Residential Eviction Process for Non-Payment in Rhode Island – Step 6 of 6: Writ of Execution

A writ of execution is a formal document needed to move a tenant from a rental unit with the help of a constable or sheriff.

An eviction judgment, by itself, is insufficient to remove a residential tenant from a rental unit. The landlord must still request a writ of execution from the court. Whereas a judgment simply memorializes the outcome of the underlying trial (i.e. who won, and whether they were awarded possession of the rental unit and back rent), a writ of execution commands the constables and sheriffs of the state of Rhode Island to assist the landlord with enforcing the judgment (i.e. regaining possession of the unit, or even collecting the back rent owed).

The execution should be requested after the judgment has entered, and the appeal period has expired or the appeal has been resolved in the landord’s favor.

To obtain an execution, the landlord must prevail at trial. The judgment should state that the landlord was awarded possession of the rental unit and may also indicate whether the tenant still owes rent.

In addition, the 5 day appeal period must have either expired with no appeal being filed or, if an appeal was filed, the superior court must have entered a judgment in the landlord’s favor.

In most cases, an execution can be requested from the clerk for the district court where the original case was filed. Occasionally, if an appeal was filed, the landlord may be able to request an execution from the superior court clerk. In any case, the court clerk will charge a relatively small fee to issue the execution.

Once a landlord has an execution, it must be taken to a constable or sheriff so that it could be delivered to the tenant.

The court clerk will issue the execution to the landlord who must then get it to a constable or sheriff for service on the tenant. If the tenant is still residing in the rental unit, the constable or sheriff will use the execution to forcibly remove the tenant and his or her belongings. This can be a costly process.

The landlord is usually responsible for paying:

  • the costs for movers to pack and remove the tenant’s belongings;
  • the costs to store the tenant’s property at a storage facility for at least a month;
  • a fee to have a locksmith change the locks; and
  • the constable’s or sheriff’s fee to oversee the move out process.

The tenant is ultimately responsible for these costs and they can eventually be added to the judgment. However, before that happens, the landlord must generally advance the costs to the movers and constable or sheriff.

To avoid the added expense of a move out, a constable or sheriff may provide the tenant with a warning to leave the premises within 24 or 48 hours, depending on the circumstances. This can save a great deal of money, and is a useful tactic if the tenant is relatively peaceful, but it should probably be avoided if the tenant might destroy the rental unit if warned in advance of the impending move out.

For tenants, this warning should be taken very seriously. If this is the first time you are hearing about the eviction, or if you thought yoou had reached an agreement with the landlord to stay in the rental unit, you should contact an attorney right away to try to stop the move out process. Failure to do so could result in the move out taking place, which can be difficult and costly to unwind. Even if you were aware of the eviciton and did not make an agreement with the landlord to stay, the notice to leave should still be taken seriously. Any people and personal items in the rental unit when the constable or sheriff comes back will most likely be removed from the apartment, and could result in costs that are added to the original judgment balance.

Once the tenant has been moved out, the landlord can re-rent the unit and try to collect the money owed on the judgment.

After the tenant and his or her belongings have been removed from the rental unit, the landlord can retake control of it. The unit can be re-rented, or the landlord may opt to sell the property while it is vacant.

The landlord may also take steps to try to collect on the judgment. In most cases,the judgment will be enforceable for 20 years, and may accrue interest at the rate of 12% per year, depending on what the judge ordered.

That said, collecting money owed on eviction judgments for nonpayment is often difficult, especially soon after the eviction is completed. If the tenant was not paying rent, he or she probably does not have the means to pay the money owed on the judgment. Of course this is tempered against the rather lengthy period during which a landlord can try to collect–usually up to 20 years.

If an evicted tenant acquires assets (such as a house, bank account, etc.) or earns wages while a judgment is in place, a landlord may be able to attach or garnish them.

In any case, at the end of the eviction process for nonpayment of rent, the landlord–hopefully–will have regained possession of the rental unit and will be able to make it productive once more. That is the ultimate goal of this process.

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