Providence County Superior Court. (PD 14-1778). Associate Justice Stephen P. Nugent.
For Plaintiff: Mark Watson, Pro se.
For Defendant: Arriona Quick, Pro se.
Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.
The plaintiff-landlord, Mark Watson, appeals from a judgment of the Providence County Superior Court entered after a trial before a justice, sitting without the benefit of a jury, who found that the defendant-tenant, Arriona Quick, was not in arrears for past rent due and, consequently, was not ordered to vacate the premises at 52 Whittier Avenue, Providence (the property). The case was heard by the Superior Court on the plaintiff's de novo appeal from the Sixth Division District Court, which had also found for the defendant. On December 10, 2014, this case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to show cause why the issues in this appeal should not summarily be decided. After considering the written submissions of the parties and reviewing the materials from the court below, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown, and we proceed to decide the appeal at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this order, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.
The plaintiff maintains that he is the owner and landlord of the property. The defendant is a tenant at the property and resides on the second floor. On March 26, 2014, plaintiff commenced a trespass and ejectment action in the District Court against defendant, seeking to evict her for nonpayment of rent. The plaintiff alleged that, as of March 15, 2014, defendant was in arrears in the amount of $3,100. The plaintiff indicated that he had served a five-day demand notice upon defendant as required by law and that he had mailed a copy to defendant on March 20, 2014. On April 4, 2014, plaintiff's eviction action was tried in the District Court. After trial, judgment was entered for defendant. The plaintiff appealed that decision to the Superior Court pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-12-10.1.
On April 25, 2014, the Superior Court conducted a trial de novo. At the outset of the trial, plaintiff argued that defendant had not paid rent for the month of April 2014, and, as a result, he moved to dismiss the action pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 34-18-53
 for nonpayment of rent during the pendency of the appeal. The trial justice noted that § 34-18-53 requires the tenant to pay rent while the case is on appeal, but reserved judgment on plaintiff's motion to dismiss and heard direct testimony from the parties.
It is no surprise that the material facts, as testified to by the parties, were in dispute. In addition to the unpaid rent for April 2014, plaintiff testified that defendant owed him $700 per month in unpaid rent for the months of June, July, and August 2013, as well as $300 for December 2013, and court costs of $150, for a total amount of $3,250. When asked by the trial justice for a ledger that might evidence defendant's record of payments and nonpayments, plaintiff produced a piece of paper that he contended demonstrated that rent was unpaid. However, plaintiff was unable to provide a record of payments that had been made by defendant, or receipts that had been furnished to defendant after payment was tendered. Additionally, plaintiff was unable to produce a deed, or any other instrument, evidencing his ownership of the property. The plaintiff also testified that, despite numerous attempts, defendant refused to let him enter the premises so that he could apply extermination chemicals to combat the pest infestation about which defendant had complained.
The defendant provided a markedly different rendition of the facts. On direct examination, defendant acknowledged that she withheld her rent in March 2014 because of the ongoing pest infestation in her apartment. The defendant testified that she was waiting for plaintiff to hire a professional exterminator before she paid rent for April 2014. The defendant averred that she had, in fact, paid rent for June, July, August, and December of 2013, notwithstanding plaintiff's claims. She said that she often paid cash directly to plaintiff's nephew, without receiving a receipt for her remittance. Further, in addition to the pest infestation, defendant testified that the apartment had several other building code violations that were discovered by the municipal Department of Inspection and Standards' Division of Code Enforcement. She claimed that these violations caused a hazard to her and her family.
After hearing the parties' testimony, the trial justice ruled in favor of defendant, finding that plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of proof with respect to his rights of possession and back rent. The court found that ...