Neronha says police can charge landlords who evict tenants

PROVIDENCE (AP) Rhode Island’s attorney general says police can file criminal charges against landlords who wrongfully evict tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.

The attorney general’s office says it has received a growing number of complaints about landlords who are forcing tenants to leave, barring entry to properties or cutting off utilities without court permission. Landlords are required to get a court order to evict tenants, but the state has suspended most court proceedings until April 17, effectively barring new evictions.

Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said that while the situation may be frustrating for landlords who are owed money, it “does not mean that they can simply ignore the law and take matters into their own hands.”

In one case, a landlord cut the power to a Providence apartment where a woman and her 7-year-old daughter were living, Neronha said. While the woman was away looking for another apartment, the landlord changed the locks and threw out her belongings, he said.

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The attorney general’s office told police that landlords can be charged with trespassing if they enter a tenant’s property without permission, and they can be charged with vandalism if a tenant’s belongings are damaged while being removed. The guidance applies to residential and commercial landlords.

Tenants facing eviction should continue making rent payments and seek legal guidance, the office said.