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Legal Update for Commercial and Residential Property Managers, Investors: Winter is Here. Are you Prepared?

December 11, 2017 Leave a comment

The snow is coming down in Grand Rapids! I took this photo last week from my office – ice skating has officially started.

IMG_1951

 

With the winter months – comes an issue for landlords, property managers, and real estate investors…

icy sidewalks and parking lots.

These types of conditions are a primary reason why investors hold real estate in LLCs.

Two recent Michigan court cases came out where tenants sued their landlords for injuries related to slip and falls on icy sidewalks/parking lots:

Schuster v River Oaks Garden Apartments

Ferguson v Lautrec LTD

The claims in both cases had to do with a Landlord’s statutory duty under Michigan Compiled Laws 554.139(1)(a) to keep the Property kept fit for its intended use.

 

In General:

A Difference Between Commercial and Residential Leases – FREEDOM OF CONTRACT

The above mentioned duty is one created by Michigan statute. It does not apply to Landlords/Property Managers or owners of commercial real estate with commercial tenants.

In the residential context, tenants have certain statutory rights, in addition to contractual. These rights provide extra protection from a landlord’s ability to evict the tenant and are found in such places as “Landlord Tenant Relationship Act” and “Truth in Renting Act”.

One such right of a tenant – the residential property must be kept fit for its intended use and in reasonable repair. These conditions must be met in order for a landlord to otherwise evict a breaching tenant. Stated otherwise, the covenant to pay rent is not an independent covenant to a landlord’s duty to keep the property fit for its intended use and in reasonable repair.

In a commercial context the courts’ mantra is “Freedom of Contract“. The Court will look at the contract that the parties’ agreed to, and, absent extraordinary circumstances, enforce it by its term. (therefore in  a commercial lease you might see language such as the following “rent is due with no right of offset, setoff, counterclaim…”) In such instance, the landlord is telling the tenant that tenant has no right to withhold rent just because landlord may have breached a duty under the lease.

The Courts have recognized that commercial landlords and tenants are “free to contract”

 

Going back to our Case Studies…

Two Cases of Icy Conditions – different results

Ferguson Case

Ferguson was a tenant who slipped and fell on the sidewalk outside of her apartment building. In court, she argued that defendant was  “liable for her injuries because it breached its duty to maintain the common area of the apartment, i.e., the sidewalk, in a condition fit for its intended use as required under MCL 554.139(1)(a).” Id. page 1.

The Court disagreed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
MCL 554.139(1)(a) provides the following:

(1) In every lease or license of residential premises, the lessor or licensor
covenants: (a) That the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the
parties.

Courts have held that “sidewalks . . . constitute ‘common areas’ under MCL 554.139(1)(a).”).

The question the Court asked was: what is “fit” mean in this context?

“Our Supreme Court defined “fit” as “adapted or suited; appropriate,” Allison v AEW Capital Mgt, LLP, 481 Mich 419, 429; 751 NW2d 8 (2008), quoting Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1997) (quotation marks omitted), and a sidewalk’s intended purpose is for walking, Benton, 270 Mich App at 444.” Id. page 2-3

Defendant, therefore, has a duty to keep the sidewalk adapted or suited for walking.

The court reviewed the facts, as presented in the trial court and affirmed that “In this case, the sidewalk was not unfit simply because there was a patch of ice”. Id. 3

 

Schuster

“According to plaintiff, [Schuster,] the fall occurred as she took her first steps onto the sidewalk surrounding the complex’s mailbox kiosk. As a result of her fall, plaintiff broke her ankle requiring surgical repair with hardware placement.” Id pg 1.

The Court dismissed her claim, finding that Schuster failed to present evidence that the sidewalk was not fit for its intended use.

On appeal, Defendant does not dispute that the sidewalk was intended for walking and specifically for access to the apartment complex mailboxes. However it argues that the sidewalk, even if ice covered,  was fit for its intended purpose.” Id. pg 3-4.

The Court, like in Ferguson, relied on the Michigan Supreme Court decision of Allison:

“In Allison v AEW Capital Mgt, LLP, 481 Mich 419; 751 NW2d 8 (2008), the Supreme
Court considered a landlord’s statutory duty regarding common areas, particularly as concerns natural accumulations of snow and ice. It held that “the natural accumulation of snow and ice is subject to the lessor’s duty established in MCL 554.139(1)(a)” to keep the premises and common areas “fit for the use intended by the parties.” Id. at 438.

The Court held that  the duty of the Landlord was to provide “reasonable access” to
pedestrians seeking to use it. Id. pg 4.

The Plaintiff, Schuster, claimed the sidewalk was “dangerous”.

The Court of appeals noted; “[t]here is substantial evidence that the conditions, as predicted, developed overnight and that by the time of plaintiff’s fall, they were severe.” Id page 3.

The  Defendant Apartment Complex claimed that the presence of snow/ice was merely “inconvenient”.

The Court held that such “genuine dispute” of fact must be presented to a judge or jury. The Court reversed the trial court and sent it back.

 

Another interesting argument – Defendant claimed that it had no “notice” of the icy conditions.

The Court held that “notice” was not a prerequisite to the landlord’s duty to keep the property in good condition.

“We initially note, as we did in our previous opinion in this case, that there do not appear to be any published decisions that establish that notice of the condition is required to establish a breach of the duty under MCL 554.139(1)(a).” Id. Page 5.

Lessons:

  • Whether or not the presence of ice or snow on sidewalks presents a breach of a Landlord’s duty to keep the property fit for its intended use is a “highly factual inquiry”.  It depends on the facts of each case – which is what Schuster and Ferguson demonstrate.

 

  • A Landlord likely cannot avoid its duty to keep the property fit for its intended use by claiming a “lack of notice” of the existence of an icy condition.

 

  • If you are a commercial landlord with a commercial tenant – FREEDOM OF CONTRACT.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

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Grand Rapids Combats Affordable Housing Crisis – Eviction Prevention Program

November 21, 2017 Leave a comment

 

You know winter is approaching when Rosa Parks Circle begins to freeze over and the ice rink begins to form. See the photo I took from my office yesterday.

In fact, the Ice Rink officially opens on Friday!

IMG_1926

 

Before we know it, downtown will look like a snow globe – see the photo, below, I took from last Christmas.IMG_1927
There is an Address Affordable Housing Crisis

As many of you know, Kent County, like much of the U.S. is experiencing a serious lack of Affordable Housing.

The City of Grand Rapids has made concerted efforts to address problem through an advisory board, which has come up with strategies for addressing the Affordable Housing Crisis

 

 

 

Kent County Eviction Prevention Program

Beginning January of 2018, the 61st District Court will begin a pilot program – the “Eviction Prevention Program” (EPP). Judges Faber and Distel are the initial judges presiding over the EPP.

The EPP was developed as a collaborative effort between the City of Grand Rapids, Salvation Army of West Michigan, The Kent County Court System, the Michigan Department of Human Services and with funding provided by Steelcase.

 

Purpose of the Eviction Prevention Program

The EPP is intended to keep those tenants in housing, who truly want to stay in their housing.

The program will not be appropriate for every tenant.

The EPP appears best suited for those on the margin of being homeless due to an emergency situation (as opposed to those tenants chronically behind in rent).

The EPP provides one-time rent assistance and would allow a Landlord to hold a possession and money judgment in abeyance, pending the Tenant’s payment of rent.

The program is, essentially,  intended as a one-time emergency for those on a fixed or low income, who are essentially faced with the difficult choice of either paying an outstanding medical bill, car repair bill, groceries, etc.., or pay their rent.

 

What Property Managers and Landlords need to know about this program:

Landlords – any tenants behind in rent which have been served a summons and complaint for eviction, beginning in January 2018, should be receiving information about the EPP along with the summons and complaint.

Tenants will know that this is a potential resource to keep them in housing.

What you need to know:

1. The program is entirely voluntary. Landlords can choose to opt out.

2. Not every tenant will qualify. A tenant needs to have income to make the next month’s rent payment.

3. The program is geared towards keeping tenants in housing. If a tenant wants out of your property, the program will likely not be the right fit.

 

Why I like this program.

This program provides an opportunity to keep people in housing who are on the verge of being homeless. The fact is, families are experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids every day.

Practically speaking, the program works for tenants who have the potential to get caught up, who otherwise are good tenants.

The program is an opportunity for Landlords to get paid and to be part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis.

Housing is a community problem. It is encouraging to see the great collaboration between government, private sector, non-profit sector.

 

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

Today I was confronted with the Need For Affordable Housing in Grand Rapids.

November 2, 2017 1 comment

Today I did what I routinely do on Thursdays around noon time – I visited the school where I mentor a student.

MTM

I walked to the classroom and talked

with his teacher who told me that this student was no longer enrolled in the school.

Just like that, a relationship that I had developed over the school year was suddenly without warning severed.

Imagine what an incident like this does for a kid with an unstable home environment.

In a matter of days an elementary school kid’s life (which, in this case, is typically already chaotic enough) can be flipped upside down.

New school. New housing.

Lack of community.

This program that I have been involved in over the past several years connects adults as mentors to school-aged kids is great.

It provides an opportunity for a supportive adult to encourage and love kids, tell them they are valued, made in the image of God.

This program provides a sense of community, a network of relationships for these kids.

I see how eviction can instantaneously severe these important relationships, causing displacement and uproot community.

 

My Perspective – Wearing several hats

I’ve written before about the fact that I wear a few different hats

I am a lawyer who represents real estate owners, investors, property managers/landlords.

I am occasionally in court evicting tenants who simply have not paid their rent. This lack of payment causes real problems for landlords, many of whom are simply trying to pay down their mortgage obligations.

I am the past-Board Chair at Mel Trotter Ministries.

MTM is the safety net for the homeless in the community. It is the place where families without a home seek temporary refuge and hope to get back into affordable and stable housing.  MTM is doing its part to find a solution to the affordable housing crisis in Kent County.

I am also a mentor in a local school to students, many who regularly face homelessness.

In the past several years all of the kids that I have mentored have relocated. The reasons and issues behind their relocation are varied and complex.

I know that lack of affordable housing was a factor at least in some of those situations.

 

I see firsthand the tension:

 We should encourage entrepreneurs to revitalize our community  – we should do everything we can to place families in affordable housing.

There is a tension: and it needs to be embraced.

I get these words of wisdom – to “embrace the tension” we see in our daily lives from a man I admire named Fred Keller – founder of Cascade Engineering. Check out his blog where he speaks directly about the tension between “purpose and profit”

For me, the answer isn’t ignoring the tension on complicated matters – which is why I am writing this post. I embrace it.

I will continue to show up and mentor students.

I will continue to serve at Mel Trotter Ministries.

I will continue to provide legal services to the best of my ability for my business clients.

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

Real Estate Investors and Property Managers – Update on the “Bed Bug Bill”

October 31, 2017 1 comment

Today is Halloween so I thought would write on a topic that gives me the creeps…. bed bugs.

 

Courtesy BedBugs.org

Infestations can be an issue that every property manager or owner of residential investment real estate may face.

 

One June 9th Michigan House Bill 4719 was introduced – by Representative Brandt Iden -himself a Developer and Property Manager in South West Michigan. check out the text here – the Bill would amend the Michigan statute governing landlord tenant relationships to include addressing the control of certain pests – including bed bugs.

Recent Update

There has been no noticeable progress, except that the House Fiscal Agency prepared its legislative analysis a few weeks back – you can check it out here

What the Bill seeks to do:

Impose certain duties on landlords regarding bed bugs:

1. Mandates specifically that the Landlord is to keep the rental space free from bed bugs and provide educational literature about bed bug infestations to new tenants.

2. Prohibits Landlords from renting out space that the landlord knows is infested with bedbugs

3. Provides specific requirements for a landlord to respond to a complaint of bed bugs:

  • within 7 days of receiving a complaint, Landlord shall order an inspection for bed bugs;
  • within 7 days of confirming infestation, Landlord shall begin control and schedule inspections of adjoining rental units.

4. Limits damages against Landlord for infestations unless caused by Landlord’s Negligence.

Impose certain duties on tenants regarding bed bugs:

1. Tenant shall inspect for bed bugs when first occupying the space;

2. Tenant shall not move “infested property” into a rental unit

3. Tenant shall notify Landlord within 2 days of notice of infestation.

4. Tenant responsible for damages due to bed bugs caused by Tenant, or guest.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Law and Justice.

Something that the legislative analysis highlights –

“Notwithstanding any other provision of the Landlord-Tenant Act, the landlord and tenant could agree in writing (by hard copy) or electronic mail how responsibility would be assigned for costs resulting from an infestation, including, but not limited to, costs of
control or treatment.”

This would provide some discretion among the parties to craft a resolution.

My thoughts:

Bedbug infestation is a problem. It can cause tenants problems, particularly in lower income housing. As reference, I would highly recommend reading Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” It is no secret that Michigan, particularly Kent County, is experiencing an Affordable Housing Crisis.  Further, unhappy tenants who withhold rent can cause landlord problems that end up in court.

This type of bill could provide clarity to landlords and tenants on their reciprocal duties and rights in such circumstances. It could also provide them flexibility to come up with a resolution to get rid of any infestations.

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update: Real Estate Investors Be Careful When Interacting with Occupants of Foreclosed Property.

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment

It is a rainy Monday afternoon. It has beenIMG_1873 dark all day long.  I took this picture earlier today and the rain isn’t letting up.

As a way to distract from the gloomy weather I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts about a court case that came out a few days ago involving a real estate investor, property manager, and a hold over occupant of property.

This case illustrates ways that real estate investors and property managers can go wrong when dealing with occupants of foreclosed property.

 

The Case:

Anderson v Great Lakes Property and Investment, Inc.

Facts: 

“This case arises from defendants’ actions in removing plaintiff and his personal belongings from the rental property, on two occasions, without resort to summary  proceedings in the court.” Id. page 1.

  • In 2008 Plaintiff entered into a month-to-month lease with the property owner.
  • Owner lost the property to a tax foreclosure in 2015.
  • Real Estate Investor purchased the property at tax sale in the fall of 2015, and hired defendant Great Lakes to manage the property.
  • After the purchase, Investor and Property Manager, sent a letter of ownership to all occupants of the property, including plaintiff, which gave plaintiff 10 days to vacate the property.
  • Thereafter, defendant Great Lakes’s sole shareholder, defendant McMorris, came to plaintiff’s unit and demanded that he vacate within 3 days.
  • When plaintiff did not vacate the premises, defendants came to the property on January 15, 2016, and removed plaintiff’s personal belongings from his unit.
  • After defendants left, plaintiff returned to the property, purchased and installed a new lock on his door, repaired the door, and placed his personal belongings back into his unit.
  • The next day, defendants returned and once again, removed plaintiff’s possession from the property.
  • Plaintiff filed a six-count complaint against defendants for a violation of the anti-lockout statute. Id. Page 2.

 

Law:

Anti-Lockout Statute – MCL 600.2918 

Any landlord who has gone through the process of evicting a tenant knows that, in the residential leasing context, there are heightened duties of landlords, and heightened rights of tenants.  Tenants have the right not to have their possessory interest in the property interfered with, without the proper court procedure being complied with (Summary Proceeding Action in District Court)

The Anti-Lockout statute provides damages for forcible ejectment from property or unlawful interference with a possessory interest in property.

 

Subsection (1) (forcible ejection) applies to any person. 

Subsection (2) (unlawful interference) applies to any tenant in possession.

Violating the statute can cause a property owner/landlord to be liable for statutory damages (3 times the amount of actual damages or $200.00 whichever is greater.)

 

Here, the District Court sided with the new Owner – basically holding that the Plaintiff was simply “a squatter”, entitling him to no rights or protections.  Id. page 2.

The Court of Appeals REVERSED!

 

As the Court of Appeals noted, “[t]he Michigan anti-lockout statute, MCL 600.2918, “virtually eliminates the self-help remedy in Michigan in favor of judicial process to remove a tenant wrongfully in possession.” Id. Page 3 citing Deroshia v Union Terminal Piers, 151 Mich App 715, 719; 391 NW2d 458 (1986).

The Court also held that “There is no statutory or caselaw definition of squatter.” Id. Page 4.

The Court also questioned whether the Investor or its Manager gave proper notice to terminate. It was questionable whether the “Notice” mailed to each tenant satisfied the requirements to recover possession of property under Michigan law. MCL 554.134(1) – (holding that “[a] tenant is entitled to one month’s notice to quit in order to terminate a month-to month tenancy at will” Id. Page 4.

 

 

In short – if you purchase property that is occupied, you need to properly use the court systems to remove tenants.

 

Lesson:

 

To avoid any unfounded claims by holdovers, it always makes sense after purchasing property at foreclosure, when there are any occupants present, to go through the lawful channels for a court proceeding to extinguish any possessory rights and to make sure any personal belongings are handled appropriately.

You don’t want to expose yourself to undue liability.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors: In Your Efforts to Make a Profit Be Wary of Cutting Corners.

October 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Let me illustrate a picture for you: Let’s say you are a real estate investor. You show up for a foreclosure sale. There are several people present to bid on a specific piece of property.  One of those guys winks at you, motions you to come over (in a clandestine sort of way).

The guy whispers to you “I will pay you $500 to walk away not bid on this property.

Red Flags should be going off to you by now. Unfortunately, the same red flags either did not go off or where intentionally ignored for the 63 or so individuals who were targeted for bid rigging at foreclosure sales by the Department of Justice.

“The Antitrust Division has prosecuted scores of real estate investors who, for their own benefit and profit, conspired to corrupt the bidding process at foreclosure auctions.” – Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division

In today’s market, good deals for real estate investors are getting harder to come by. With distressed property becoming a scarce resource and competition ever increasing, some real estate investors have resorted to less than  legal  acts to boost their profit.

2017-09-23 19.30.53Investors should know that the  Department of Justice as well as State Agencies are cracking down on unfair real estate practices.

 

Spartan Stadium. This photo has nothing to do with the post, and is only motivated by Spartan Nation’s victory on Saturday (I took this photo at a different game a few weeks ago)

On Friday, the DOJ announced that Jim

Appenrodt pleaded guilty to two counts of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

 

Investigations Have Yielded 63 Plea Agreements to Date.

 

 

 

 

In Michigan the record numbers of foreclosed properties since 2008 has provided a market (albeit one that is slowing down) for flipping residential real estate. With this opportunity to profit has also created an opportunity for abuse and fraud.  The real estate legal landscape is complex enough, do yourselves a favor – follow the rules.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update: Bill Moves Forward Allowing Single Member LLCs To Evict Tenants without Legal Representation

September 28, 2017 Leave a comment

 

UPDATE ON PROPOSED House Bill 4463 – Would Allow LLCs to Evict wi

thout Legal Representation.

House Bill 4463 was introduced in March and referred to the  committee on law and justice.

 

The Bill would allow owners of a single-member LLC (or a married couple under certain conditions) to file their own eviction actions on behalf of the LLC witho

2017-09-14 15.04.09

ut the need for legal representation.

If the Landlord is seeking money damages, the amount, not including taxable costs, must be under the small claims Court maximum.

Back in May, the Bill came out of the committee on law and justice and

 

a substitute bill was referred for a second reading.

Just 8 days ago the substitute was adopted. Yesterday the Bill was

referred to the Judiciary Committee.
The Major Difference in the Substitute Bill as Adopted.

The major revision that came out of the committee affects property managers.

The Bill as introduced would have allowed property managers or agents to represent the LLC under certain circumstances – e.g. – having personal knowledge of the relevant facts related to the Property and tenancy.

That language was removed from the first version of the bill.

Under the substitute bill, Property Managers or other Agents would not be allowed to represent the LLC.

Further, this is a “burden shifting” mechanism in the substitute bill – the law would place the burden on the LLC owner to prove he or she is in compliance with the statute. That makes sense – since the legislature would be creating an exception to the rule – only lawyers practice law.

 

A Divisive Issue: To be, or not to be your own lawyer?

I commented that I would be surprised if this bill passes, although other states have similar laws.  The reason I was surprised is demonstrated a legislative analysis that came out just a few days ago.

 

A recent Legislative Analysis highlights the extreme opposite view points – those expressed by Real Estate Investors and Real Property Owner Associations, and those of Attorneys and Judges.

 

 

To Hire an Attorney or Not?

As I stated in my last post, the Bill makes sense for Landlords who want quick and cost-effective resolutions. I understand that an Investor who is not making money on a tenant also doesn’t want to expend additional legal fees to evict a Tenant. This is particularly true since the most attorney fees that a Landlord can recover against a residential tenant is limited to the statutory amount (currently $75).

All business owners make this same business decision –

at what point can I handle a legal matter myself and at what point do I pick up the phone and call my lawyer?

 

However, I will refer readers back to the lawyer who has a fool for a client…

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka