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Pelton v. Pier Realty, LLC

Superior Court of Rhode Island

April 9, 2019

EMMA PELTON; ABIGAIL SCHMIDT
v.
PIER REALTY, LLC

          For Plaintiff: Emma Pelton, pro se; Abigail Schmidt, pro se

          For Defendant Donald R. Lembo, Esq.

          DECISION

          McGUIRL, J.

         Before this Court is a non-jury trial arising from an appeal of a District Court ruling in favor of tenants Emma Pelton and Abigail Schmidt (Plaintiffs) brought by Pier Realty, LLC (Defendant) regarding a lease of an apartment. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-12-10.1.

         Plaintiffs filed their claim on July 26, 2018, seeking return of a security deposit held by the Defendant. The District Court conducted a non-jury trial, returning a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs after hearing testimony and reviewing photographic and documentary evidence. Defendant invoked its right to appeal and parties waived the right to a jury trial. In addition, the Defendant filed a counterclaim on February 21, 2019, seeking compensatory damages for breach of the lease agreement by the Plaintiffs when they allegedly failed to leave the rental unit in rentable condition.

         This Court conducted a trial in the instant matter on February 22, 2019. The Court heard testimony from Plaintiffs, as well as from Defendant's Property Manager, Sandra Kashouh. In addition, multiple photographs of alleged damages, email communications between the parties, and assorted bills were entered into evidence during the trial. Furthermore, the lease agreement entered into by the parties was entered as evidence and reviewed by the Court.

         It is well-settled that an appeal to the Superior Court in landlord tenant actions proceeds on a de novo basis. See § 9-12-10; see also Bernier v. Lombardi, 793 A.2d 201, 202 (R.I. 2002). Moreover, in a subsequent non-jury trial in Superior Court, '"[t]he trial justice sits as a trier of fact as well as of law."' Parella v. Montalbano, 899 A.2d 1226, 1239 (R.I. 2006) (quoting Hood v. Hawkins, 478 A.2d 181, 184 (R.I. 1984)). Furthermore, "[w]hen rendering a decision in a non-jury trial, a trial justice 'need not engage in extensive analysis and discussion of all the evidence. Even brief findings and conclusions are sufficient if they address and resolve the controlling and essential factual issues in the case."' Parella, 899 A.2d at 1239 (quoting Donnelly v. Cowsill, 716 A.2d 742, 747 (R.I. 1998)).

         Upon review of all submitted evidence and testimony, the Court makes the following findings of fact:

1. The parties entered into a written agreement in which Plaintiffs would rent and reside in an apartment unit located at 174 A South Pier Road, Narragansett, Rhode Island, owned by the Defendant, for the 2017-2018 academic year running September 6, 2017 to May 23, 2018.
2. By written agreement, Plaintiffs paid Defendant $3600 upon acceptance of the agreement, with $1200 of this initial amount deemed a security deposit. See Pls.' Ex. 1, at 1.
3. Within the agreed upon rental contract, paragraph four details the nature of the security deposit. Specifically, section 7 of the aforementioned Paragraph indicates "[a] reasonable cleaning expense provided [Plaintiffs] do not leave the premises in a clean and rentable condition at the time you vacate." Id. at 2.
4. Plaintiffs vacated the unit upon completion of the 2017-2018 school year.
5. Plaintiffs requested a walkthrough of the apartment in May prior to the end of the rental term but the request was denied by the Defendant.
6. Defendant was at the unit in early May prior to the expiration of the lease term and did not inform the Plaintiffs of any issues relating to the "rentable" condition of the unit. Defendant later conducted a ...

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