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Rhode Island High Court Sides with Owner of Public Housing Authority on Eminent Domain Claim

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.

The plaintiff appealed the trial ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, where the court agreed that the plaintiff’s request to have the property sold outright was not unreasonable. Because the statute permitted a plaintiff to make such a request, when reasonable, the court found that the lower court was mistaken to deny the plaintiff’s request. As a result of the high court ruling, the case will be sent back down to the lower court for damages to be determined based upon an outright sale of the property, and the plaintiff will most likely receive significantly more compensation than was originally awarded.

Are You Interested in Learning More About How to Respond to an Eminent Domain Claim?

If you are a Rhode Island property owner who has received notice that a municipality or the state is seeking to take use or possession of your property through an easement or eminent domain, you don’t have to accept the amount of compensation being offered. By seeking the advice of a qualified Rhode Island real estate lawyer working with Bilodeau Capalbo, you can be sure that you will be fairly compensated for your property. If you want to resist the taking altogether, our skilled attorneys may give you a path to keep full use and possession of your property. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we represent clients in all types of Rhode Island real estate cases, including eminent domain takings. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Rhode Island property lawyer by calling 401-300-4055.

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