Frequently Asked Questions
A complaint is a document filed with the Court to initiate a case by one party against another party for relief. In this case, it is initiated by the Department of Inspections and Standards against a property owner for correction of violations. It is intended to give the defendant notice of the claim being made for non-compliance.
I have been served with a complaint. What do I have to do to?
You must file an answer to the complaint, confirming or denying, in part or in whole, the claims made by the plaintiff (City of Providence) and set forth a legal defense. If the defendant fails to respond or if the court does not receive the response before the due date (20 days after the service of the complaint), you may automatically lose the case without receiving the opportunity to present your case in court. The court may enter a default judgment against you, which the plaintiff (City of Providence) can enforce by court order.
What is an answer?
An answer is your response to the complaint. It sets forth your position on the claims made by the plaintiff City of Providence and allows you to deny the claims.
How do I answer?
Your answer must be in writing and filed with the Providence Housing Court within the time permitted by law (no later than twenty (20) calendar days after service of a summons and complaint either by mail or personal delivery). You must also send a copy of the answer to the plaintiff’s City of Providence attorney whose name and address is on the summons. If you file your answer with the court by mail you run the risk of any mis-delivery by the postal service. Remember, if you, the defendant, fail to respond or if the court does not receive the response before the due date, you may automatically lose the case.
What happens if I do not file an answer?
Normally, when people do not file an answer to the summons, the Court enters a default judgment against them.
Can I just call the attorney instead of filing a written answer?
Contacting the Housing Court or the City’s Attorney by telephone is not a substitute for a written answer to the complaint.
Are there any costs? How much money will I have to pay?
The defendant is responsible for the Housing Court fee for filing a complaint, which is $100.00. The owner is also responsible for the service charge for each defendant served by constable and any fines imposed for non-compliance.
Do I need to hire an attorney?
The decision to hire an attorney is up to the individual. You are entitled to represent yourself in court.
Why do I have to come to Housing Court?
You are in Housing Court because the City of Providence has filed a Complaint with the Providence Housing Court. Usually the charge is for Failure to Comply with a Notice of Minimum Housing, Building and/or Zoning Violations.
You must personally appear in court on your court date. An unexcused failure to appear for review may result in entry of default, finding of contempt, the imposition of fines and/or the incurrence of costs, and/or the issuance of a body attachment (a warrant being issued for your arrest).
What will happen in court?
In court, you will have the opportunity to explain why you haven’t corrected the violations. You may inform the Court about any financial problems, physical or medical limitations or other factors that may affect your ability to make repairs and come in to compliance.
Do I have to come to court if my violations are corrected?
You must come to court even if your violations are corrected, unless you have been notified by the Prosecution division that you do not have to appear because you are in compliance.
What do I do if I have corrected all my violations?
When you have corrected all of your violations, contact the Inspector and request an inspection. The inspector will verify that the work has been completed and report to the court that you are in compliance.
What do I do if I don’t own the property for which I received a summons and complaint?
The issue before the court is whether you were in control of the property as of the date the notice of violation was issued. Selling or transferring the property does not necessarily resolve the case. However, if you sold the property before you were cited, you should submit a copy of the deed, showing the transfer date, to the City attorney at the address on the summons, or to the Department of Inspections – Prosecution Division.
What if I want to sell my property?
You are responsible for correcting the violations that occurred during your ownership or that were assumed by you when you purchased the property.
The Court will take into consideration your plans to sell the property when you bring in a copy of your listing agreement, purchase agreement, and any other related documents and you must take all reasonable steps to promptly sell the property.
What if I can’t come to court on my court date?
If you can’t come to court, you must request a continuance. You need to contact Housing Court and the Assistant City Solicitor attorney for the Plaintiff City of Providence as soon as possible. You may also file a motion for a continuance explaining your reason for your request.
Whether a continuance is granted is within the discretion of the Judge. If your request is granted, you will be sent a notice of your next court date. However, it is your responsibility to find out if your request is granted and when you must appear in court.
I don’t have any money to fix the house. Where can I go for help? Or what will happen if I can’t make the repairs?
If you don’t have the funds to repair your property you should contact the following resources for financial assistance:
- City of Providence Planning and Development
- RI Housing
- Providence Preservation Society
- Rebuilding Together Providence
- West Elmwood Neighborhood Association
How much time will I have to correct the violations?
You will have a reasonable period of time to correct your violations
- Violations that affect health and safety, removal of junk vehicles or debris from the property must be repaired immediately
- Minor violations are to be corrected within 30 days
- Most violations should be corrected within 90 days. The Court will consider weather conditions that prohibit completion of some exterior repairs
It is an agreement of the parties which resolves the disputed issues and it is entered by the court. Once it’s signed, it becomes an official court order.
What happens after a consent order is entered?
A compliance hearing will be scheduled to determine your compliance with the order. The court will get a report on the status of the violations.
If you have met all of the conditions of the order and are making progress towards correcting the violations, the matter will continue and another compliance hearing will be set.
If all your violations are reported by the City as abated or corrected and you have paid court costs, your case will be closed.
What happens if I don’t pay my court costs and fines?
The City will file a motion for final judgment for court costs and fines and send you notice to appear in court to explain why a judgment should not be entered. If you don’t appear in court, a judgment will be entered against you.