Renters in Rhode Island will be seeing a number of new protections in the new year, granted by lawmakers who hope to stem a rising tide of housing instability and homelessness happening across Rhode …
Renters in Rhode Island will be seeing a number of new protections in the new year, granted by lawmakers who hope to stem a rising tide of housing instability and homelessness happening across Rhode Island.
Four bills in particular were signed into law by Governor Mckee in 2023, some of which took effect as of January 1.
Bill 311 Substitute A prevents landlords from charging an application fee to potential tenants. Potential tenants will no longer need to sink money into rentals they might
Bill 804 requires landlords join a database, making it easier for tenants to reach them when necessary, and also requires landlords who rent property built before 1978 provide proof conformance with lead safety guidelines.
Bill 912 Substitute A seals court files in residential eviction proceedings upon the filing of a motion. This makes it easier for a recently evicted tenant to find new housing without the albatross of an eviction keeping them unhoused.
Bill 1099 allows tenants to deduct an aggregate of $500 from rent payments for repairs, up from $125. Should a tenant need to do repairs to the property they rent, this protects them from eating the cost of fixing up a house they don’t own.
These bills represent just one branch of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s push to improve the housing situation across the state, which has grown more challenging for many across economic and geographic boundaries.
A number of these bills were introduced by one Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence senator who has made tenants’ rights one of her primary legislative focuses.
“I am a renter myself,” Mack said in an interview with the Herald. “COVID exposed any renters to the very scary reality that the majority of us are 1-2 missed paychecks from homelessness. Many of my colleagues and constituents also faced rental issues for the first time due to COVID and the steep cost of living in our state.”
Eviction is one of the most obvious, and most potentially damning of dangers any tenant faces. Mack notes the correlation between the rise in evictions and homelessness in 2023.
“We have had a steep increase in our state’s homelessness population and in just 7 months (May-Nov 2023) there were over 4000 evictions filed,” Mack said. “Evictions are often the first step in long term housing instability and homelessness. If we can stop evictions before they happen, we can lower our homelessness rates as well.”
Mack referenced an alarming statistic published last year: Of all the cities in Rhode Island, only Burrillville was affordable for a renter earning the state average salary.
The Housing 2023 Fact Book, published by Housing Works, also revealed some pretty scary and concerning data: There is only one city in our entire state where someone making the states average salary, can afford to rent. Housing, as they put it, is our of reach for the vast majority of Rhode Islanders, who are cost burdened.
Housing Works RI, through Roger Williams University, tracks housing statistics throughout the state and advocates for safe and affordable housing for all Rhode Islanders. Their Housing Fact book is a thorough, 84 page summary of the state’s housing situation and is an alarming read.
Flipping through for reference to Cranston, one will find that a Cranston renter would need an annual income of $78,422 to afford to rent an average two-bedroom apartment, far above the state average income of $41,277. One would also learn that only 5.3% of Cranston’s housing stock qualifies as low-to-moderate income housing, far below the 10% required by Rhode Island state law.
It’s generally agreed upon that one of the largest factors in the growing unaffordability for renters and homeowners alike is simply a lack of housing stock in general. Director of Housing Works RI Brenda Clement points out the decades of underperformance Rhode Island has allowed for decades.
“Rhode Island has been underproducing since the mid-1980’s,” Clement said. “The peak building period was in the 1980’s, when we were producing 7500 building permits per year. For the last 20 years since 2010, building permits had been closer to a little over 1000 and that’s barely keeping up with existing demand.”
She notes that while there has not been an enormous uptick in the population of Rhode Island, there has been a notable uptick in family formation.
Clement further notes that even the housing we have is not necessarily up to snuff. “We have some of the oldest housing stock in the country,” she said. “Which has suffered from deferred maintenance. A lot of this legislation was to react to that problem. Focusing on zoning and land use was to affect quantity, these were to address the quality.”
Clement also notes that lack of communication keeps tenants vulnerable. The Rhode Island Tenant-Landlord Handbook, a vital resource for tenants and landlords alike, has not had a major update since the 1980’s.
“Our tenants handbook was published in 1986, well before I was even born, and hasn’t seen any major updates,” Senator Mack said of the book. “We are long over due for legislation like I have proposed, and the benefits will have huge, long lasting impacts. If we want thriving local economies, healthier communities, and safer communities we have to prioritize renters rights.”
In keeping with that desire for tenants to know their rights, Mack has taken to social media to do direct education.
“I have created a few videos on my instagram account and tik tok about tenant rights every RI’er should know,” Mack says. “Many of they start with ‘did you know…’ So few people know their rights and don’t even know where to look, so I have used my platform to try to demystify these rights. Follow me @mackdistrict6 on all platforms to stay informed.”
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