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Evictions are an unfortunate reality that most Rhode Island landlords will likely have to do deal with at some point. It is crucial that landlords follow Rhode Island landlord-tenant laws to ensure that they do not end up tangled in a lengthy and costly legal process. Rhode Island landlord-tenant attorneys can assist in navigating the complex landlord-tenant system.

Even if a tenant is behind on rent or is otherwise violating their lease, landlords must still follow the legal process. This means that Rhode Island landlords cannot constructively evict a tenant. Constructive evictions are landlord behaviors that force a tenant to leave a property. Unlawful landlord behaviors include changing the locks, turning off utilities, emptying the property, or failing to fix essential aspects of the property.

When a tenant is 15-days past due on their rent, a landlord can begin the eviction process. Rhode Island law requires the landlord to serve the tenant with a 5-Day Demand Notice for Nonpayment of Rent. This notice must layout any violations and clearly state the amounts owed. Further, the notice must state that the owed amounts are to be paid within five days of when the landlord mailed the notice. Finally, the notice requires the landlord to inform the tenant that court action will commence if they do not pay the arrears.

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Owning a home comes with its share of responsibilities and, occasionally, legal issues can arise related to home ownership. When dealing with rental properties, however, the duties and potential legal problems that a property owner may have to deal with increases dramatically. For this reason, it is essential that anyone who owns Rhode Island rental properties has a dedicated real estate and property law attorney to whom they can look for advice and representation should the need arise.

Rhode Island landlords face a variety of legal issues, including the following:

Drafting a lease – All landlords should ensure that they have a comprehensive Rhode Island residential lease that covers all potential situations that may arise during a tenancy. Of course, leases should cover the basics such as the amount of rent, when it is due, and what the late fee is if a tenant does not pay on time. However, leases should also cover the pet policy, the landlord’s right of entry, who is responsible for repairs, and other potential points of contention.

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Family court cases often present some of the most difficult legal issues due to the high stakes involved. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently upheld the family court’s decision to terminate parental rights in a Rhode Island child custody case over a 3-year-old child.

According to the court’s opinion, when the daughter was two years old, Department of Children, Youth, and Families (the Department) filed a petition seeking to terminate the mother’s parental rights to her daughter. The Department claimed that the daughter had been in its custody or care for twelve months or more, that the mother had been offered services, and that there was not a substantial probability that the daughter could be returned to the mother within a reasonable period of time.

Evidently, the mother had been hospitalized at least fifteen times and had attempted to commit suicide multiple times. An expert psychologist testified that he diagnosed the mother with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. On appeal, the mother argued that the family court was incorrect in finding the Department made reasonable efforts to provide the mother with services, that the mother was unfit, and that the termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the child.

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a case that may impact a government’s ability to take privately held Rhode Island property without compensation. The issue before the Court was whether property owners are required to seek compensation in state court before filing a claim against the federal government.

According to the Court’s opinion, in 2012, a town in Pennsylvania passed a law that required that “[a]ll cemeteries . . . be kept open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours.” The plaintiff had a small family graveyard on her property. In 2013, the city told her that she was violating the law passed by the town by failing to open the cemetery to the public during the day. The plaintiff brought suit against the town, arguing that the law amounted to a “taking” of her property.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states in part, “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This clause is known as the Takings Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court previously held, in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, that property owners must seek just compensation in state court before filing a takings claim under federal law. Under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, individuals can bring claims against the government for civil rights violations.

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In a recent property case before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the court considered a case involving the right to parking spaces in a Rhode Island parking lot. The case arose over parking spaces in a section of Westerly, Rhode Island.

Evidently, In 1985, JHRW LLC transferred ownership of two buildings to Seaport Studios, Inc. (“Seaport”) and at the same time entered into an agreement leasing the land under the buildings to Seaport for 99 years. The lease agreement stated in part that JHRW would lease one parking space to Seaport, that if the premises were submitted to the Rhode Island Condominium Act at any time, JHRW would deed to premises to Seaport, and that the premises were subject to building and zoning restrictions. JHRW later attempted to develop the land which included the land leased to Seaport. It was divided into three units. Unit C was developed into a parking lot, and did not include spaces for Seaport. Seaport later filed a complaint against JHRW alleging that JHRW breached the lease agreement. After a hearing, a court found that JHRW was the rightful owner of the property, and all remaining claims were dismissed.

Shortly after the resolution of the first case, JHRW filed a complaint alleging that two Seaport employees had parked in JHRW’s parking lot, and sought in part to enjoin Seaport’s employees from parking on the land within the unit C condominium. Seaport argued it was entitled to nine parking spaces, and that JHRW unlawfully blocked Seaport’s access to its parking spaces. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff ordering an injunction, enjoining the defendant from parking in spaces owned by the plaintiff, JHRW. The court found that the plaintiff had demonstrated the necessary elements to warrant a permanent injunction.

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In June, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in a Rhode Island landlord-tenant case discussing whether an out-of-state landlord’s failure to comply with a statutory requirement that she maintain an in-state agent entitled the tenant to all rents paid during periods of non-compliance. Ultimately, the court concluded that the statutory text and the legislative intent in passing the statute did not support the plaintiff’s claim, and entered judgment in favor of the defendant landlord.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff rented a waterfront condo from the defendant landlord for a period of about ten years. The tenancy was without incident until the tenant moved out, at which point there was a dispute over the return of the security deposit.

About two years after the tenant moved out, he filed a claim against the landlord, seeking the entire amount of rent that he paid throughout the tenancy. The tenant claimed that the landlord failed to comply with Rhode Island General Law § 34-18-22.3, which requires a “nonresident landlord” to “designate and continuously maintain an agent upon whom service may be made.” The tenant’s position was that because the landlord never designated an agent, he was not required to pay rent, but because the rent was paid during this time, he was entitled to have that money returned to him.

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The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently issued a decision in a family law case discussing the calculation of child support. According to the court’s opinion, the couple in the case married in 1990 and began divorce proceedings in 2014. The mother subsequently petitioned the court for child support. After a hearing, the family court ordered the father to pay $1,796 per month in child support for his minor child. The mother appealed, claiming that the family court failed to properly calculate and order child support while the divorce proceeding was pending and on the day the marital settlement agreement had been entered.

The appellate court found that the lower court did not err in declining to award child support while the divorce proceeding was pending because the mother was using funds from a joint marital account to support herself at the time, which had been divided equally between the parties, and amounted to about $505,000. In addition, shortly thereafter, the husband voluntarily agreed to pay, and the mother accepted, $2,444 per month in interim child support while the divorce proceeding was pending. The mother also argued that the court incorrectly calculated the child support obligation, in part because the court excluded income that the father received related to an S-corporation he owned.

Section 15-5-16.2 states that a child support obligation shall be calculated based upon the family court’s formula and guidelines. If, after doing so, the court finds that it would be inequitable to the child or to either parent, the court shall make findings of fact and shall order a child support obligation “reasonable or necessary for the child’s support after considering all relevant factors,” including but not limited to, certain enumerated factors. Those factors include the standard of living established for the child before the divorce, the child’s emotional and educational needs, the financial resources of the child, and of the parents. Gross income, as defined by the child support guidelines, includes income from sources such as salaries, wages, bonuses, gifts, prizes, social security benefits, and “all other forms of earned/unearned income,” excluding means-tested public assistance benefits. It also includes business income defined as gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses.

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Buying a home is likely the biggest purchase most people make in their lifetime. However, purchasing a home in Rhode Island is not without its risks. There are, however, certain steps prospective homeowners can take to reduce their exposure. Title insurance offers prospective homeowners a way to mitigate many of the risks of buying a home.

When discussing any type of insurance, it is essential to fully understand the nature of the insurance policy as well as the risks that the policy is protecting against. While it is perhaps more confusing than other types of insurance that consumers are more familiar with, title insurance is no exception. A title insurance policy is between the insurance company and the mortgage lender. A mortgage lender almost always requires the policy as a precondition to making the loan. It is important to note that this policy only protects the lender, and offers no protection to the home buyer. This can be confusing because the buyer is the one who pays the policy premium. However, if a home buyer desires title insurance, they must obtain a separate policy with the title insurance company.

Rhode Island title insurance protects lenders and homeowners against historical title defects. This includes forgery, undisclosed but recorded prior mortgages, bankruptcies, liens or divorces, deeds not properly recorded, missing wills or heirs, and inadequate property descriptions. For example, if a portion of a piece of property changed hands between family members, and was recorded but not explained to the home buyer, a home buyer may be surprised to learn that their property boundaries were not what they thought them to be at purchase. Rhode Island title insurance protects against these claims, giving home buyers clean title to the property.

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Not just any person can file a claim in court. In order to bring a lawsuit, the plaintiff must have the legal ability to bring the claim. This is referred to as “standing.” The state’s high court recently heard a Rhode Island real estate case in which the court decided that a plaintiff did not have standing to bring a lawsuit challenging a tax assessment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the owner of a property in Barrington, Rhode Island. He filed a complaint appealing the tax assessment of his property, based on the allegedly unfair tax assessment of a development in the same town. The plaintiff contended that he was forced to pay a higher tax on his property because a Rhode Island tax policy that favored the development, which was a low- and moderate-income housing development. The town granted the development a tax of eight percent of gross rental income. Such a tax was permitted under Rhode Island Laws Section 44-5-13.11 because the development was comprised of restricted-income housing.

The plaintiff sued the town, the development, and its company, arguing that his property was overtaxed due to the under-taxing of the development.

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In a real estate case before Rhode Island’s Supreme Court, the court considered the validity of the assignment of a mortgage in a foreclosure action. Evidently, in 1984, the defendants obtained title to a house in Cranston, Rhode Island. In 2006, the defendants executed a promissory note to a mortgage company, Zurich Mortgage Solutions, for $971,750, secured by the house. Later in 2006, the mortgage company transferred the note and mortgage to another company, American Residential Equities.

Two weeks before the transfer occurred, American Residential Equities assigned the note and mortgage to GMAC, which sought to foreclose on the mortgage. GMAC later assigned the note and mortgaged to a fourth company, ARELIX. At some point, ARELIX realized that the note had been lost after it gave the note to its lawyer. Later, ARELIX purported to assign the note and mortgage to a fifth company, Note Capital—the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. A court granted summary judgment in favor of Note Capital, and the defendants appealed.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff did not have title to the note and mortgage because there was an improper transfer, thereby breaking the chain of title. Specifically, the defendants maintained that American Residential Equities could not transfer the note and mortgage to GMAC, because at the time that it purported to assign them, the note and mortgage had not yet been transferred from Zurich.

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