How to Evict a Tenant (Process)
A Rhode Island landlord may only evict a tenant when they have a valid reason to do so. The most common reasons for eviction are failing to pay rent and non-compliance with the rental terms (e.g., excessive noise, operating a business out of the dwelling, pets). After the landlord identifies a legal cause for eviction, they must draft a written notice for the tenant indicating that the lease will terminate unless they correct their violations within a designated number of days (some violations cannot be cured).
Step 1 – Grounds to Evict
The list below specifies the various justifiable causes for eviction. Also included within the list are the applicable written eviction notices.
Non-Payment of Rent – A tenant who fails to pay rent for fifteen (15) days after it is due may be evicted. The landlord must fill out a 5-Day Notice to Pay or Quit stating that the tenant must either pay the total amount owed or vacate within five (5) days.
Non-Compliance With Lease Terms or Tenant Obligations – If a tenant is non-compliant with the lease terms or the tenant obligations listed in § 34-18-24, the landlord must complete the 20-Day Notice to Comply or Quit. The notice provides the tenant with a period of twenty (20) days in which they must either cure the non-compliance or move out.
2nd Non-Compliance With Lease Terms or Tenant Obligations – A landlord can evict a tenant if a repeated non-compliance occurs within six (6) months of receiving an initial written notice. The landlord must fill out the 20-Day Notice to Comply or Quit which, if implemented upon the tenant committing their second (2nd) violation, indicates that the tenant is required vacate within twenty (20) days with no option to cure.
Non-Compliance (Seasonal Tenancy) – A seasonal tenant may be evicted if they violate municipal legislation or are otherwise non-compliant with rental terms (a seasonal tenancy is one that starts as early as May 1st lasting no longer than October 15th, or a tenancy starting as early as September 1st lasting no longer than June 1st of the following year). The landlord may evict the tenant without providing written notice. However, if the landlord wishes to inform the tenant of the impending eviction, they may use the Immediate Notice to Quit.
Illegal Activity – The landlord can evict a tenant if the individual commits illegal activity on the premises of the dwelling. Unauthorized illegal activity includes the use of the premises or any adjacent public property for illegal drug activity (i.e., selling, manufacturing, or distributing a controlled substance), or committing violent crimes on the premises or adjacent public property. A full list of illegal actions can be found in § 34-18-24. No notice is required when evicting a tenant for illegal activity, though as a courtesy to the tenant, the landlord may wish to execute the Immediate Notice to Quit.
Month-to-Month Lease Termination Without Cause – When a landlord wants to terminate a month-to-month tenancy for no specific reason, they must complete the 30-Day Notice to Quit. This notice must be delivered to the tenant at least thirty (30) days before the start of the subsequent rental period. The tenant will be required to vacate within the thirty (30) day period.
Step 2 – Serve the Written Notice to the Tenant
After the landlord identifies the reason for the eviction and drafts the appropriate written notice, they will need to ensure that the letter is properly served to the tenant. Rhode Island law specifies that the notice must be sent to the tenant’s address by first class (standard) mail.
Step 3 – File an Eviction Complaint
It will be the tenant’s obligation to comply with the eviction notice within the term outlined in the document. Depending on the circumstance, the tenant will comply by either paying the money that is owed, curing the non-compliance, or vacating the rental unit. A tenant who fails to satisfy the notice terms may have their tenancy terminated by the landlord. Following termination, the landlord must file an eviction Complaint with the district court which has jurisdiction over the property.
To file an eviction for non-payment of rent, the landlord must fill out a Complaint for Eviction for Non-Payment of Rent and submit it to the district court or file it online using the eFile portal. All other eviction circumstances will require the landlord to complete a Complaint for Evition for Reasons Other Than Non-Payment of Rent and submit it to the court using either of the aforementioned filing methods. The landlord will need to supply a filing fee upon submission of the Complaint (around $60).
Step 4 – Inform Tenant of Court Hearing
A court clerk will schedule a hearing for the eviction after the complaint has been filed. The clerk will then issue a Summons outlining the trial information, and an Answer form which the tenant must file with the court. Copies of the Complaint, Summons, and Answer forms must be served to the tenant by the landlord via first class mail. The court will also arrange to have the documents served to the tenant by the court sheriff (a service fee will be required). After the tenant has been served, they may defend their case by entering a response on the Answer form and filing it with the court and the landlord.
Step 5 – Eviction Hearing
The eviction trial will provide the landlord with the opportunity to prove their entitlement to possession of the property. To prove their case to the judge, the landlord should bring copies of the lease or rental agreement, eviction notice, proof of ownership, Complaint form, correspondence with the tenant (e.g., letters, email), payment receipts, and any other items supporting their case. The tenant must do the same in support of the claim they’ve entered on the Answer form.
Note: The tenant may stop the eviction if they pay the total rent owed before or on the date of the eviction trial (non-payment evictions only). However, this privilege will be waived if the tenant has received one (1) or more eviction notices within the previous six (6) months.
Step 6 – Official Judgment
If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor and grants the eviction, the court will set a date for when the tenant must vacate the leased property. A Writ of Restitution will then be issued to the landlord indicating the landlord’s right to possession of the property. Furthermore, the Writ permits law enforcement to remove the tenant from the premises if necessary. If the tenant fails to vacate by the appointed date, the landlord may take the Writ of Restitution to the sheriff’s department and request for an officer to visit the dwelling and remove the individual from the premises.