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. Lease agreements are one of the best ways to make sure your residents understand their responsibilities and that your 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 which is why we always recommend that landlords are knowledgeable about the state’s landlord-tenant laws.

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 the reasons why early termination of the lease may be possible and discuss more details on this aspect of Rhode Island landlord-tenant laws.

Rental Agreements in Rhode Island

It is the landlord’s duty to create a clear lease or rental agreement that you have residents sign before their tenancy begins. This creates a clear understanding of landlord-tenant laws and ensures both parties know their roles and responsibilities.  

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

  • The penalty the resident would be liable for if they break the lease early.
  • The amount of written notice the resident must serve you before terminating their lease early. In Rhode Island, the amount of written notice the resident must serve depends on how often they pay rent. 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 to make reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit instead of charging a resident for the entire amount remaining under the lease or rental agreement. (R.I. Gen. Stat. § 34-18-40). 
  • The resident’s right to sublet the dwelling unit. 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 for Breaking a Lease in Rhode Island

The following reasons do not provide residents with a reason for early termination of their their lease or rental agreement.  

  • 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 lease termination. 

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Rhode Island 

1. Active Military Duty

Active service members who must relocate due to military service is protected under the Service members Civil Relief Act. The relocation can arise from either deployment or a permanent change of station. 

Under Rhode Island law, 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 that they provide written notice that they intend to serve for over 90 days. And thirdly, you can require them to show you copies of their military orders from their commanding officers. 

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

2. Domestic Violence 

Rhode Island provides domestic abuse and violence victims with certain special rental provisions. According to Rhode Island 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 lease 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 law requires that landlords make necessary repairs within 20 days of receiving proper 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 property. This does not apply to emergencies where you have to enter the dwelling unit for the resident’s safety.  

5. Other Reasons 

Here are some other reasons why Rhode Island lease termination might be something a renter would do.

  • 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 there is an illegal, unenforceable, or voidable lease agreement. 
  • 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 early in Rhode Island. 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 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 professional legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Rental 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 needs.

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