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Rhode Island Supreme Court Rejects Landlord-Tenant Claim for Lack of Jurisdiction

The requirement that a court has jurisdiction–over both the parties and the issue of a legal dispute–is one of the first questions that a court asks when addressing a legal claim. Without valid jurisdiction over a party or the issue at hand, a court cannot grant the relief requested by the plaintiff. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently affirmed a Superior court’s dismissal of a landlord-tenant dispute based on lack of jurisdiction. As a result of the ruling, the parties may not be able to obtain relief for their claims.

In the recently decided case, the plaintiff is a woman who owned a piece of property and leased it to the defendants for a period of two and a half years. After the defendants moved out of the property, the plaintiff withheld their security deposit and sought additional monetary damages from the defendants for damage allegedly caused to the property in violation of the lease agreement. The plaintiff filed a breach of contract claim with the Superior Court, making these allegations.

Although the defendants alleged counterclaims against the plaintiff’s lawsuit, they also challenged the plaintiff’s claim on jurisdictional grounds. The defendants argued that under Rhode Island law, landlord-tenant disputes fall under the jurisdiction of a housing court, or a District court in jurisdictions where a housing court is not available, and that a claim filed in Superior Court must fail as a matter of law. The Superior Court agreed, holding that the legislature specifically designated housing courts with authority to handle landlord-tenant disputes, and that the claim must be filed in the proper court for either party to obtain relief.

The Landlord appealed the ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, arguing that because the lawsuit was filed against their former tenant, that it was a valid breach of contract claim that fell under the Superior Court’s jurisdiction. The plaintiff noted other negligence cases that had been resolved between landlords and tenants in the Superior Court as justification for her argument. The landlord’s claim did not persuade the Supreme Court. The Court noted that housing courts are better equipped and appropriately structured to hear the exact type of claim brought by the landlord, and as a result of that, the state legislature vested them with the exclusive jurisdiction to handle such claims. As a result of the appellate ruling, the landlord will not be entitled to the relief she sought, irrespective of the strength of her claim.

The Importance of an Attorney in a Landlord-Tenant Dispute

Jurisdiction is only one of many hurdles that must be overcome to pursue or defend an eviction or other landlord-tenant issue. An experienced Rhode Island landlord-tenant attorney can ensure that the proper procedures are followed in your case so you can quickly and efficiently pursue the relief that you seek. The qualified Rhode Island landlord-tenant attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo are dedicated and experienced in handling both sides of landlord-tenant disputes, and you can be sure your claim will be pursued properly and competently if you retain our services. Contact our offices today at 401-300-4055 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

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