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Rhode Island Appellate Court Rejects Adverse Possession Claim

Settlements, municipalities, and property associations in Rhode Island are often developed upon property lines that can date back as far as the 1700s. Over the centuries, claims to property can become distorted from the original lines, and determining the actual size and shape of a piece of real estate can be a difficult, forensically intensive process. The legal doctrine of adverse possession allows property owners who possess and occupy property that may not have originally been a part of a lot to take title to the property along new lines consistent with the present-day use. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently released an opinion in a case filed by a property owner asserting an adverse possession claim over a waterfront lot that she assumed she had purchased when purchasing the home across the street.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case was a woman who purchased a semi-beachfront home in Warwick, Rhode Island in 2009. According to her testimony at trial, the woman was under the impression that her purchase of the home included the beachfront property across the street from the house. After she purchased the property, the plaintiff closed off the beachfront property (which previously had been accessible to the public for leisure and fishing activities), and placed no trespassing signs along the property. After having a survey performed on the property, the plaintiff realized that most of the waterfront lot was actually owned by the homeowners association of the neighborhood where it was located, and she filed suit against the association for legal title to the disputed property.

At trial, the district court heard testimony to determine if the plaintiff’s claim to the disputed land met the standards for a Rhode Island adverse possession claim. To succeed in an adverse possession claim, a plaintiff must prove that they or their predecessors had actual, open, notorious, hostile, continuous, and exclusive use of the disputed land for at least ten years. The district court determined that while the plaintiff’s predecessors in title did use the land as if it were part of the property for a period of at least ten years, their use was not hostile or exclusive, because they let the public onto the land at will and also sought permission from the defendant before modifying the property. As a result of these findings, the plaintiff’s claims were rejected at trial, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court was sympathetic to the plaintiff’s claim, acknowledging that the plaintiff believed she had purchased the waterfront lot along with her home, but the court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court noted that it might have evaluated the acts differently and come to a different conclusion had they heard the case at its first instance. However, as an appellate court, it had to give deference to the trial court’s decision and would not disturb the decision as it was supported by extensive findings of fact and supported by the relevant law. As a result of their decision, the plaintiff will not be given title to the land, even though she was told that it was part of her purchase in 2009.

Are You Dealing with a Rhode Island Real Estate Issue?

If you have a question about a potential Rhode Island adverse possession claim, or any other real estate boundary or title issue, having a qualified attorney to work for you from the beginning will increase your chances of a favorable result. The experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, are diligent and hard-working, and can handle any Rhode Island real estate issue for you. Contact us before your issue gets out of hand. Call our offices at 401-300-4055 and speak with a Rhode Island real estate attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo today.

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