News for Residential Real Estate Investors: DOJ receives Verdict against Landlord Disability Discrimination.

img_1417Here’s a profound truth those in the real estate industry will readily acknowledge:

Owning and Managing Real Estate is uniquely challenging.

I hear it from my Property Owner/Manager clients. I experience it when I am involved in negotiating in landlord/tenant disputes.

I believe that is why, at least in West Michigan, there is an opportunity for good property management companies – and a handful of companies I work with locally do it really well.

 

Some of the pitfalls property owners/managers have to watch out for are illustrated in a recent press release announce by the Department of Justice.

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced that it obtained a verdict in a disability discrimination case against a Landlord

 

 

According to the press release,

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Butte, alleged that Jaclyn Katz, the owner and manager of rental properties in Bozeman, discriminated against Kristen Newman, a tenant with physical and psychiatric disabilities, by charging her a $1,000 deposit as a condition for allowing her to keep her service dog, Riley.  At trial, Newman, her treating therapist and an independent expert testified that Riley assisted Newman in living with the symptoms of her disabilities, including providing emotional support, helping to predict migraines, and reducing suicidal thoughts.  Newman also testified that she repeatedly informed Katz that charging a deposit for a service animal was illegal and that Newman understood that she would have to pay for any actual damage caused by her service dog.

 

 

Not good.

A right to a Service animal is legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Michigan Law requires a public accommodation to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability.

Among other things:

“A public accommodation shall not ask a person with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises due to allergies or fear of the animal. A public accommodation may only ask a person with a disability to remove his or her service animal from the premises if either of the following applies:

(a) The service animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it.

(b) The service animal is not housebroken” MCL 750.502c

 

Landlords and property owners should heed the warning of General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

“Many people with disabilities require the assistance of an animal to carry out major daily activities,” said  “Complaints alleging disability discrimination now account for the majority of the complaints HUD receives. HUD will continue to enforce the law and educate the public on the rights of people with disabilities in housing.”

.

I wonder, did the landlord/property owner ever consult with legal counsel on its practices?

There are some lessons to be learned for landlords, property owners, managers, and real estate investors.

 

Two takeaways from this news headline:

 

1. It is worth being proactive and engaging legal counsel. 

Issues arise. When in doubt, e-mail or call your attorney.

 

2. Residential Real Estate Investment is highly regulated.

If you are a landlord leasing out “residential” property as opposed to purely commercial property (business tenant), you are under much more stringent regulations. You must comply with Federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and state laws, like the Michigan Truth in Renting Act. Make sure you are operating lawfully.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Michigan Business Law: Update on Work Opportunity Act – Removing Barriers to Employment for Ex-Felons.

Falling From Grace.

Yesterday, I was at a CBMC Grand Rapids Luncheon and listed to Craig DeRoche tell his remarkable story of his rise to becoming the youngest House Speaker in Michigan history and abrupt fall to incarceration due to his hidden drug and alcohol addiction.

Craig now uses his skills and unique life experiences serving as VP of Policy at Prison Fellowship, an organization actively engaged in restoring those affected by crime and incarcerated.

But for God’s Grace – there go I.

Craig’s story and my own life experiences gave me pause to consider:

How many of us are a few life choices/circumstances away from being homeless? In prison? Addicted?

Serving the Vulnerable – Ex-Felons.

Yesterday I read a rather timely article posted by the Small Business Association of Michigan – the following statistic stood out to me:

Convicts leaving incarceration often have a difficult time re-entering the working world because, according to one survey, 65 percent of employers would never consider hiring someone with a felony record.

When people think about the marginalized in our society – those with a felony record should be at the top of the list.

Michigan Work Opportunity Act

Senate Bill 14 was passed by the Senate and it appears set to be passed by the House as well. Check out the Legislative Analysis by the House Fiscal Agency, here

The Bill would create the “Work Opportunity Act” which would require the Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED) to provide grants for employers’ hiring of qualified individuals on probation or parole.

The House Fiscal Agency’s Analysis recognizes the “apparent problem”

“In seeking re-entry into the workforce, an ex-felon is confronted with myriad challenges, including appealing to employers who are not eager to accept the risk of hiring an ex-felon. This program would seek to mitigate that risk, by offering grants of a portion of the exfelon’s salary to employers who hire qualified ex-felons.”

The Bill has received formal support from the following organizations:

Kelly Services (2-8-17)

Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit (2-8-17)

Michigan Catholic Conference (2-8-17)

Michigan Sheriff’s Association (3-1-17)

Grand Rapids Chamber (3-1-17)

The office of the Attorney General (3-1-17)

Being Part of the Solution.

I am encouraged by the many groups committed to being part of the solution to removing barriers to work for the formerly incarcerated.  Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids lead by CEO Kathy Crosby does a fantastic job of equipping this demographic and putting them into long term employment. Mel Trotter Ministries has placed 135 individuals in their shelter into full time employment in 2016.

Some West Michigan companies who do a great job of reaching out to hire/place those with employment barriers include Cascade Engineering, the work started by its Founding CEO Fred KellerLacks EnterprisesKentwood Office Furniture and Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids lead by Janis Petrini  to name a few.

These organizations should give us pause to reflect on how we can do our part.

But for God’s Grace, there go I.

Questions? comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update: Investors Purchasing at Foreclosure – Take Care in Handling Personal Property Left at the Property.

May 11, 2017 1 comment

Today I am posting about a Court of Appeals case decided on April 25, 2017  – Suzor v Kamlay 2016-07-22 13.10.20

Foreclosed Property = high risk/high reward.

Real estate investors are always wary of the many pitfalls when purchasing property at foreclosure.

I’ve previously posted on problems when someone is still occupying the Property after foreclosure.

The latest case talks about what happens if the holdover is no longer in the property – but has left personal belongings.

Should you take matters into your own hands and remove the stuff?

What liability does a purchaser have after foreclosure and the expiration of redemption if they remove any personal belongings?

FACTS:

  • Plaintiffs’ home was foreclosed on.
  • The property was sold at a sheriff’s sale.
  • Plaintiffs did not redeem the property.
  • Purchaser sued  and was given a judgment of possession and an order of eviction.
  • Purchaser hired defendant to secure and clean the property and remove any remaining personal property—a process commonly referred to as a “trash out.
  • Plaintiffs brought a claim for conversion, arguing that their attempts to get defendant to return the items of personal property he removed from the foreclosed property were to no avail
  • Defendant argued – I have immunity under the Anti-Lockout Statute, since I was operating pursuant to a Court Order.
  • Trial Court agreed.

 

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).

 

Here, Defendant claimed he was shielded from liability under MCl 600.2918(3)(a) which provides

that “[a]n owner’s actions do not unlawfully interfere with a possessory interest if . . . [t]he owner acts pursuant to court order.” Id. page 2.

The Court of Appeals held though that such immunity only shields from liability if the parties have a landlord-tenant relationship.

“However, the parties to this case did not have a landlord-tenant relationship.”

Also, The Court noted that

“While an owner has the right to lawfully enter the premises and remove belongings left therein pursuant to court order, the owner does not have title over the property removed.” Id. page 4.

 

The Court of Appeals would have presumably reversed on this point, but held that the trial court essentially “got it right, but for the wrong reasons.”   The Plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence to prove their case – that the defendant when he removed the personal property converted them by failing to allow the Plaintiffs to recover the property, or otherwise “that a bailment existed”. Id.  page 4.

 

Conclusion:

A purchaser at foreclosure should be careful in handling the personal property leftover.

 

As the Court of Appeals noted – the purchaser is not shielded from liability under the Anti-Lockout Statute, since there is no landlord-tenant relationship.

Also, the owner may have purchased title to the real estate, but not to the personal property.

 

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

Landlords/Investors/Property Managers: Single Member LLCs Could Evict Tenants without Legal Representation under House Bill

April 27, 2017 Leave a comment

 

A common scenario in my legal practice:2015-11-26-13-04-02

Investor purchases property in an LLC. Investor locates a tenant. Tenant falls behind in rent. Investor hires attorney to evict Tenant.

Why hold real estate in an LLC?

Most of my investor clients own investment real estate in a Limited Liability Company.

This is for liability protection.

 

Once a limited liability company comes into existence, limited liability applies, and a member or manager is not liable for the acts, debts, or obligations of the company. “Duray Dev., LLC v. Perrin, 288 Mich. App. 143, 151 (2010).

 

Why not hold real estate in an LLC?

Some investment property owners decide not to do so. The primary driving reason from my experience is cost.

Cost associated with setting up the LLC; and

Cost associated with hiring an attorney and evicting non-paying tenants.

Some landlords don’t want to hire an attorney to evict a tenant.

Under current Michigan law, since an LLC is a separate legal person independent of the actual owners of the LLC, unless such owner is a licensed attorney, an owner of an LLC cannot file a lawsuit on behalf of the LLC.

To do so would be the unauthorized practice of law.

You can practice law on your own behalf – just not on behalf of someone else.

Although, the saying goes – he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.

 

Proposed House Bill Would Allow LLCs to Evict without Legal Representation.

 

House Bill 4463 was introduced last month ago 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 without 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.

The Bill would also allow a Property Manager or other Agent to represent the LLC.

This 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).

I would be surprised if this bill passes, although other states have similar laws.

 

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

Business Law Update: Unfair Competition may not be Preempted by Michigan’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act

April 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Greetings on this cloudy Friday in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 Business owner: I’m going to give you a scenario.

Let’s say your business wants to engage the services of another business to sell its products.

Q: When a business wants to engage the services of another business that will necessarily involve the business divulging confidential infoIMG_1513rmation what do you do?

A: Enter into a Non-Disclosure/Confidentiality Agreement.

Another question:

Q: What happens when the business that received the confidential information goes on to develop a product eerily similar to your product after learning about your confidential information?

A: Potentially, a lawsuit.

Yesterday I read a new published decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals,

Planet Bingo LLC v VKGS, LLC

In the words of the Court of Appeals:

the relevant procedural history is complex“.

Therefore, I won’t delve into the history. Suffice it to say, the parties filed lawsuits based upon the same claims in several different courts across the country.

“This case arises out of Video King’s use of a software program (“EPIC”) that was developed by Planet Bingo’s subsidiary Melange, Video King’s subsequent development of a competing software program (“OMNI”), and plaintiffs’ allegation that Video King wrongfully developed OMNI using confidential information gleaned from EPIC.” Id. pg 1.

The parties entered into a confidentiality agreement.

According to the court –  the parties entered into a contract in 2005 that “had a substantial confidentiality clause:”

Such agreements are necessary to protect in a broad manner all confidential information disclosed to another party in a business agreement.

In a nutshell, Planet Bingo claimed Video King had access to Planet Bingo’s confidential information for its software program EPIC. Thereafter, Video King allegedly used that confidential information to create its own competing software program.

Planet Bingo sued VKGS (Video King) for –

breach of contract (confidentiality agreement),

unfair competition, and

unjust enrichment.

What is unfair competition?

“unfair competition” may encompass any conduct that is fraudulent or deceptive and tends to mislead the public.  See Atco Indus. v Sentek Corp., Lexis 1670, page 7 (July 10, 2003).

This court went back and forth among several courts/jurisdictions and eventually, the Trial Court in Ingham County dismissed plaintiffs’ claims. Among other things, the Court said that the Michigan Uniform Trade Secrets Act (MUTSA)  MCL 445.1901 et seq, preempted – or replaced the common law claim of unfair competition.

The Court of Appeals reversed.

According to the Court:

MUTSA generally “displaces conflicting tort, restitutionary, and other law of this state providing civil remedies for misappropriation of a trade secret,” Id. pg 6.

“It has been recognized from common law, on the other hand, that unfair competition encompasses more than just misappropriation. See In re MCI Telecom Corp Complaint, 240 Mich App 292, 312; 612 NW2d 826 (2000) (“[T]he common-law doctrine of unfair competition was ordinarily limited to acts of fraud, bad-faith misrepresentation, misappropriation, or product confusion.”) (Emphasis added). Id. pg 7.

“Thus, MUTSA does not preempt all common-law unfair competition claims, only those that are based on misappropriation of “trade secrets” as defined by MUTSA.” Id.

“The pertinent question, then, is whether plaintiffs’ unfair competition claim was based on misappropriation alone or also on fraud, bad-faith misrepresentation, or product confusion.” Id.

Conclusion:

We can glean from the Planet Bingo Case that a claim of unfair competition can be brought when based on:

  • Fraud
  • Bad-faith misrepresentation; or
  • product confusion.

If a claim for unfair competition is brought solely related to misappropriation of Trade Secrets, then the MUTSA is the controlling statute.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Detroit Startup Week Kicks off with Legal Panels: There are Legal Matters Startups Need to Know.

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Detroit Startup Week is about a month away.

It is exciting to see the growth in downtown Detroit.  Detroit was recently ranked the No. 4 City where Downtown is Making a Comeback.

It must be an exciting time to be part of the downtown Detroit community.  The city promises to be buzzing during Detroit Startup Week.

 

Working in downtown Grand Rapids, I can’t help but mention some of our local startup groups.

We have some great organizations that support small business and encourage entrepreneurship in West Michigan, including:

Start Garden

Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Grand Rapids

LocalFirst

GRIN

GRAPE

LinkedUPGR

Grand Rapids Chamber

Small Business Association of Michigan

 

Back to Detroit Startup, Week…

You can check out the events schedule, which includes a whole week packed full of valuable events.

I think it no coincidence that the very first day, May 20th, starts out with Detroit’s Small Business Legal Academy.

It seems fitting that a week long celebrating startups begins with education on all the legal ways things can go wrong.

According to the website:

SBLA Detroit will consist of a series of hands-on panels designed to provide practical legal and professional information necessary for new business owners and entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level. The panelists will cover legal issues involving real estate, intellectual property, employment, funding, formation, and organizational issues.

 

From the above excerpt, the legal panels look to discuss real issues that entrepreneurs will run into. I hope many take advantage of these panels.

 

The reality is that there are a host of legal areas that can turn into pitfalls for startup businesses – I write on quite a few of those areas:

Terms and Conditions in Contracts

Non-Competition Agreements

Entity Formation and Personal Liability

Personal Guarantees

 

Cash flow is a barrier for startups. This doesn’t mean you should avoid educating yourself on the legal issues affecting your business.

Take advantage of the resources available.

Consult with an attorney – Particularly law firms friendly to startup businesses.

 

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

Recent Michigan House Bill Would Repeal Prohibition on Rent Control – A Response to the Affordable Housing Crisis?

April 13, 2017 Leave a comment

2017-03-07 15.13.50

On March 30, 2017 House Bill 4456 was introduced. The Bill would repeal Michigan’s prohibition on Rent Control.

The Bill was presumably proposed in response to the affordable housing crisis in Michigan and all across the United States. Other local governments across the U.S. are exploring legislative avenues to address the housing crisis.

 

 

According to Representative Chang, who introduced the Bill, the current rent control prohibition “makes it increasingly difficult for seniors and some families to find affordable housing, or to stay in the apartments they’ve lived in for many years.”
Representative Chang was apparently referring to the affordable housing crisis in Detroit. From all accounts, Grand Rapids is facing an affordable housing crisis as well.

 

Grand Rapids Housing Crisis

As many of you may know, a few months back the Grand Rapids Chamber hosted an Issue Summit on the Housing Crisis in Grand Rapids.

The Summit brought speakers representing many community stakeholders, including representatives from 616 DevelopmentGrand Rapids Urban League,Rockford ConstructionICCFMSHDA, and many local non-profits, including Mel Trotter MinistriesHQHeartside Ministries, on this lack of affordable housing, what is as Mayor Bliss emphasized, admittedly, “a complex issue”.

I have previously offered my own perspective, both as a lawyer representing real estate developers/investors, and as Board Chairman at Mel Trotter Ministries.

 

Is there an Answer found in Social Enterprise?

A few months back, Jim Harger with MLive posted a thorough article on the affordable housing crisis.

One community partner highlighted was Pastor Jim Davis and his company “Purpose Properties

“The mission of Purpose Properties is to “raise enough money from local foundations and philanthropists to buy market-rate and affordable rental properties in the city.”

According to Jim Harger’s article:

Purpose Properties plans to charge market rates for its properties to those who can afford them and use their profits to subsidize the rents of those who cannot afford market rates.”

We need more businesses and community stakeholders to approach our community problems like Jim Davis and Purpose Properties.

 

Community Partners Collaborating

Recently Mel Trotter Ministries announced that it was partnering with 3:11 Youth Housing to provide housing for homeless males 18-24.

As Mayor Bliss stated at the Housing Summit – the affordable housing crisis presents a complex issue.

It will take all community stakeholders to do their part – businesses, churches, government, and non-profits.

 

The question we should all ask ourselves: Am I working to build a better community?

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka