Rhode Island Eviction Process
November 9, 2023
We’d love to connect with you.
Eviction In Rhode Island
If you own and rent properties in the state of Rhode Island, you are responsible for complying with Rhode Island law on eviction. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island’s eviction laws can be found at RI Gen. Laws § 34-18.
Eviction Process in Rhode Island
- Landlord serves a five- to 20-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant a summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets a final notice period to move out.
- Sheriff returns to forcibly remove the tenant.
In Rhode Island, tenants can be evicted for failing to pay rent, violating the lease in a way that affects health and safety, or committing repeat violations within six months.
It’s important to note that accepting rent from a tenant in Rhode Island while knowing that they are breaking the terms of the lease effectively waives your right to terminate the lease for that breach, unless you give notice within ten days. Accepting partial rent does not constitute a waiver of the remaining balance. As in any state, it’s important in Rhode Island to act quickly and take the necessary legal steps when a tenant is in violation of the rental agreement (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-41).
1. Landlord Serves a Five- to 20-Day Eviction Notice
If any of the above lease violations occur, the landlord must first serve a Rhode Island eviction notice and state that the tenant has the appropriate number of days to remedy or cure the violation. There are three possible eviction notices a landlord may send in Rhode Island:
- Rent Demand Notice: 5 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord may deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than five days after receipt of the notice) (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-35(a)).
- Lease Violation Notice: 20 days to cure or quit. If a tenant violates a lease term that materially affects health and safety, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the breach and what is required to remedy it, as well as the date on which the lease will terminate if the tenant does not cure the breach (not less than 21 days after receipt of the notice) (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-36(a-d)).
- Repeat Lease Violation Notice: 20 days to quit. If the tenant commits substantially the same noncompliance within six months, the landlord may send an unconditional notice to quit providing the tenant 20 days to vacate the premises (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-36(e)).
There are a few circumstances under which no notice is required before filing for eviction. This includes situations in which the tenant:
- Uses any part of the premises as a narcotics nuisance
- Uses the property for the manufacture, sale, or delivery of a controlled substance
- Commits any crime of violence on or near the premises (including murder, manslaughter, arson, rape, assault, kidnapping, etc.)
Rhode Island provides sample eviction notices in their state statutes, which you can view here. For all evictions, the landlord may recover possession, actual damages, and injunctive relief for noncompliance. If the tenant’s noncompliance was willful, the landlord can also recover reasonable attorney’s fees (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-36(d)).
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
The next step in the Rhode Island eviction process is filing a complaint in court. If the tenant has not cured the breach by the end of the notice period (or if the violation is uncurable and the notice period expires), the landlord can then file an eviction complaint in the Rhode Island District or Housing court (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-9).
Depending on the cause of the eviction, the landlord will either need to file a Complaint for Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent (downloadable here) or a Complaint for Eviction for Reason Other than Nonpayment of Rent (downloadable here).
The complaint will include the following:
- The name of the court and division
- The landlord and tenants’ name and addresses
- A verification that the tenant is more than 15 days late on rent (for nonpayment cases)
- The reason or basis for the eviction (for noncompliance cases)
- The rent rate, period, and amount due
- A statement confirming that the eviction notice was properly sent, and on what day
Once the landlord completes the complaint form, the clerk of the court will set a date for the hearing, which must be held between 14 and 24 days after the complaint is filed for nonpayment cases. The clerk will also assign a case number to the action and ask the landlord to pay a filing fee of $80 (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-10(a)(1)).
3. Court Serves Tenant a Summons
After the complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons to be served to the tenant by the landlord or the landlord’s agent. The summons will state the day and time of the court hearing and demand the tenant’s presence in court. It must be mailed with a copy of the complaint to the tenant on the same day that the action was filed, by first class mail. A blank answer form (downloadable here) will also be included for the tenant (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-10(a)(1)).
After mailing these documents, the landlord is required to return the original documents and proof of service to the division of the sheriffs or any constable of the county. Then, the sheriff must serve them to the tenant as well, in one of the following manners:
- Personal delivery to the tenant
- Personal delivery to a person of suitable age and discretion living at the rental unit
- If no one can be found at the unit, by posting the documents conspicuously on the rental unit’s front door
The fee to have the sheriff serve the summons in Rhode Island is $45.
The sheriff is also required to make proof of service and file it with the clerk before the hearing. For nonpayment cases, the tenant must be served no less than five days before the hearing (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-10(a)(1-2)).
4. Tenant Files an Answer
The summons will also state that the tenant must file an answer to the complaint. The answer states any defenses the tenant may have against the landlord’s claim. For evictions due to lease violations or holding over, the tenant has 20 days from the date of service to file the answer. For nonpayment cases, the answer may be filed any time before or at the hearing (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-36(c)).
If the tenant does not file an answer within the designated period, a default judgment will be awarded to the landlord.
5. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment. If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, they will issue a judgment placing the landlord back in possession of the premises.
The court will also issue a writ of execution, or an authorization of execution of the judgment via forcible removal. There is a $20 fee for issuance of this writ. Execution will be issued on the sixth day following judgment, if the tenant has not already moved out (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18-48).
6. Tenant Gets a Final Notice Period Days to Move Out
After the writ of execution is issued, it should be directed to the sheriff or certified constable. Rhode Island law does not specify how quickly the sheriff must serve and enforce the execution after receiving it. The tenant could be asked to leave the rental unit immediately. However, tenants are typically given 24 hours to a few days to move out.
7. Sheriff Returns to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
The final step in the Rhode Island eviction process is the tenant’s removal. If the tenant refuses to move out, the sheriff will return to execute the writ by forcibly removing the tenant and restoring possession of the property to the landlord. Since Rhode Island law does not specify the final notice period, this will be done depending on the sheriff’s availability.
Evicting a Squatter in Rhode Island
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. According to Rhode Island state law, squatters must have lived in the property for ten continuous years to invoke Rhode Island squatters rights and claim right of possession (RI Gen. Laws § 34-7-1). Their possession must also be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in Rhode Island to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in Rhode Island, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter an eviction notice as per Rhode Island eviction law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
Rhode Island Eviction Cost Estimates
This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of an eviction in Rhode Island, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Service of court summons by sheriff||$45|
|Issuance of writ of execution||$20|
|Service of writ of execution||$45|
|Average locksmith fees||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies|
Rhode Island Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the Rhode Island eviction process timeline. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||5-20 days|
|Service of summons||At least 5 days before the hearing|
|Tenant Answer period||~9-20 days after service of summons|
|Eviction hearing||14-24 days after the complaint is filed|
|Issuance of execution||6 days after judgment is issued|
|Time to quit after writ is posted||Unspecified|
- Complaint for Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent
- Complaint for Eviction for Reason Other Than Nonpayment of Rent
- Answer Defendant/Tenant
- Writ of Execution
- Stipulation of Judgment
- Rhode Island District Court Landlord/Tenant Information – Information from the Rhode Island Judiciary about landlord/tenant actions.
- Rhode Island Rules of Civil Procedure – The specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in Rhode Island.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and Rhode Island laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.