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Rhode Island Supreme Court Upholds Easement in Private Road Dispute

When larger parcels of land are subdivided into smaller parcels and lots for development, access easements and rights of way are important to preserve the marketability of the land. If certain lots do not have desirable access, they may not be suitable for construction. Buyers of private land should ensure that any easements for roadway access to their purchase are valid and enforceable. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently entered a ruling that affirmed a lower court’s decision to enforce an easement and grant injunctive relief to a developer that was in a dispute with a neighboring landowner over the validity of an easement adjacent to their land.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a construction and development company who had purchased land from the defendant in 2016 for purposes of residential construction. As a condition of the purchase agreement, the plaintiff required municipal approval of the subdivision plan that divided the defendant’s parcels. A subdivision plan was drafted and approved by the town of West Warwick, and it included an easement attached to the plaintiff’s lot allowing for access along a private lane that was adjacent to the lot. The warranty deed conveying the lot from the defendant to the plaintiff included a reference to a different subdivision plan that was never recorded or approved by the town, and had no express reference to the easement.

After closing, the defendant chose to obstruct the plaintiff’s access to the private road and denied the existence of an easement. The defendant relied on the unrecorded subdivision plan that had been incorporated into the warranty deed and claimed the plaintiff’s lot did not have an easement to the private road. The defendant placed boulders along the lot’s access to the private lane. The plaintiff sued the defendant in district court, seeking enforcement of the easement pursuant to the recorded subdivision plan, as well as an injunction by the court forcing the defendant to remove the boulders from the property and allow the plaintiff access to the private road.

The district court analyzed the warranty deed which conveyed the land and found that it clearly and unambiguously granted the plaintiff an easement to use the disputed road. The inconsistencies between the recorded and unrecorded subdivision plans were not sufficient to prevent the plaintiff from enforcing the easement. Furthermore, the district court granted the plaintiff an injunction and ordered the defendant to remove the boulders and allow the plaintiff access to the private road. The defendant appealed the district court ruling, however, the Rhode Island Supreme Court found no error in the lower court’s reasoning, and the ruling was upheld

Addressing a Property or Right of Way Dispute

Parties to a real estate transaction may have different interpretations of an agreement they entered into, and disputes over boundaries, easements and rights of way often arise. Sometimes, former owners or neighbors will even go so far as to build a barrier to prevent other property owners from using a right of way. When this occurs, legal action may be necessary for a property owners to assert their rights. The Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo are experienced in property disputes between neighbors, and understand the importance of access and utility rights when contemplating real estate development. Contact our qualified legal team as early as you can to be sure your real estate transaction accounts for all of the necessities. If you are already in a dispute, we can help you obtain the relief you desire and deserve. Contact us by phone at 401-300-4055 to discuss your case and schedule a free consultation with a qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney today.

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