A Practical Guide to Land Use Law in Rhode Island was just published this summer…
Prospective purchasers and owners of investment rental property, including condominium developers renting units they can’t sell, may not often think of minimum housing standards, but perhaps they should.
Rhode Island’s Housing Maintenance and Occupancy Code, R.I. Gen. Laws 45-24.3-1 et seq., may contain not more than a few surprises, from the mundane to the more serious.
Is It A Crime Not To Do Window Treatments?
For example, owners may be surprised that it is their responsibility for “the providing and hanging of shades or other devices on every window of every room used for sleeping and for every room equipped with a flush water closet or bathtub, affording privacy to persons within these rooms”.
So if you are thinking about leaving the windows “au naturel” so the tenant can install their own designer window treatments, you probably want to reconsider that.
The good news? “Once window treatments are installed in any one rental by the owner, replacements become the responsibility of the occupant”!
When Quaint May Be Illegal
The maintenance and occupancy code is detailed and very specific, and it has provisions that could get owners and investors in trouble, particularly when dealing with historic structures, where room configurations may be “quaint”, ceilings may be “charmingly low” and doorways may be “petite”.
Consider these requirements:
- every habitable room must have at least one window or skylight facing directly outdoors, unless connected to a room used seasonally, such as a porch, but in that case “adequate daylight must be possible through this interconnection”;
- minimum window area must be at least 10% of the floor area of the room;
- a bathroom or water closet compartment must not be used as the only passageway to any habitable room or hallway;
- at least 75% of the floor area of every habitable room must have a ceiling height of no less than seven feet;
Violations of the code range from low level fines to criminal sanctions. And once a notice of violation has been filed against a property, it is “unlawful….to sell, transfer, mortgage, lease, or dispose of the building to another” unless the conditions have been remedied or unless the mortgagee, lessee, or transferee have been notified of the violations, whereupon they are bound by the violations.
Perhaps a Look-See May Be In Order
Building officials, who are generally both pragmatic and busy, are unlikely to be focusing on well-maintained rental properties in search of minimum code violations.
That being said, tenants do complain and accidents do happen.
- Prospective buyers may want to have an experienced building code consultant make an inspection before the purchase.
- Owners may want an inspection to identify and fix problems before they become an issue.
After all, when no window treatments can be a crime…………