days after the next rental due date following the date the notice is delivered. They do not need to find a new tenant or get a reduced security deposit returned unless there’s property damage.

2.  If the Unit Is Uninhabitable

Rental properties in Rhode Island have to meet a certain minimum standard to be considered habitable and therefore a tenant can break a lease if the unit doesn’t fit these standards.

Under RI law, it’s a landlord’s duty to ensure that your property, among other things:

·         Has clean and safe common areas.

·         Has proper electrical, plumbing, and sanitary facilities.

·         Has appropriate garbage receptacles.

·         Has running water and heat.

If you need expert help in making your property rent-ready, please seek help from a reputable property manager. If not, early termination of the lease could be a possibility.

[image alt-text: Hand holding a key connected to a house-shaped keychain]

3.  Unfair/Discriminatory Treatment 

As a landlord, valuing respectful tenant relationships is crucial. Being attentive to their needs and addressing any issues promptly and professionally is essential to prevent lease breaches.

What’s more, you’ll also need to be fair and consistent. Don’t make any exceptions for one tenant that you wouldn’t make for another.

Also, be respectful of their privacy. Give the tenant an advance notice before entry, have a legitimate reason for entry, and enter during normal business hours. Rhode Island requires that landlords provide a two-day written notice to their tenants before entry.

4.  Domestic Violence

Rhode Island tenants who are domestic violence victims can also terminate their lease early. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) in Rhode Island allows victims of domestic violence to break their lease early without penalty. Read more about the DVPA in Rhode Island to see what specific provisions apply to the situation. 

5.  Physical or Health Issues

Rhode Island has laws that allow domestic violence victims to terminate their residential leases early without penalty. The tenant must provide proper notice and documentation, such as a protective order or a statement from a qualified professional confirming the domestic violence situation.

A tenant who faces a serious physical or mental health issue may also be able to terminate their lease early without penalty. 

Examples of such issues include the following.

·         A need to move to a facility that offers specialized care.

·         A disability that makes it difficult for the tenant to access the rental unit.

·         A serious illness or injury that makes it difficult or impossible for the tenant to move independently.

6.  Failure to Disclose Mandatory Information

Rhode Island law requires landlords to disclose certain information to tenants before they can move in. The disclosures include the following.

·         Information about lead-based paint concentrations. This specifically targets homes built before 1978.

·         The names and addresses of those involved in managing the property.

·         If the property has an outstanding code violation.

As a responsible landlord, ensure you disclose this information to your tenants before they move in. 

Conclusion

Equipped with this valuable information now you know what to do if a tenant needs to break their lease agreement.

If you’re still unsure about aspects of Rhode Island landlord-tenant law, get in touch with the experts at Lyon Property Management! 

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided in this blog is intended for general guidance and should not be considered as a replacement for professional legal advice. It is important to be aware that laws pertaining to property management may change, rendering this information outdated by the time you read it.