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The Obligations of Rhode Island Landlords and Tenants

Landlords and tenants of residential, commercial, and industrial properties often share the financial and other obligations related to the property. These obligations include taxes, utilities, maintenance, insurance, and financial liability for injuries suffered on the property. Some obligations are generally accepted as the responsibility of the owner or the tenant. For example, the responsibilities of a Rhode Island landlord include paying property taxes on their properties. At the same time, residential tenants are responsible for purchasing renter’s insurance to protect their personal belongings in the home from damage or theft.

Other obligations like utilities or maintenance can be the responsibility of a tenant or owner, or shared, depending on the language of the lease agreement. Certain obligations may be required under statute to be taken by a property owner regardless of the language of a lease agreement. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently decided a case that addressed this very issue.

The central issue in the case was whether a residential landlord was permitted under state law to pass on maintenance responsibilities for utility systems to their tenants. The plaintiffs in the case lived in a mobile home community. They filed suit against the new owners of their residential community after the written policy concerning the maintenance of a heating oil tank was changed to place the burden of maintenance costs solely on the residents. The plaintiffs claimed the change amounted to a violation of a state law, which requires owners to make essential utilities available to each home site. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs, and further ruled that the defendant was utilizing unfair practices under other state laws by placing the burden for replacement of a nonfunctioning fuel tank on the residents.

The defendant appealed the trial court’s ruling. However, the state court of appeals agreed with the plaintiffs’ claims, and ruled that the defendant’s policy, and that portion of the lease agreement enforcing that policy, were forbidden under the law. As a result of the rulings, Massachusetts operators of mobile home communities are prohibited from placing the burden of basic utility maintenance on tenants.

Although lease agreements can be used to establish the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants who are entering into the agreement, the recent decision demonstrates that some conditions within a lease agreement may not be permitted under state or federal law. A knowledgeable Rhode Island real estate attorney can advise landlords or tenants either before or after they enter into a lease agreement whether the terms of the agreement are enforceable as written.

Contact a Dedicated Real Estate Law Firm

If you are considering signing a lease, or have questions about a lease you have already signed, seek the advice of a skilled New England property attorney to help you understand what obligations you may or may not have under the lease agreement. The qualified Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut property law attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, have the knowledge and experience to advise and represent both landlords and tenants in lease disputes. Talk to the right Rhode Island real estate attorney and be sure of what you agree to in your lease. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo, contact our office at 401-300-4055 today.

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