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Until 1978, many homes and businesses were constructed or renovated with paint containing lead. Lead is an element that has been found to cause many health problems, especially in children. In children, lead can impair brain development, as well as renal function and the nervous system. Considering these risks, the U.S. federal government banned the use of lead paint in 1978 for new construction projects. Both states and the federal government have been making efforts over the past four decades to eliminate lead-based paint from homes and businesses, using both positive incentives and negative consequences to encourage property owners to remove lead-based paint.

A recently published news report discusses three lawsuits filed by the State of Rhode Island against property owners who have failed to remove lead paint from their properties after the legal notice was given for them to abate the dangerous product from their properties. The new enforcement strategy of filing suit against non-compliant property owners represents a proactive stance the state is taking to make lead poisoning in children a problem of the past. According to the news report, the property owners who are being sued purchased their properties after lead violations were issued to prior owners. After purchasing the properties, the new owners were issued additional notices to remove the lead paint, and the three defendants failed to do so. If the three lawsuits are successful, the property owners will be required to pay to have the lead paint removed, and other financial penalties may also be imposed.

Anyone seeking to purchase property in Rhode Island with buildings constructed before 1978 should be concerned about the possible presence of lead paint in the buildings. Although home inspections do not always look for lead paint, a prospective buyer is able to specifically request an inspection for lead paint in order to determine if a future abatement will be necessary. Lead paint removal can be expensive, costing an average of $10,000 for a single-family home. By determining whether any lead paint will need to be removed before a home or business is compliant, prospective buyers can adjust their purchase offer accordingly.

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The Supreme Court of Rhode Island recently issued a decision in which the court terminated a mother’s parental rights to her son. The mother had her son in 2017 when she was seventeen years old. The mother planned to live with her stepfather who had a history of physical or sexual abuse against a child and had previously been convicted of second-degree child molestation. A Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) investigator told the mother she could not live with her stepfather due to his history. The investigator also said that the mother could not allow contact between the child and her stepfather. The mother then went to live with her mother. However, shortly after that, the mother and the child went to live with her stepfather. The son was removed from the home, and the mother was reportedly unwilling to move from her stepfather’s home.

The mother attended weekly supervised visits with her son. However, it was later discovered that the mother’s stepfather was present during one of the visits. A family court concluded that the mother had not demonstrated an ability to protect her son, and DCYF filed a petition to terminate her parental rights, who had been in DCYF’s care for over twelve months. A family court later terminated the mother’s parental rights. The mother appealed the decision.

Termination of Parental Rights

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It is not uncommon for private businesses to allow land adjacent to their property to be used by customers for parking or other purposes. Often, months or years can pass before the rightful owner of a piece of property realizes that an adjacent property owner is using it for their own purpose. A recently published local news article discusses a dispute between the city of Newport and a local restaurant over a strip of land owned by the city that the restaurant is using as part of their parking lot.

According to the news report, the city of Newport has demanded that a local restaurant stop using a 2400 square-foot section of land that lies between the reservoir and a city-owned artificial pond that is used as part of the city’s water system. The city claims that the adjacent land belongs to it and that the land needs to be used to improve and repair the shoreline of the pond to address safety and efficacy issues. The restaurant claims that the piece of land has been used by the owners of the restaurant’s land for over 20 years for parking and that the restaurant is entitled to continue such use. According to the survey information, the land originally belonged to the city.

Property owners who have continuously possessed and used property that is owned by a neighbor or other party for their own purposes may be entitled to claim ownership of the land under a legal theory known as adverse possession. Adverse possession allows a property owner to assert the right of title over a piece of land that has been used openly and obviously for an extended period of time, without the rightful owner objecting or taking any other legal action to stop the use of their land.

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As property values increase in coastal Rhode Island and residents of other states purchase beachside homes as retirement or vacation properties, the long-standing conflicts over public beach access in the state will continue to worsen. Wealthy landowners and developers of luxury properties have a financial incentive to restrict public access to beaches in order to advertise their properties as more exclusive. Although the vast majority of beaches and land immediately adjacent to the coastline are public property, without public access from the road, residents and visitors have practically no way to use the public beaches. A recently published news report discusses a legal battle over beach access in Westerly, Rhode Island, specifically noting how the discovery of a historical survey map could turn the tide of the battle in favor of public beach access.

According to the report, the beach known as Quonochontaug, is one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. As beautiful as the beach is, there is currently no public access to the shore. Developers have purchased all of the land adjacent to the beach and blocked any public paths leading to the shore, creating what amounts to a private beach for their residents and customers. The article notes that one 50-foot wide trail that was previously used as public access has been blocked with a fence and is not currently usable. An attorney fighting for public access to the beach has been on a mission to prove that the fenced-off trail does not belong to the adjacent property owners and is in fact a public pathway that should remain passable to allow anyone to access the beautiful beach.

In an effort to make his case, the attorney combed through public historical documents to support his case. In the basement document repository of the Westerly town hall, the attorney found a document from 1939 known as a plat map that might prove his case. Plat maps are scale drawings of land that are approved and filed with the state and municipality to show the ownership and characteristics of the land as it is being developed. In the 1939 plat map that was prepared before the property surrounding Quonochontaug was developed, the 50-foot wide section of land was designated as a public road. According to the attorney quoted in the article, that designation has not been changed in the decades since the map was made, and the path remains public. If the attorney’s arguments are accepted by the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the fencing will need to be removed, and public access to the beach can be restored.

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The laws of trespass are generally understood to apply to people who enter or remain on a piece of personal property without the consent of the owner or the legal right to do so. From a legal standpoint, the theory of trespass is much broader. Trespass to land is generally understood to entail a wrongful interference with one’s possessory rights in real property and can extend both underground and into airspace. In the event that a neighboring property owner modifies their own property in a manner that disrupts their neighbor from possessing or using their property, a trespass may have occurred. A Rhode Island Superior Court recently found that the state of Rhode Island is liable for trespass based on a stormwater drainage pit maintained by the state that repeatedly overflowed into a cemetery.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a cemetery that was founded in 1902 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Adjacent to the cemetery is a roadway that is maintained by the defendant, the State of Rhode Island. Until 1984, the state road had problems with flooding during times of heavy rain. In 1984, the plaintiff gave permission for the defendant to construct a drainage ditch and seepage pit on the cemetery property to alleviate the roadway flooding. Pursuant to the agreement, the defendant compensated the plaintiff and agreed to make reasonable attempts to reconstruct the road in a way that would alleviate the flooding and return the plaintiff’s property. The defiant never reconstructed the road, and the drainage system remains on the plaintiff’s property. According to the facts discussed in the judicial ruling, during times of heavy rains, the seepage pit overfills with water, which flows onto other parts of the plaintiff’s property.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in state court in 2015, challenging the easement for the drainage ditch and alleging that the defendant has committed an actionable trespass against the plaintiff by allowing the seepage pit to overflow and flood the plaintiff’s property. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claims that the easement was invalid. The court did find that because the pit overflows and floods into areas of the plaintiff’s property not included in the easement, that a trespass had occurred. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff on that issue, reserving the question of damages for a later date.

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Across the United States, municipalities, states, and even the federal government have the right to seize the property of private citizens under some circumstances. Although the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure of their property, government actors have carved out a range of “reasonable” seizures that are permitted under the law. Some of these seizures are defined under the term “eminent domain.”

Rhode Island has codified the standards for the state and municipalities to take real property from citizens under Rhode Island General Laws, 42-64.12. The laws under this chapter are designed to set the process for an eminent domain taking and ensure that persons who have property seized by the government for any purpose are compensated fairly for their loss.

One reason the government commonly uses eminent domain powers is to construct or modify roadways or other infrastructure or utility improvements. Because this use is widely understood to be in furtherance of the public good, the government need only compensate private citizens for the property’s fair market value. In addition to infrastructure uses, the government often seeks to seize private property for economic development purposes. Because economic development is not as widely agreed to be for the public good, the government needs to compensate private citizens whose property is seized for economic development more generously than for other uses. Specifically, the government must pay at least 150% of the property’s fair market value, as well as for relocation and moving expenses incurred by the person whose property was seized.

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Jurisdictions across the United States have different laws and traditions concerning how property is divided during a divorce. Generally, judges are not required to follow any strict formula for property division; however, the guidelines and laws offer factors for courts to consider in awarding property to each spouse. Rhode Island courts divide marital property using the doctrine equitable distribution, meaning a court divides marital property in a fair and equitable manner between the spouses, taking several factors into account to determine the equitable distribution for each spouse.

The division of marital property in Rhode Island is governed by state law, codified under R.I. GEN. LAWS § 15-5-16.1, which lists several factors for judges to consider in property division. These factors include the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, contributions from each party to the marital estate, the contributions of each party as a homemaker, the occupation and employability of each party, and the best interests of any children shared by the parties, among others factors.

In evaluating the conduct of the parties during the marriage, courts are allowed to consider any infidelity or abuse in making an equitable distribution of the marital assets. Additionally, financial misconduct by either party (wasteful dissipation of assets or hiding or encumbering assets in anticipation of divorce without equitable consideration) can be grounds for awarding more property to the other spouse.

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Although trespassing is against the law in Rhode Island, adverse possession is legal a loophole that allows individuals to secure an ownership interest in a piece of property after a certain amount of time has passed. To avoid this issue, landowners should familiarize themselves with the basics of adverse possession claims in Rhode Island so they can best protect their property right and their ownership over their land.

In general, adverse possession laws allow people who improve and live on otherwise neglected property or land to gain legal title after a certain period of time has elapsed. Although this period of time varies from state to state, Rhode Island’s temporal requirement is ten years. This means that an individual who is a continuous trespasser could claim legal title to otherwise neglected land after openly living on it for at least ten years.

Although the Rhode Island law appears simple, there are additional requirements that must be met by the individual who is “squatting” on the land. Courts in Rhode Island have held that “squatters” seeking to establish a claim of adverse possession must prove that their possession of the land has been “actual, open, notorious, hostile, continuous, exclusive, and under a claim of right.”

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Any time you enter into a contract, it is crucial that you understand all of the terms and conditions of the agreement you are entering into. This is of especially high importance for agreements such as insurance policies on major purchases in your life, such as your car or your home.

Although many insurance policies or similar contractual agreements can often be long and tedious to read through, it is essential that you, as the policyholder, understand the obligations that you are bound to by entering into the agreement, as well as what the other party has agreed to. This way, you are more likely to know when you can invoke specific clauses of an agreement and defend yourself when issues arise.

In a recent Rhode Island Supreme Court opinion, the court considered whether a couple was entitled to receive a subsequent appraisal of damage to their property in addition to compensation for damage incurred. The plaintiffs, who were insured by the defendant, notified the defendant of water damage to their home that was the result of snow that had accumulated on the roof. The plaintiffs submitted a claim to the defendant, which detailed the damage. Shortly after, the plaintiffs received a check for $14,549, which they cashed. More than a year later, the plaintiffs requested an appraisal for the original loss, which was rejected by the defendants because the plaintiffs failed to dispute the scope of payment, more than a year had elapsed, and the claim was categorized as resolved. The plaintiffs sued the defendant, claiming that the denial of the claim constituted a breach of their insurance contract.

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Recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a decision affirming the decree of a family court terminating a mother’s parental rights to her four children. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCFY) became involved with the family after the mother was hospitalized for mental health issues. DCFY filed a neglect petition to remove four of the woman’s children, and three were placed with their maternal grandmother, and the youngest was placed with a foster family. DCFY contends that the mother failed to fully engage in counseling and other steps to address her mental health. Further, the mother’s engagement with the children declined over several months. DCFY noted that their initial goal was reunification with the mother; however, the goal changed to termination of parental rights and adoption as time progressed.

According to the relevant part of the statute, Rhode Island General Laws 1956 § 15-7-7, explains the court shall terminate any and all legal rights of a parent to a child if the court finds:

  • With clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit by conduct or conditions detrimental to the child
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