Municipal housing authorities in Rhode Island have been established to support the greater public good by protecting residents’ ability to live in affordable and safe housing. Because these administrative authorities are acting in furtherance of the public interest, state laws are designed in ways to allow public housing authorities to take possession of private land using the powers of eminent domain. Private property owners who have land taken from them by a public housing authority are entitled to compensation for the fair market value of the property. The exact amount of compensation that a landowner should receive from the government as part of an eminent domain proceeding is often a source of conflict. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a landowner’s challenge to the compensation he was awarded when his property was seized by eminent domain.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case was the owner of a subdivision-sized tract of land near Providence. After constructing a home for his family on part of the land, the plaintiff sought to divide the remaining land into eight lots. Before the plaintiff started development, he was notified by the Providence Public Buildings Authority (the defendant in the case) that the municipality was seeking development rights over the undeveloped portion of the plaintiff’s land in order to build affordable public housing.
The Rhode Island General Laws outline the procedures for a public housing authority to seek development rights for private land, and in accordance with those procedures, the parties retained appraisers to determine the value of the land. After the defendant’s appraisers submitted a valuation for the development rights of the land, the plaintiff sought to compel the defendant to purchase the land outright. Although the statute allowed a property owner to demand an outright purchase, the trial judge denied the plaintiff’s request, finding that it was made too close to the date of trial, and would be unfair to the defendant. At a trial on the valuation, the judge accepted the defendant’s appraisal numbers and ordered the plaintiff to be paid approximately $500,000 for the development rights of the undeveloped property.