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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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The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently decided a case involving an extended Rhode Island probate dispute. According to the court’s opinion, in 2005, the plaintiff was involved in a dispute over the designation of guardianship of her aunt before her aunt passed away. After the plaintiff’s aunt passed, the dispute was over the administration of her estate.

The court named the plaintiff as administratrix of the estate and imposed a corporate surety bond as a condition of the plaintiff becoming administratrix of the estate. The plaintiff also filed for sanctions against opposing counsel. The probate court denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions against opposing counsel and her motion to waive the surety bond. In 2012, the plaintiff requested the superior court to authorize another family member to “stand as surety for [the plaintiff’s] conduct as administratrix” and to eliminate the requirement of the surety bond. She also appealed the probate court’s refusal to sanction opposing counsel for “bringing a frivolous guardianship proceeding” before her aunt passed away. The court declined to sanction opposing counsel and also held that the corporate surety was “absolutely necessary” in this case.

A surety bond in a probate case is a means of ensuring that the executor will not commit any wrongdoing. The insurer agrees to compensate the beneficiaries for any money lost if the executor makes a mistake (intentionally or unintentionally) in settling the estate. Section 33-17-1.2 of Rhode Island General Laws provides the circumstances under which a surety bond can and should be imposed. Section 33-17-1.2 allows the probate court to use its discretion in determining whether a corporate surety is required, and it provides numerous factors to consider. Under the current version of the statute, a court can consider facts such as the total number of heirs, the relationship between the heirs, the extent of conflicts between the heirs and over the estate, and the total size and monetary value of the estate. In this case, the court decided that the plaintiff failed to show that her surety or that of her family member was sufficient.

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One of the most fundamental rights of Rhode Island property ownership is the ability to exclude trespassers from your property. However, if a landowner is not careful, continuous trespassers may be able to claim an ownership right in the property if they can meet the elements of a Rhode Island adverse possession claim. The adverse possession doctrine is sometimes referred to as “squatter’s rights.”

At its most basic, adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person to acquire an ownership right in another’s property. The idea behind the doctrine is that the government wants to encourage landowners to put the property to use. Thus, if a property owner “sleeps on their rights” while another puts the property to use, then the user of the property can gain a property right in the area that is possessed. Common examples of adverse possession include use of an abandoned road or farming on vacant land.

In Rhode Island, a person seeking to adversely possess property must be able to meet each of the elements of a Rhode Island adverse possession claim for the statutory period of ten years. Courts in Rhode Island have held that, to establish a claim of adverse possession, a possessor of land must establish that their possession has been “actual, open, notorious, hostile, continuous, exclusive, and under a claim of right.” Below is a brief explanation of each element:

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The laws and regulations that apply to subdivisions of land vary by the locality and the specifications of the property, making some Rhode Island real estate disputes quite complex. The high court in neighboring Massachusetts confronted these complexities when it decided a case involving the subdivision of land that took place in 1964.

Evidently, in 1964, a lot was divided into two separate lots without having the plan presented to the local planning board. Later, the owner of one of the lots applied for a permit to build a house on the lot. The building inspector denied the permit. The plaintiff brought the case to the planning board, which determined that the division of the lot was not in compliance with the subdivision control law. On appeal before the state’s supreme judicial court, the court considered whether the division was considered a subdivision according to the subdivision control law and the local zoning ordinance, and if it was not, whether it still had to be approved by the planning board.

The state’s supreme judicial court reversed the lower court’s decision. The court decided that the division did not require approval from the planning board at the time, and that it met the legal requirements for the division of the land at the time. The subdivision control law stated that a subdivision could not be made unless it was first approved by the local planning board. However, certain divisions of land were excluded from the meaning of “subdivision.” For example, a division was excluded if each new lot had sufficient frontage on a public way to satisfy the applicable local zoning ordinance.

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