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Rhode Island Superior Court Vindicates Homeowner in Construction Lawsuit

Disputes between neighbors over construction and land use within Rhode Island residential subdivisions often get out of hand, with homeowners going to great lengths to prevent their neighbors from using their property in the way they see fit. The Rhode Island Superior Court recently issued a ruling in a lawsuit that was filed over such a dispute, criticizing the pursuit of such claims when the requested relief would be futile and appeared to be sought in bad faith.

The plaintiffs and defendants in the recently decided case are each property owners in a multi-home subdivision in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The development was created in 1960, and the lots were subject to several restrictive covenants that all property owners were required to abide by in order to protect the rights and interests of the other property owners. One such covenant required any property owner to seek the approval of a committee of owners before constructing a home on their lot. The defendants began construction of a home, but waited until after construction began to obtain the approval of the committee. The plaintiffs filed a claim against the defendants because the defendants failed to get the approval of the committee before starting the construction of their new home.

The claim was first heard in the Newport County Superior Court, where the court found that, although the defendants should have obtained approval before starting to build their home, the approval obtained by the committee after construction began was sufficient to meet the requirements of the restrictive covenant. The court noted with the approval already gained by the defendants, that granting the plaintiffs the relief requested (forcing the defendants to demolish their partially constructed home) would only lead to the defendants restarting construction of the same home in the same place, and was therefore not in accordance with the intention of the restrictive covenant or in the interests of justice.

The plaintiffs appealed the lower court’s ruling to the Rhode Island Superior Court, arguing that the restrictive covenant must be strictly followed, and that the defendants’ behavior denied the plaintiffs the opportunity to object to the construction before it began. The high court, while acknowledging that the restrictive covenant required approval before construction, rejected the plaintiff’s claim. The court noted that lower courts have broad discretion in making equitable rulings when interpreting restrictive covenants, and held that the plaintiffs’ requested relief would be fruitless, and ultimately useless because the defendants would rebuild the house at a great inconvenience to them and with no benefit to the plaintiffs.

Do You Have Questions About a Restrictive Covenant?

Although the defendant in this case was able to build their home, their failure to strictly comply with the restrictive covenants of their subdivision certainly caused them much inconvenience, cost, and delay as a result of the lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs. This case serves as an example as to why it is always best to seek the advice of a knowledgeable Rhode Island real estate attorney before starting construction on a new home, to be sure that all relevant laws and covenants are followed. The Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC have experience with restrictive covenants and understand how to help you meet all the requirements to build your dream home without undue hassle or expense. Contact us with any questions you may have before you purchase a property or plan a construction project. Call and schedule a meeting with a qualified attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo today by contacting our offices at 401-300-4055.

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