For homes located between two towns, homeowners will often struggle with water service rights. Sometimes, neither town will claim responsibility to provide the landowners with water and other natural resources. However, owners can bring what is called a “friendly lawsuit” against a city, in order to speed along the process of providing water to residents. In a recent Rhode Island Supreme Court case, the court upheld a superior court decision that required the defendants, the Portsmouth Water & Fire District, to provide the plaintiffs’ homes with water.
In the recently decided case, an eleven-lot subdivision falls between the border of two cities. A farm in this subdivision, the plaintiffs, brought a “friendly lawsuit” to speed up the time to have the defendants, the water supplier of one of the cities, provide their lot with water. However, shortly thereafter, the defendants refused to permit the plaintiffs to connect the lots on the property to their water main. After this refusal, the plaintiffs sought to require the defendants to provide water services to the subdivision lots.
During the trial in the superior court, the plaintiffs argued that the lots were entitled to water service from the defendants because the lots had a portion of its property in the city they were seeking the water from. Additionally, the homeowners on these lots paid taxes to this city—if they paid taxes, they believed they were entitled to water service. On the other hand, the defendants asserted they could not provide water to the subdivision lots because their interpretation of the city’s charter required only providing water to buildings fully located within their city.
Ultimately, the superior court held the subdivision lots were entitled to water service by the defendants because they contained taxable land within the city. Additionally, the court disagreed with the defendant’s interpretation of the charter, as it would be “absurd” for the defendants to not have to be obligated to supply water to taxable entities within the city.
When the court was appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the high court affirmed the superior court’s holding the subdivision lots were within the city’s coverage for distributing water. Discussing the language within the city’s charter, the Supreme Court decided a broader interpretation than the defendant’s interpretation was necessary. This meant all owners of real estate that pay taxes to the city must be supplied with water service, even if the entire property is not within the bounds of the city.
Property issues involving water supply are extremely critical; therefore, any homeowner dealing with a similar crisis should contact a real estate attorney.
Contact a Rhode Island Real Estate Attorney
If you are facing an issue with a municipality involving a property dispute, contact the experienced attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC. Especially when critical resources like water supply are involved, it is important to address the issue head-on. Our Rhode Island real estate attorneys handle a wide variety of issues, including easement, foreclosure contracts, and neighbor property disputes, and will advise you on your next steps to obtain your desired outcome. To speak with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, contact our offices today at 401-300-4055.