Breaking a Lease in Rhode Island – Know the Laws

If you own a rental property, you know how important it is to have a solid lease agreement. Leases are one of the best ways to make sure your residents understand their responsibilities and that your rental property is protected. 

Usually, a resident signs a lease for six months to a year and chooses at the end of the tenancy to renew or vacate the unit. Sometimes, a resident needs to vacate prior to the Lease termination date. Breaking a lease early is not the same as evicting a tenant.

As a landlord, you should know the difference between the legally justified and unjustified reasons a resident can break their lease early. In this article, we’ll cover those reasons and discuss more details on this aspect of Rhode Island landlord-tenant law.

Rental Agreements in Rhode Island

As a landlord, it’s important that you create a clear lease agreement that you have residents sign before their tenancy begins.  

Among other things, make sure that you address the following things in the agreement. 

  • The penalty the resident would be liable for if they break the lease.
  • The amount of notice the resident must serve you before terminating their lease. In Rhode Island, the amount of notice the resident must serve depends on the rent payment frequency. For example, residents that pay rent on a monthly basis must provide a 30-day advance notice before moving out. 
  • The landlord’s responsibility to re-rent the unit. As a Rhode Island landlord, you have a responsibility of making reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit instead of charging a resident for the entire amount remaining under the lease. (R.I. Gen. Stat. § 34-18-40). 
  • The resident’s right to sublet the property. Make sure to state in the lease whether a resident may sublet the unit or not. Specify any requirements you may have if you allow them to do so. 

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in Rhode Island

The following reasons do not provide residents with enough justification to break their lease early.  

  • Breaking the lease due to a job relocation. 
  • Breaking the lease to move in with a spouse or partner. 
  • Breaking the lease due to a divorce or separation. 
  • Breaking the lease due to the need to upgrade or downgrade. 
  • Breaking the lease after buying a house. 

Under these circumstances, the best thing your resident can do is ask you to agree to a mutual termination of the lease. 

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Rhode Island 

1. Active Military Duty

A resident who is relocated due to military service is protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The relocation can arise from either deployment or a permanent change of station. 

You can require the resident to do a couple of things before they’re off the hook from their lease obligations. First, you can require them to provide proof that they signed the lease before entering active military service. 

Secondly, you can require proof that they intend to serve for over 90 days. And thirdly, you can require them to show you copies of the orders from their commanding officers. 

Once the resident has provided all these things, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the next rent cycle has begun. 

2. Domestic Violence 

Rhode Island provides domestic violence victims with certain special rental provisions. According to the state law (R.I. Gen Laws § 34-37-1), it’s illegal for landlords to do any of the following things. 

  • Refuse to enter into a rental agreement with a domestic violence victim.
  • Fail to renew a domestic violence victim’s lease for a reason related to the domestic violence. 
  • Terminate their tenancy due to their domestic violence status. 

3. Uninhabitability 

It’s important for landlords to keep their rental premises in good condition. As a landlord, you need to keep your property in good condition by making any requested repairs on time. Rhode Island requires that landlords make requested repairs within 20 days of receiving written notice from residents. 

You can also keep up with maintenance and habitability by doing periodic property inspections. Always inspect the property when the resident is first moving in, when seasons change, when driving by, and when they eventually move out. 

If regular property inspections sound time-consuming, it may be in your best interest to hire a reputable property management company

4. Landlord Harassment 

Savvy landlords know that treating their residents with respect is key to their bottom line. When a resident feels cared for and respected, they will be more likely to renew their lease and abide by all terms of the lease agreement. The opposite is also true!

One way of showing respect for your resident is by notifying them before entry. Rhode Island requires that landlords provide their residents with at least 48 hours’ notice before entering the rental property. This does not apply to emergencies where you have to enter the property for the resident’s safety.  

5. Other Reasons 

A resident may also be able to legally break their lease for the following reasons. 

  • If they (or their dependents) are facing a serious mental or physical health issue. 
  • If the landlord violates a term of the lease agreement, such as raising rent without notifying the resident first. 
  • If the lease agreement is illegal. 
  • If the landlord fails to provide the resident with certain mandatory disclosures. 

Bottom Line

It’s important for landlords to know what reasons can and can’t release a resident from their lease obligations. This way, you’ll know what options are available to you if it ever happens. 

If you have questions or need expert help in managing your rental property, contact Stonelink Property Management today. We’re a trusted property management company in Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts. Get in touch to learn more!

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regard to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.

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