Real Estate Law Update – a Court Case Discussing Laches.

From a lawyer’s perspective, real estate disputes are often messy.

The parties are often driven by emotion. The facts are often complex.

Simply put – it is usually a mess.

2017-04-09 21.33.41

Often the doctrine of laches gets raised in such a lawsuit.

A few years back I wrote a post about the legal (technically, “equitable”) doctr ine of Laches and how laches is an often raised defense in real estate disputes.  

The argument usually goes something like this:

“Hey, Plaintiff! You should have brought your claim sooner! Because you were so late in suing me, there are specific related reasons that make it unjust for the court to hold me responsible!”

A June 2017 Michigan Court of Appeals decision came out, where laches was raised as a defense.

You can check out the case here:   DeGhetto v Beaumont’s, et al. (unpublished) No. 330972 (June 22, 2017).

In this case – the court opined that the facts were “muddled”.  (my interpretation – “a mess”)

But first, as a recap…

 

The Equitable Doctrine of Laches:

 

“Laches is an equitable tool used to remedy the inconvenience resulting from the plaintiff’s delay in asserting a legal right that was practicable to assert.” Public Health Dept v. Rivergate Manor, 452 Mich. 495, 507; 550 NW2d 515 (1996).

As such, “when considering whether a plaintiff is chargeable with laches, [a court] must afford attention to prejudice occasioned by the delay.” Lothian, 414 Mich. at 168. It is the prejudice occasioned by the delay that justifies the application of laches.Dunn v. Minnema, 323 Mich. 687, 696; 36 NW2d 182 (1949) .

 

Stated another way,

“the equitable doctrine of laches bars a claim “when the passage of time combined with a change in condition would make it inequitable to enforce the claim ag

 

ainst the defendant.” Township of Yankee Springs v Fox, 264 Mich App 604, 612; 692 NW2d 728 (2004) (Emphasis added.)

Therefore in deciding on the issue of Laches, a Court will ask two questions:

1. was there a delay in bringing the claim and, if so,

2. did it prejudice the Defendant?

Question: Why is laches relevant to real estate disputes?

Answer: Because many real estate claims are based in “equity” as opposed to “law”-  e.g. –an injunction, specific performance, action for quiet title…

 

The Case of DeGhetto v Beaumonts, et al.

The case involved homeowners and an Association.

The dispute was about the “ongoing viability of restrictive covenants o

 

n plaintiffs’ lots” and the ability of an Association to assess Association dues against Association members.

The Association believed it could enforce deed restrictions – the homeowners disagreed.

Certain disagreements arose, including l.iens recorded on some properties,

and thereafter the Homeowners sued the Association.

The Homeowners asked the Court to declare the deed restrictions were unenforceable, and that the Association had no rights to assess dues.

The Court admitted that the facts are a bit “muddled” – as is often the case in real estate disputes.

One of the Association’s defense was that laches should bar the homeowners’ lawsuit.

“Defendant argues that the doctrine of laches should apply to bar plaintiff’s suit
because there was a change in conditions that made granting relief to plaintiffs inequitable—plaintiffs’ sudden refusal to pay dues, which prejudiced defendant because it had relied on their payments for years.” DeGhetto. Pg 8

 

 

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the Association, holding that:

“Plaintiffs did not delay in filing suit. There was debate over whether the
dues were enforceable and two attorneys rendered different opinions on the matter. Plaintiffs asserted their right by filing suit after defendant indicated that the dues were mandatory as opposed to voluntary. Furthermore, defendant cannot show prejudice.” Id.

 
The Court held that Defendants did not satisfy the requirements to establish Laches.

As the Court held in Charter Township of Lyons v James E. Petty, et al. (unpublished) No. 327686 (Oct. 13, 2016):

“Prejudice is a mandatory element.” and

“The prejudice necessary to establish a laches or estoppel defense cannot be a de minimis harm…” Id. pg 5.

 

Lesson:

Laches is an often raised and valid defense, applicable in many real esta

te disputes. When raising a defense of laches in real estate disputes, Defendant must show Plaintiff delayed in bringing forth the claim.

Showing merely the passage of time is not sufficient.

Further, showing the presence of de minimis harm due to the passage of time is not sufficient.

Significant harm must be shown along with delay.

 

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors and Property Managers Should Keep Track of this “Bed Bug Bill”

2015-11-05 11.34.56During the school year I mentor students at a local school in the West side of Grand Rapids. This school has a great supportive community behind it – as you can see from the photo I took a few years back.

I recall a conversation with one student whose family was transient – moving quite often and usually under unfortunate conditions.  This student recalled to me the time that he and his mom lived in an apartment for a brief time and had to leave because of bed bugs. The emotion on the kid’s face as he recalled the story was evident.  It was not a pleasant experience.

Last year a class action case against a Real Estate Owner reached a settlement involving payment of over $2 Million to 100 tenants – ABAJournal reported that story here

One of the primary complaints was that “the 26-unit building had a massive cockroach infestation.

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.

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.

 

My thoughts:

Bedbug infestation is a problem. It can cause tenants problems.  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.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors: Update on Bill Allowing Single Member LLCs To Evict Tenants without Legal Representation

 

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.

 

UPDATE ON PROPOSED House Bill 4463 – Would Allow LLCs to Evict without 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 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.

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

 

Call me surprised.

The Bill recently came out of the committee on law and justice and a substitute bill was referred for a second reading.
The Major Difference in the Substitute Bill

 

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.

 

To Hire an Attorney or Not?

As I stated in my last post, 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).

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

Business Law Update: Business Owners: Bill Would Restrict Non-Competition Agreements with Employees.

2017-05-09 08.08.30On June 14, 2017, House Bill 4755 was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives.

If passed it would limit the enforceability of a non-competition agreement signed between an employer and an employee.

In my opinion – in some pretty significant ways.

I have spent several articles discussing the legal consequences/enforceability issues of non-competes.

It appears the Legislature is wrestling with the question posed by Nick Manes of MIBiz in an article a few years back: “Are noncompetes a barrier to growth?

You can check out the text of the bill here

The Bill was referred to the committee on commerce and trade.

The Bill has a few key components to it:

1. Require Employers to follow a Specific Procedure prior to enforcing a non-compete.

The Bill would only permit Employers to enforce a non-competition agreement if the Employer followed a procedure intended to notify the Employee of the requirement of signing a non-compete as a condition of employment.

(A) INFORMED THE PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYEE IN WRITING OF THE REQUIREMENT AT OR BEFORE THE TIME OF THE INITIAL OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT.

(B) Disclose the Terms of the Non-Compete in writing; and

(C) Post the Text of the Law at the Worksite in a CONSPICUOUS LOCATION

2. Non-Compete unenforceable if the Employee is a “low wage” worker.

Defined generally as $15.00/hr or $31,000 annually.

 

3. Voids Certain Provisions in a Non-Compete – shifts the burden to Employer.

The Bill also has some teeth in it for Employees, including:

  1. Prohibits an Employer from including a clause that states a different state’s laws control the Agreement – this would be an obvious attempt to circumvent the prohibition of non-compete against “low wage” workers;
  2. Gives the Attorney General power to prosecute a violation of the Act;
  3. Automatically places the Burden on the Employer to prove that the Non-Compete was reasonable, as to “scope, duration, time limit.”
    1. Moreover, if a Court limits the non-compete in any respect, the employee is entitled to recover attorney fees.

 

Wow. This bill has a lot of bite to it. My first thoughts – if this Bill does come out of the Trade and Commerce Committee, I can’t imagine it will look the same as its current version.

I understand the legislature’s interest in protecting “low wage workers” from unreasonable restrictions. Check out my prior post on the subject of Jimmy John’s non-competes.

However, in my opinion the restrictions as written places an enormous burden on the employer to narrowly tailor the non-compete, to a judge’s definition of “reasonableness”.

 

 

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Warning for Real Estate Investors: Three Northern California Real Estate Investors Convicted of Rigging Bids at Public Foreclosure Auctions

 

There are many pitfalls for real estate investors who purchase dIMG_1513istressed property.

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

Investors should know that the Department of Justice as well as State Agencies are cracking down on fraudulent real estate practices.

Today, the Department of Justice announced that a federal jury convicted three real estate investors for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in Northern California.

This after a 3-week trial.

You can see the press release here.

Based upon the DOJ’s investigation – this was a large conspiracy “to rig bids to obtain hundreds of properties sold at foreclosure auctions. The conspirators designated the winning bidders to obtain selected properties at the public auctions, and negotiated payoffs among themselves in return for not competing. They then held second, private auctions at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held, awarding the properties to conspirators who submitted the highest bids.”

 

What is particularly striking to me is that including today’s convictions the DOJ report that:

68 individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

 

Question for Real Estate Investors:

What type of unfair practices, including bid rigging, do you believe is going on in your state? What are you seeing foreclosure sales?

In Michigan the record numbers of foreclosed properties since 2008 has provided a market (albeit one that is slowing down) for flipping and rehabbing residential real estate.

This has also created opportunities for abuse and fraud.  The real estate legal landscape is complex enough, do yourselves a favor – follow the rules.

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

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

More Updates on Michigan’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Today is a beautiful day in downtown Grand Rapids. The photo below actually from yesterday. There is something about the sun that just puts me in a good mood.

A few days ago I did not have a sunny disposition. I was in court during a landlord/tenant docket. I’ll be honest – it was a depressing scene.  Many of the people in the courtroom were in a sad condition – one lady was visibly intoxicated.IMG_1570

Grand Rapids’ Housing Crisis

This morning I read an article on how the Rental Housing Market Leads to Homelessness in Grand Rapids

Clearly, Grand Rapids, and other parts of the State and Nation have an affordable housing crisis. I have previously offered my own perspective, both as a lawyer representing real estate developers/investors, and as Board Chairman at Mel Trotter Ministries.

A Community Problem – requires Community Collaboration

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

This effort could not have happened without collaboration between community stakeholders. It also couldn’t have happened without real estate owners willing to put “purpose above profit”.

There are other examples of social enterprises taking action to address affordable housing. One community partner is 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.”

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?
Legal Updates – Bills and Lawsuits.

 

A few months back I wrote about a Michigan House Bill introduced that would repeal Michigan’s prohibition on rent control. This Bill seemed to be a “gut response” to the affordable housing crisis that we are facing in Michigan and all across the United States.

Other local governments across the U.S. are exploring legislative avenues to address the housing crisis.

A few days ago, Representative Stephanie Chang introduced a few other Bills on Affordable Housing.

On May 31, 2017 House Bill 4686 was introduced that would allow local government  to “adopt an ordinance to limit the rent paid by senior citizens and individuals with a disability to 50% of their household incomes.”

Tie-barred to that Bill was House Bill 4687  which would prohibit local government from enacting, maintaining, or enforcing “an ordinance or resolution that would have the effect of  controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private resident.”

Representative Chang also spoke on the issue of Affordable Housing at a Detroit Housing Summit a few days ago at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

 

DOJ sues City of Jacksonville for refusing to allow development of permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities.

You can check out the press release from yesterday – Where Cities Can Get in Trouble with Fair Housing Laws

Yesterday, the Department of Justice issued a Press Release concerning an agreement it reached with the City of Jacksonville, Florida. Apparently, the DOJ sued the City concerning “allegations that the city violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to all ow the development of permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities in its Springfield neighborhood.”

As part of the settlement, the City has agreed to “establish a $1.5 million grant to develop permanent supportive housing in the city for people with disabilities.”

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

 

Michigan Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses: Crowdfunding Law Update.

Last year  Representative Tom Barrett introduced House resolution2015-11-26-13-04-02 235 (HR 235)

“to support the (SEC)’s recent adoption of rules…to facilitate small and start-up companies’ access to capital raised through crowdfunding.”

The resolution supports crowdfunding as viable tools for start-up businesses.

The resolution acknowledges:

Businesses in Michigan have greatly benefited from the opportunities created by the…Michigan Invests Locally Exemption (MILE) program. MILE has allowed everyday Michiganders, referred to as unaccredited investors, the ability to play a larger role in growing Michigan’s creative business ventures through Michigan-based crowdfunding platforms while still enjoying investor protections and security in their investments” (Emphasis added.)

 

Is Crowdfunding a Viable Option in Michigan?

Fast forward to today,  MIBiz recently reported that Michigan’s crowdfunding law hasn’t gained much traction

However, it may remain a viable tool for cash-strapped startups and the Michigan legislature has not given up on it.

 

Yesterday the Michigan House passed HB 4035 that amended the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption to Intrastate Crowdfunding.

 

According to yesterday’s announcement from the Michigan House Republican Website:

The amendments contained in HB 4035 “will expand the program so people can also invest in small businesses primarily doing business in the state and allows Michigan’s law to remain active under new Federal regulations

You can check out the House Fiscal Agency’s Analysis Here

The HB now moves to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration.

 

Entrepreneurs and Start-ups:

 

Proponents of Crowdfunding: access to capital.

A while back Candace Klein Chief Strategy Officer at DealStruck was Interviewed by CrowdfundInsider and talked about how small business might benefit from crowdfunding. She had this to say, in part:

“Most businesses are community-based, and have an immediate impact for those in their community, whether geographic or industry-based.  Crowdfunding brings these companies together with the everyday investors in their communities.”

 

Crowdfunding for Social Enterprise?

I agree. As I’ve previously written about, crowdfunding appears to be a viable tool for community based businesses.

People are willing to invest in projects that will enhance their local community.

This is what makes local equity-based crowdfunding attractive for social entrepreneurs.

This is what makes local equity-based crowdfunding attractive for social entrepreneurs.

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com