Can I Recover Damages in Rhode Island and Keep the Deposit if the Tenant Leaves Early?
If the lease terms don't allow for early termination, the tenant may be held liable for the remainder of the lease, unless the tenant can prove a breach of the lease terms by the landlord. The answer will depend on the tenant’s reason for moving out and whether the tenant is claiming a breach of the lease terms. A security deposit is usually applied to an amount due for repairs or unpaid rent. However, the landlord has a duty to mitigate (lessen) damages by making reasonable attempts to relet the premises. This generally means that the landlord must advertise the premises and make attempts to show the premises to prospective tenants. It will be a matter of subjective determination for the court, based on all the facts and circumstances involved, whether reasonable attempts have been made to relet the premises. Some of the factors that may be considered, among others, include the reasons for turning down the prospective tenants and whether the landlord is in fact out of town and unable to show the premises.
Any claim you may have relating to changes in terms will likely be governed by contract law. The terms of your lease with the other party will generally determine your rights and obligations as well as those of the tenant. You should carefully review the terms of the lease to determine your rights and obligations in regard to deposit. If you wish to use the legal system to resolve your dispute, you may want to review the following general information regarding contract law and breach of contract actions:
Contracts are agreements that are legally enforceable. A contract is an agreement between two parties that creates an obligation to do or refrain from doing a particular thing. The purpose of a contract is to establish the terms of the agreement by which the parties have fixed their rights and duties. An oral contract is an agreement made with spoken words and either no writing or only partially written. An oral contract may generally be enforced the same as a written agreement. However, it is much more difficult with an oral contract to prove its existence or the terms. Oral contracts also usually have a shorter time period within which a person seeking to enforce their contract right must sue. A written contract generally provides a longer time to sue than for breach of an oral contract. Contracts are mainly governed by state statutory and common (judge-made) law and private law. Private law generally refers to the terms of the agreement between the parties, as parties have freedom to override many state law requirements regarding formalities of contracts. Each state has developed its own common law of contracts, which consists of a body of jurisprudence developed over time by trial and appellate courts on a case-by-case basis.
An unjustifiable failure to perform all or some part of a contractual duty is a breach of contract. A legal action for breach of contract arises when at least one party's performance does not live up to the terms of the contract and causes the other party to suffer economic damage or other types of measurable injury. A lawsuit for breach of contract is a civil action and the remedies awarded are designed to place the injured party in the position they would be in if not for the breach. Remedies for contractual breaches are not designed to punish the breaching party. The five basic remedies for breach of contract include the following: money damages, restitution, rescission, reformation, and specific performance. A money damage award includes a sum of money that is given as compensation for financial losses caused by a breach of contract. Parties injured by a breach are entitled to the benefit of the bargain they entered, or the net gain that would have accrued but for the breach. The type of breach governs the extent of damages that may be recovered.
Restitution is a remedy designed to restore the injured party to the position occupied prior to the formation of the contract. Parties seeking restitution may not request to be compensated for lost profits or other earnings caused by a breach. Instead, restitution aims at returning to the plaintiff any money or property given to the defendant under the contract. Plaintiffs typically seek restitution when contracts they have entered are voided by courts due to a defendant's incompetence or incapacity.
Rescission is the name for the remedy that terminates the contractual duties of both parties, while reformation is the name for the remedy that allows courts to change the substance of a contract to correct inequities that were suffered. In order to have a rescission, both parties to the contract must be placed in the position they occupied before the contract was made. Courts have held that a party may rescind a contract for fraud, incapacity, duress, undue influence, material breach in performance of a promise, or mistake, among other grounds.
Specific performance is an equitable remedy that compels one party to perform, as nearly as practicable, his or her duties specified by the contract. Specific performance is available only when money damages are inadequate to compensate the plaintiff for the breach.
Promissory estoppel is a term used in contract law that applies where, although there may not otherwise be an enforceable contract, because one party has relied on the promise of the other, it would be unfair not to enforce the agreement. Promissory estoppel arises from a promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forebearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee and which does induce such action or forebearance in binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. Detrimental reliance is a term commonly used to force another to perform their obligations under a contract, using the theory of promissory estoppel. Promissory estoppel may apply when a promise was made; reliance on the promise was reasonable or foreseeable; there was actual and reasonable reliance on the promise; the reliance was detrimental; and injustice can only be prevented by enforcing the promise. Detrimental reliance must be shown to involve reliance that is reasonable, which is a determination made on an individual case-by-case basis, taking all factors into consideration. Detrimental means that some type of harm is suffered.
Reasonable reliance is usually referred to as a theory of recovery in contract law. It was what a prudent person might believe and act upon based on something told by another. Sometimes a person acts in reliance on the promise of a profit or other benefit, only to learn that the statements or promises were either incorrect or were exaggerated. The one who acted to their detriment in reasonable reliance may recover damages for the costs of his/her actions or demand performance. Reasonable reliance connotes the use of the standard of an ordinary and average person.
Please see the following RI statute:
§ 34-18-19. Security deposits. —
(a) A landlord may not demand or receive a security
deposit, however denominated, in an amount or value in excess
of one month's periodic rent.
(b) Upon termination of the tenancy, the amount of security
deposit due to the tenant shall be the entire amount given by the
tenant as a security deposit, minus any amount of unpaid accrued
rent and the amount of physical damages to the premises, other
than ordinary wear and tear, which the landlord has suffered by
reason of the tenant's noncompliance with § 34-18-24, all as
itemized by the landlord in a written notice delivered to the
tenant. The landlord shall deliver the notice, together with the
amount of the security deposit due to the tenant, within twenty
(20) days after the later of either termination of the tenancy,
delivery of possession, or the tenant's providing the landlord
with a forwarding address for the purpose of receiving the
(c) If the landlord fails to comply with subsection (b), the
tenant may recover the amount due him or her, together with
damages in an amount equal to twice the amount wrongfully
withheld, and reasonable attorney fees.
(d) This section does not preclude the landlord or tenant from
recovering other damages to which he or she may be entitled under
(e) In the event the landlord transfers his or her interest in
the premises, the holder of the landlord's interest in the
premises at the time of the termination of the tenancy is bound by
(f) No rental agreement shall contain any waiver of the
provisions of this section.