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The Importance of the Notice Requirement in Rhode Island Evictions

Courts are often said to favor landlords and property owners in Rhode Island residential evictions or other landlord/tenant disputes. While the majority of judgments in summary landlord/tenant cases fall in favor of the landlord, this is not always the case. A recently decided appeal from an eviction judgment in nearby Massachusetts demonstrates that landlords must follow strict procedural guidelines to be successful in pursuing an eviction or monetary damages from a tenant.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case was a landlord, who filed an action against the defendant tenant to recover possession of a property and damages for rent that was past due. The lawsuit was filed fourteen days after the landlord had posted a notice on the front door of the subject property, which demanded payment of the rents or the tenant to leave the property. The tenant responded to the claim with several counterarguments, primarily stating that the landlord acted unfairly in demanding payments for utilities without such a condition written into the lease. Additionally, the tenant sought dismissal of the claim because the lawsuit was filed less than fourteen days after the tenant actually saw the notice on the front door, and the law requires at least fourteen days between the receipt of a notice and the initiation of proceedings.

At a bench trial in the housing court, the tenant’s request to dismiss the case was denied. The court found that the notice was posted on the front door at least fourteen days before the filing of the action, and the tenant’s failure to see the notice until the next day was not relevant to the validity of the claim. The housing court ruled that the tenant needed to pay the amount of past-due rent to remain in their home, or else a judgment would be entered against them, and they would be forced to move out. The housing court found little merit in the tenant’s counterclaims, and noted that state law requires some of the utilities to be paid by the tenant. While the lease would ideally include those terms, failure to do so would not eliminate the requirement for the tenant to pay rents.

The tenant appealed the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, challenging the housing court’s determination that the action was filed at least fourteen days after the notice to pay was delivered. The high court agreed with the tenant that the fourteen-day period does not start to run until the tenant receives the notice. Here, the court found that because the notice was not seen until the following day, the case was filed prematurely and must be dismissed. As a result of the appellate ruling, the landlord will be required to pursue another action in accordance with the law to recover damages from the tenant.

Finding an Attorney for Your Rhode Island Landlord/Tenant Issue

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, following the applicable rules and requirements to pursue or defend against a Rhode Island eviction or other legal dispute can be essential to obtaining the relief you deserve. The qualified Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, understand how to obtain evictions properly, and we also know how to prevent evictions from going through if a landlord or their representative has not followed proper procedures. We also represent parties in other landlord/tenant issues, including breach of contract, and violation of the implied warranty of habitability. Call our offices at 401-300-4055 to talk to a Rhode Island landlord/tenant attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo today.

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