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Rhode Island Supreme Court Declines to Enforce Restrictive Covenant

Residential and commercial developments often contain restrictive covenants that protect property owners from various behaviors of other owners in the development that may affect the value, use, or enjoyment of their property. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently decided an appeal in a Rhode Island real estate lawsuit filed by the owner of one home in a subdivision against their neighbor, alleging a violation of such a restrictive covenant.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is the owner of one residence in a nine-lot subdivision that is governed by an agreement among the owners to abide by certain restrictive covenants that apply to the demolition, construction, or modification of the homes in the subdivision. According to the appellate opinion, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant after the defendant demolished the existing single-story construction on their lot and began construction of a multi-story home on the lot.

The subdivision containing the plaintiff’s and defendant’s homes was governed by a restrictive covenant that required the approval of a committee of homeowners from the subdivision prior to the construction of a new home or multi-story dwelling. Since the defendants did not obtain such approval before construction, the plaintiff sought a ruling requiring the defendants to demolish the new home and seek the required approval before continuing construction. Before the trial was held on the plaintiff’s claim, the defendants obtained majority approval for their construction by the committee, but the plaintiff continued to pursue their lawsuit.

The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s case, holding that the relief requested was frivolous and would be futile. The court noted the fact that the defendant had obtained approval for their construction retroactively, and even if the plaintiff was victorious at trial and the defendant was required to demolish their home, they would be permitted to construct an identical building with the obtained approval, and the plaintiff would be no better off.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s reasoning, noting that equitable relief in property disputes is to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The court went on to explain that relief should not be granted in a situation in which the plaintiff would not ultimately be any better off and the defendant placed at a serious disadvantage or inconvenience if the relief were granted. Although the defendant initially failed to abide by the restrictive covenant, the court found that their retroactive compliance was sufficient to justify the building construction. Thus, the court found that the plaintiff’s case was without merit.

Do You Have a Restrictive Covenant or Other Rhode Island Property Issue?

If you have questions or concerns regarding a restrictive covenant as applied to a residential or commercial property in Rhode Island, seeking the advice of a knowledgeable Rhode Island real estate attorney before construction can prevent difficulties or litigation at a later date. The attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC can advise you on whether your desired construction or modifications may run afoul of any governing covenants that apply to your property. In addition, if you believe that another owner has breached a restrictive covenant in violation of your rights, our legal team can assist you in pursuing the relief that you deserve. Talk to an experienced real estate attorney today. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo, call 401-300-4055.

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